Turning Crisis into an Opportunity

Now living in the Boston area, Juliana Field has extensive development and communications experience working with nonprofits in the United States and internationally. Here she explains how to reconnect with funders in ways responsive to their needs during the current economic downturn.

Now living in the Boston area, Juliana Field has extensive development and communications experience working with nonprofits in the United States and internationally. Here she explains how to reconnect with funders in ways responsive to their needs during the current economic downturn.

A Golden Opportunity

As the saying goes, “perception is everything.” You believe that your organization serves a critical role in your community. However, it’s not enough for you to believe it. You need to have a profound understanding of your organization and convey its complex, multifaceted work to an array of audiences, with their interests in mind.

Coinciding with the bleak economy, there is a recognized shift in donors’ expressed desire to engage in measurably effective relationships with nonprofits. This confluence of a new economic and a changing philanthropic paradigm offers a golden opportunity: Nonprofits can reflect upon the key determinants to build gifting relationships and target communications that are responsive to their interests.

Time to Reflect and Assess

The escalating number of nonprofits and demand for restricted resources calls for a bold refashioning of the donor-organization relationship based upon clarity about an organization’s role, its potential reach and its sustainability. The road to stability and viability requires far more than communicating the need for money.

Thoughtful, Honest Analysis

Hard times call for hard analysis: Assess your mission, your business model and similar organizations, and analyze the unique role your nonprofit organization makes in the lives of those served. The clear, thoughtful answers to the suggested questions below, perhaps in an all-staff brainstorming session, can become the underpinnings of highly-effective, key messages to both individual and institutional donors in challenging times.

  1. Is our mission authentic and relevant to what we do today?
  2. What societal problem or issue is our organization trying to abate or resolve?
  3. How does addressing this problem help the state, the nation or the world?
  4. In what ways does our organization approach issue(s)?
  5. What do we do best; do we innovate?
  6. What do we not do well?
  7. Are we keeping up with changing needs and demographics?
  8. What data do we collect to demonstrate that we are making a difference, which we can share with the public?
  9. In what areas do we “invest” the donor dollars that are critical to the issue that we are committed to? 
  10. How much of donors’ money is spent on direct services rather than administration?

Positioning Your Nonprofit

Once these questions are answered, pose several more questions that place your organization within the larger context of other organizations and the community you serve, to determine your particular brand and niche:

  1. What other organizations are tackling the same problem, and how is our organization different?
  2. Is there a duplication or overlap of services for the population we serve within our community? What do we do that is indispensable, and on what scale?
  3. Could we form strategic partnerships or a consortium with similar services so that there is a discontinuation of weaker services and a melding of our complementary strengths?
  4. Could our organization (i.e., a domestic abuse shelter) pair with another neighborhood organization to enhance or expand our services (i.e., a GED center) to serve more people in deeper ways?

Bold Donor-Centered Messaging

Once there are answers to these questions, clear, bold, donor-centered messaging can be created for current and potential donors. New studies reveal that direct mail, for example, that pulls at the heartstrings is no longer as effective as donor communications that tell how an organization is solving a problem using hard data to prove its effectiveness.

  1. Let your stakeholders know exactly how they will be funding solutions to various societal problems.
  2. Offer confirmation that your organization is among the most effective ones tackling an issue
  3. Show donors that their gift is “invested” wisely and for the purpose given.
  4. And give them frequent affirmation that they are valued.

And always be sure to communicate the inspiring story of your organization’s work. Find ways to talk directly to people. Engage your board members as ambassadors who will tell your story. Make sure that even when writing you tell your organization’s story as if it were being told in-person.

Also, reach out to colleagues, and contact others whose work you admire. Do this both to nurture yourself and to seek inspiring ways to make your organization stronger.

Experiment with a variety of avenues to communicate with people of all ages and demographics – from traditional print materials, your website and social media. Mix it up. Make the case that your organization makes a difference. Keep it authentic – and keep it personal. Be fearless in spirit and have the daring to stand out.

Tell me what you think. I welcome your questions and comments at lenoxfield@yahoo.com


Juliana Field has served in the roles of both director of development and executive director at nonprofit organizations as well as serving as a consultant to a variety of nonprofits. Her varied experience includes arts and culture, social service organizations, museums, film projects, private and public education. As a staff person and a consultant, Juliana has designed and implemented national and international fundraising, public relations, marketing, special events and community relations campaigns. In addition, she has been a guest lecturer at the University of London and taught courses on proposal writing.

Juliana has a B.A. in anthropology from the University of Massachusetts and an M.A. in art history from Syracuse University. She also has a post-baccalaureate certificate from Adelphi University in arts/nonprofit management and the Nonprofit Executive Leadership Institute in San Antonio.

Please contact Juliana Field, Field & Company, at lenoxfield@yahoo.com for more information about development consulting, technical assistance, proposal writing or communications services.

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