top of page

Evolution or Extinction? The ABCs of Nonprofit Survival



“Val, do you think online giving will ever take off?”

“I don’t know, Lawrence, did the telephone catch on?”

Decades ago, I was chatting with a foundation president and, I’ll admit, being a bit of a wise guy. My point was that fundraising is constantly changing. If you don’t evolve along with your donors, they’ll leave you behind.

The threat of nonprofit extinction is serious. By the end of 2021, 10-30% of nonprofits will merge or close, according to experts cited in the Washington Post and Deloitte. We don’t know if this crisis is like a blizzard that will pass or the onset of an Ice Age.

Amidst 2020’s chaotic uncertainty, simplicity is your best path forward.

Consider the ABCs of nonprofit survival that have already worked in 2020:

ACT. Two big risks we face are re-acting without checking our facts or not acting at all.

Can’t meet with donors in person? Dive into a long-deferred project. While cleaning up his database, one colleague discovered many previously neglected major donors. Recruit new allies and board members. Trustees with ADHD (like me!) may excel in a crisis. Each new board member added increases board giving.

One nonprofit reacted to the social justice uprising by freezing all hires. They assumed they needed a more diverse pool of candidates. The statistics showed they’d built a laudably diverse workforce, but they hired more men than women. That was the inequity that needed addressing.

Be strategically proactive. Communicate with your board, donors, volunteers and staff regularly. Capture meaningful stories and engage your constituents in ways that bolster your cause. Here’s a checklist that will make it easy to do so.

BRAVE this new world.

If there was ever a time to be bold, to try something new, this is it!

For years, a garden talked about pre-registration for their plant sale fundraiser. This spring, they did it. Supporters reserved their items online and picked them up at the drive-through plant sale. Not only did the garden raise more money without the expense of unsold inventory, it was so successful they offered a second round.

What’s in your back-burner pocket?

Give your nonprofit team specific, easy tasks at which they’ll succeed. A series of little wins can build confidence and momentum.

It’s easier to be brave when you play to your fundraising strengths. Introverts ask differently from extraverts, concrete thinkers from visionaries. To discover your asking personality, (or that of a colleague or board member) send your Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to I’ll send you a free, in-depth profile that will describe your asking strengths, including who and how you’ll best ask. If you don’t know your MBTI/Jungian personality, take the Myers Briggs’ test or try Psych Central’s free quiz.

CLARIFY your message.

We’re assaulted with a cacophony of messages. As the number of communications go up, our attention span goes down. To be heard, your message must be simple, specific and relevant.

Simple. What do you think I meant to convey with these images?

In both cases, it was “raindrop.” Looking at the picture on the left, you may have thought windshield, window, or raindrops. The image on the right is clearer. Use the simplest words/images possible to reach your constituents.

Specific: Your descriptions of your nonprofit’s vague, possibly insurmountable challenges may overwhelm donors. Make each request specific and actionable. For example, “Please give $X for a community intern,” or “Give $Y so we can test the water.”

Relevant: When asking for support, make your appeal relevant. Because if it isn’t, others’ will be. Alcoholism has plagued us for millennia. Why give now? An addiction recovery nonprofit could stress the fact that a bar is one of the most dangerous places to be in a pandemic.

Focus on the simple things to help your nonprofit survive, Act, Brave, and Clarify.

After all, nonprofits are constantly evolving. I took my first fundraising job in 1983 to work on something called a “computer.” We’ve learned to reach constituents via email, websites, texts and social media. Now, we’re creating innovative techniques to videoconference. In future, other media will expand our communications toolkit.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a nonprofit person, a donor, volunteer, member of staff or board. As such, you’re already supporting your cause through these turbulent times. In my admiration for what you’ve done, I echo The Tempest’s Miranda, when she exclaims,

“O brave new world that has such people in it!”

-Valerie M. Jones, CFRE

1 view0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page