2008: Lessons Learned and Applying Them to Today

Written by Timothy M. Winkler, Sr., MA, CFRE, Principal, Founder, and CEO KPIs

To say that a lot has changed since last weekend is an understatement. While the causes and effects of COVID-19 on the philanthropic landscape will likely be much different from the Great Recession of 2008, there are striking similarities when it comes to fundraising.  

I experienced 2008 first-hand through the eyes of the schools, universities, churches, and nonprofit organizations that the Winkler Group had the honor of serving.  The biggest lesson I learned from the Great Recession is this: the organizations that strategically increased their fundraising efforts in 2008 and 2009 not only weathered the storm but came out of it stronger and more financially sustainable.  The organizations that stopped fundraising and cultivating donors teetered on the edge of existence, while some ceased to exist altogether.

As I reflect on the Great Recession and its aftermath, I’d like to share the lessons I learned—good and bad.  In doing so, I hope you can avoid repeating the mistakes I saw and position your organization to not only survive but come out of this stronger and healthier.


1. Do not stop raising money.  I know this seems obvious, but I was shocked at how many organizations stopped raising money in 2008. They circled the wagons to ride out the storm. They told themselves:  1) the climate was not good for fundraising, 2) people were concerned about more important things, 3) it would be insensitive to ask for money during a time like this, 4) they just needed to focus on their core mission, and 5) they were facing a daunting reality of layoffs, salary reductions, and closing operations.  

In the long run, their mistaken inaction put them on the brink of financial insolvency.

I’m not suggesting you ignore the realities of the time.  However, your constituency needs you now MORE THAN EVER.  Now is the time to ramp up your fundraising.  Now is the time to ask the questions: What strategies are you developing, or have in place for donor retention, LYBNT and SYBNT reporting, and funding opportunities to meet new demands your organization is facing?

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