What the 2008 Recession Can Teach the Nonprofit Community Today

This post is co-authored by Olivia Miller Gattuso with input from the entire Ostara team.

Today – April 13,  2020 – much of the United States is weeks or months into temporary routines of social distancing, mandated by governors and urged by the President in response to the COVID-19 crisis. For the nonprofit sector, the economic impacts of this are profound. As programming and fundraising events are canceled, staff are reduced, volunteers and clients are not showing up, and revenue sources shift or disappear, nonprofits’ survival is uncertain.

We get it. In fact, we have seen this before. The Ostara Group was founded shortly after the largest drop in the U.S. financial markets since the 1929 Great Depression. The worst of the 2008 recession lasted a year and a half; by mid-2009, numbers began to trend upwards and the turmoil started to quell. But the 18-month period wreaked havoc on the nonprofit sector, in lasting ways.

Last month, Congress passed a $2 trillion economic stimulus package (the CARES Act) that includes emergency loans for small businesses and nonprofits to begin alleviating some of these pressures. And as many have rightfully called out, this is a time for more and greater funding for the nonprofit sector; “this is the rainy day funders have been saving for.” The Pacific Northwest philanthropic community is beginning to provide lifelines for nonprofit organizations of all shapes and sizes in this unprecedented time. Regional funders like Seattle FoundationCommunity Foundation of Snohomish CountyKing County, and many others have joined together to establish rapid response funds to support specific COVID-19 needs in the community. Nearly 500 foundations across the U.S. have signed a philanthropy pledge of action that commits them to compassionate grantmaking during this challenging time. And a coalition of Seattleites called All in Seattle has banded together to raise funds to funnel directly into local nonprofits.

Yet, we know the fight to survive this is far from over for nonprofits. To help our nonprofit community through this, we are posting a series of three blog posts:

Part I: What does the data tell us about how funders responded during the last recession? What can nonprofits expect this time?

Part II: Based on those lessons, what should nonprofits be focusing on to survive this? What fundraising strategies might be most effective right now? How can or should you pivot their operations, programming, fundraising, and finances to best leverage public and private investments to survive?

Part III: How can funders make the biggest impact? Where and how should you be investing to help nonprofits survive this pandemic and the years that follow? What mistakes should you avoid?

Part IPart II, and Part III are now live on our website.

We are here for you and we will walk with you as you navigate this situation. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you would like to discuss how to shift your fundraising event plans, how to respond to


ByBrittany Kirk

Over the past decade, Brittany has honed her skills in crafting cohesive and compelling grant applications, creating usable systems to streamline internal processes, and charting a path between present-day realities and long-term visions.