Recession Survival Strategies for Nonprofits

What To Do When The Only Reason Your Organization Isn't Struggling to Keep the Doors Open Is That You Can't Afford Doors ...

Is your organization housed in a church hallway, in a board member's basement, or in half of a room you share with a hair salon? Has the recession halted your cash flow so much that day-to-day expenses wipe you out? If so, read on. Below, I share examples of real-life donations and freebies, where to get them, and how (without spending a lot of time).

What You Can Get
  • Office supplies
  • Office furniture
  • Office equipment
  • Office(s)
  • Snacks for board and volunteer meetings (e.g. coffee, boxed lunches, pastries, fruit/veggies)
  • Copying services
  • Computers, software, printers, etc.
  • Cameras
  • Massages
  • Used Crowns (not the royal headwear kind, the dental kind)
  • Belly dancers (as in a troupe to perform at an annual gala fundraiser).
Where To Get Them:
  • Local stores, restaurants, and other businesses (especially those you patronize)
  • Schools: These are a great source of donations. Some examples of donations: massages, data collection, desks and other equipment...
  • Faith-based organizations
  • Your organization's donors and volunteers: I worked with an organization in search of a professional-size kitchen it could use for free for a day. It found one. Why? Because it knew whom to ask. Why? Because it cultivated (i.e. got to know) its donors. 
  • Corporate giving programs and foundations: The process of getting in-kind donations can be a good way to develop a relationship with prospective (cash) funders.  
  • CraigsList: These are online classified ads, organized, by location, topic, etc. Check out the "free" section of the "for sale" ads. Every now and then, you can find an ad for free office supplies (everything from desks and computers to file folders), posted by a business/office that is relocating or dissolving. There is a huge array of free things available for the taking.
Opportunities to get donations can come from the unlikeliest places. For example, I know of a dentist, who, after replacing patients' old dental crowns, sells those that patients don't want back to a refinery, and donates the money to a local food bank.

How To Get Them - Tips
  • Ask. Put on your big-boy or big-girl pants and ask.  
  • Encourage other board members, volunteers, and supporters to put on their big-boy/girl pants also.
  • Don't forget to put on your antennae either; try to find opportunities to solicit in-kind support as you go about your daily business. I asked the manager of a sandwich shop near my office what happened to the salads and sandwiches that hadn't sold by closing time. This resulted in a weekly donation of salads, sandwiches, and pastries for residents of an affordable housing complex for seniors. I know a taxi cab driver who made fliers about his organization's upcoming fundraiser, and handed them to his fares. (And some of them showed up!) 
  • Post your organization's "wish list" in your newsletter, on your website, on your Facebook page, on your blog, at the bottom of emails, in your annual report, in the program of your annual fundraiser/benefit, at the bottom of your monthly board meeting agenda or report, on a big sign in your office lobby, on little signs posted in the women's/men's restroom, etc.
  • Thank donors! Thank them several times. See the bullet point above for ways to thank donors. Make giving as pleasurable an experience as possible for donors so that they give again.