A Prospect We Must Entertain: Recession

The word “advancement” connotes forward movement. That requires forward thinking.  Responsible leadership at both the organizational and advancement level requires bifocal vision – seeing and seizing opportunity in near view while seeking to anticipate and mitigate encroaching challenges.  As we seek to make the most of our year-end opportunities, we must entertain and mobilize around the prospect of a recession in 2023.

I am not predicting it will happen.  I hope it won’t but I know the prospect is real.  I know we’re in the business of tending to prospects.

We know what happens in a recession.  True philanthropists don’t stop giving even as their means decrease but they do narrow their focus.  They contract the number of organizations they give to so as ensure the most important, in their estimation, can continue to live out their mission.

We have a tendency to believe that donors who give to us year in and year out are “our donors.”   Yet, when I interview donors who some clients characterize as their best, I ask “Where does this organization rank in overall giving hierarchy?”  Some clients are stunned to learn that some of whom they deem their best clients have them ranked “third” or “in the third level.”

So the most important objectives moving in the 2023 are:

  • Identify your top prospects
  • Schedule stewardship interviews with as many of them as possible in the first quarter
  • Determine where you stand in the overall giving priorities
  • Develop customized stewardship plans to move up in their hierarchy

The mere scheduling of these interviews, or attempting to, will demonstrate that you are not taking them for granted.  In conducting these interviews, you must encourage their candor. Choosing the right people to conduct them is paramount.   The list of possible interviewers includes the most emotionally intelligent listeners at your disposal, be they:

Some of the best questions to pose in these interviews are shared below.

If a recession comes, these interviews will at least ensure you hold your own if not move up in their giving hierarchy.  That will serve you well during the recession and well beyond, including influencing their estate planning.  If we avoid a recession, you will have still greatly strengthened your immediate and future fundraising prospects.

What to Ask in Your Stewardship Interviews
  • In recent years, what have been your best and worst giving experiences?
  • What can we learn from other organizations you give to?
  • Which organization does the best job of making you feel as if you belong?
  • Which one does the best demonstrating the difference your giving has made?
  • Which one makes the best use of your time and talent?
  • Which do you consider your top giving priority?
  • How do we compare?


Jim Langley is the president of Langley Innovations. Langley Innovations provides a range of services to its clients to help them understand the cultural underpinnings of philanthropy and the psychology of donors and, with that knowledge, to develop the most effective strategies and tactics to build broader and more lasting communities of support. Jim has authored numerous books including his most recent book, The Future of Fundraising: Adapting to New Philanthropic Realities, published by Academic Impressions in 2020. 


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