Creative Fundraising in a Challenging Economy

Jun 7, 2011 12:15 PM ET

What Do You Stand For?

Tough times call for fresh tactics. The recent recession is still hitting foundations and nonprofits straight in the wallet. In fact, 87 percent of organizations surveyed say the economy continues to impact their daily operations. With so much at stake, nonprofits are coming out of the downturn with thicker skin and bold new approaches to fundraising.

The Austin Humane Society scrapped its sad stories of animal mistreatment and neglect in favor of something more light hearted. On its website and in one of its ads, a playful pup implores, “I’m not on Twitter, but I’ll still follow you.” Although grim advertising produced short-term relationships, the new approach is building lasting connections with donors. Donations are up 13 percent, and volunteers and adoptions are on the rise, as well.   Another nonprofit seeks a different sort of relationship with donors, one that is anything but lasting. “Once and Done” is the motto of Smile Train, a charity that provides free cleft lip surgery to children in developing countries. The charity’s direct-mail solicitation gives potential donors a unique proposition: “Make one gift now, and we’ll never ask for another donation again.” Yes, you read that right. Smile Train claims this “one gift” offer echoes the permanence of the very surgeries the funds help pay for and has shown “significant improvement” over the charity’s previous appeals. No doubt other nonprofits will be watching closely to see whether such a daring call-to-action proves sustainable over time.   Out of chaos comes innovation, and this tough fundraising climate has certainly bred its share of creative, and sometimes downright risky, appeals. But as these two campaigns demonstrate, it just may take an unusual approach to capture the attention and limited dollars of donors as they receive a growing number of urgent pleas for support.   CONE14351