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Nonprofits Go on the Offensive

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When donor levels fall, PR is more important than ever.

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If you check your inbox or mailbox today, there's a good chance one of them contains an appeal from a nonprofit agency.

It could be a newsletter containing information about new programs, or a request to contribute toward a donor-match program. Or it could simply be a profile of someone whose life was improved because of the financial support of people like you.

This is because now more than ever, nonprofits need to focus on marketing and outreach. If your own company is going through difficult financial times, your sales force is the last place you look for savings. Cutting your sales department would be mortgaging your future. The same thing applies to nonprofits. The last place we reduce spending is in the areas that help us add to our coffers: public relations, donor communications, and marketing.

Like most charities, the Children's Aid Society needs to make every effort to keep our supporters up to date on our activities and impact. That means we need to lobby the media to run stories about our programs. We need donors to chat up their friends and co-workers about why they passionately support our cause. We need to use all social-media channels to get the word out about what we do, and why it's so important. And yes, we need to use inboxes and mailboxes to remind you that services need your support in order to survive.

That marketing effort extends beyond the individual donor. Interestingly enough, as the private sector gives less, government often gives more. This is especially true now, with federal-stimulus-package money still coming down the pike and with President Obama encouraging public-private partnerships that can expand programs with proven track records.

But all of these efforts are in vain if you hit "delete." Take just a minute to review these requests from charities in need, and send a check to those that you feel best match your values. If you've never given before, set an amount to give this month -- even $50 -- and look for a nonprofit that's working for a better future.

By giving you'll help charities accomplish step 2 in any nonprofit's offensive playbook: building up reserves and endowments.

For example, the Children's Aid Society now serves 150,000 poor and disadvantaged children in New York City. But there are another 250,000 youngsters who need our services. The only way to meet the need is for us to grow our reserves and endowment -- which have taken quite a hit in the last year -- and more than double them within the next 10 years. Without growing our reserves, we can't expand our programs. We risk becoming stagnant and unable to react quickly to the changing needs of our target population.

The only way charities win the offensive game is with help from you -- the donor. Right now, we know we're throwing a Hail Mary pass. But I know that there are many donors out there ready to complete the pass by donating the dollars, services, or manpower that can save nonprofits from cutting needed programs and staff.
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