Contending with a large outpouring of support sounds like a problem any not-for-profit would embrace. But, in fact, it’s possible to become overwhelmed by supporter interest and donations — particularly if your organization is small or relatively new. Expanded tax deductions for charitable gifts made in 2021 may boost giving this holiday season. Make sure you’re prepared.

Don’t let your site get overwhelmed

Disaster-relief charities, such as the Red Cross, have long dealt with sudden cash influxes. For example, during major hurricanes in recent years, some nonprofit websites became overloaded and went offline because so many users were visiting them. Sites had to be moved to more powerful servers to handle the increased traffic.

So make sure you track website hits, as well as phone and email inquiries, to set a “baseline.” That way, you’ll be able to recognize a surge of interest when it begins. Also, know your system’s ultimate capacity so you can enact a contingency plan should it approach critical mass.

Prepare your troops

Having an “early warning system” is only one part of being prepared. You also need to be able to mobilize your troops in a hurry. Do you know how to reach all of your board members at any time? Can you efficiently organize volunteers when you need extra hands quickly? Make sure you have an up-to-date contact list of board members. You also can benefit from having a process, such as a phone tree or group text distribution list, to communicate with your board quickly and efficiently.

When it comes to volunteers, assign one or more emergency volunteer coordinators to call and quickly train people when you need them. Be sure to conduct a mock emergency with staff and volunteers to learn where you’re prepared to ramp up and where you’re not.

Handle the media carefully

A surge in donor interest could mean a surge in media attention. Although it might be tempting to say, “not now, we’re busy,” don’t pass up the opportunity to publicize your organization’s mission and the work that’s garnering all the attention.

In most cases, the immediate surge of interest eventually wanes. Before that happens, start to build lasting relationships with new donors and media contacts. Inform them about the work your organization does under “normal” circumstances and suggest ways to get them involved.

For help and advice

If your financial and accounting staffers aren’t accustomed to handling a sudden surge in donations, you may need outside assistance to process gifts. Contact us for help and advice.

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