How Nonprofits Can Be Dynamic in Economic Downturns

Thinking creatively can help your nonprofit succeed in difficult economic times.
Thinking creatively can help your nonprofit succeed in difficult economic times.

In times of economic instability, programs and efforts towards social good become more essential for the public, even as their funds become sparse and strained.

A historic example of this is the Great Depression of the 1930’s, when our economy collapsed and the level of unemployment reached unprecedented heights. Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke to the country and said, “This nation asks for action, and action now.” In turn, he founded programs to increase public service, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps, incorporating volunteers and the unemployed to re-fortify our infrastructure.

We are now in a similar position. Our country is stricken with unemployment and our poor economy makes money tight for everyone. For nonprofits, this means funding from donations, grants, and government provisions become increasingly limited while staff cuts, increasing employee responsibilities, and decreasing team morale are common afflictions.

Sounds dreadful, doesn’t it?

Wait, there’s an upside to all of this.

Truly successful nonprofit organizations become versatile and creative when conditions deteriorate. Charles Darwin stated, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” This is no more prevalent than when discussing the sustainability of a nonprofit organization.

Many nonprofits are so limited in terms of money and resources that they can’t invest any time into new avenues. Here are some tips that can help spur your creativity to gain volunteers and resources with simple tweaks to your procedures:

Unexplored Volunteer Demographics

Being a versatile nonprofit means that you are capable of altering your practices when the conditions call for it. If you’re short on volunteers, why not broaden your recruitment spectrum? According to the Department of Labor, the prime demographics of volunteering have been those 35-54 years old. But maybe you should consider the other generations you might be missing out on?

  • With little employment opportunities available for 20 year old’s, recent graduates are looking for opportunities to improve their resumes while also utilizing their recently developed talents in the real world.
  • Retirees have more free time to donate to a nonprofit organization and can provide skills that have been refined for a lifetime. Baby Boomers appreciate their talents and minds being engaged in a volunteer opportunity, so remember to incorporate them greatly into every project you have.

Skilled Volunteers

Every person has something they are skilled at and passionate about. So when recruiting and placing volunteers into your organization, evaluate their skill sets and desires in order to let them blossom in the best situation possible. This increases their chance for success, allowing for a sense of self-satisfaction while cultivating their own talents for future opportunities.

Pro bono services bring even more advantages, as corporations encourage their employees to volunteer their day job skills to nonprofit organizations. This allows for nonprofits to benefit even more from their expertise, as they can be more efficient and provide higher quality services than even a skilled volunteer.


Positive reinforcement and constructive criticism are powerful tools that managers can use to retain volunteers. Reward volunteers when money and resources are low with positive feedback and recognition of the impact they’re making. Oftentimes an “I saw an amazing improvement in Jane’s reading over the past few months. Great job!” can be more fulfilling for a volunteer than any tangible reward.


When volunteer recruitment and retention become increasingly difficult, Word of Mouth Marketing (WOMM) allows you to publicize without costing a whole lot. One WOMM method that Chief Marketer recommends is to utilize free Twitter search, Google Blog search, and Google Alerts to get a better understanding of your company’s reputation so you can effectively interpret public opinion and make decisions accordingly.

In an era where nonprofits endure many fiscal hardships, being creative with how you recruit, manage, and retain volunteers can help keep your nonprofit functioning. If you have any ideas for how a nonprofit can persevere in a struggling economy, leave us a comment below.

(Photo by Soulality via Wikimedia Commons)

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