Trending. It’s on my newsfeed, it’s what social media touts. And often, when I am meeting with clients, teaching a workshop, or just talking with people interested in the nonprofit sector, I am asked what fundraising trends I am seeing. I know that they are looking what’s hot and what is not in fundraising techniques. Is there a new ice bucket challenge on the horizon? Is crowdfunding crowding out direct mail? And what’s all this about big data?
To my mind, that’s all noise. I’ve been in this field long enough to remember when the big trend was—gasp, credit card giving! And when mail merge revolutionized direct mail. So no, I don’t think these are the trends to concern yourself overmuch with.
As far as fundraising is concerned, the main trend the one that has been around for as long as I have been in the field: charitable giving is stuck at about 2% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Occasionally, it goes up slightly. Typically, that is when there is a natural catastrophe. Even then, the money that goes toward relief is not necessarily new money. It is the money that otherwise would have been given to you and now is going elsewhere.
As a sector we are stagnating, and we don’t seem to be focused on solutions that will allow us to grow. Instead we focus on the same old same old—looking for wealthy donors and trying on the newest, shiniest thing. We don’t seem to understand that the only way to grow is to get people to care enough to sacrifice something (even something easy) so they can support you. And you can only really encourage sacrifice with deep connections and those don’t happen on a crowdfunding site.
Recently, the Chronicle of Philanthropy released a special report on how America gives. The subtitle was chilling: Breaking the Charity Habit.
As the report says, while annual totals of giving in absolute numbers increase, fewer Americans are giving to charity at all. Only the very wealthy seem to be giving: donations form households earning $200,00 or more, according to the Chronicle report, give 52% of all itemized contributions.
There are many reasons for that. Mega large gifts certainly play a part. If I have been giving $250 or less to an organization and all the talk is about gifts of $25 Million and more, how important does my measly gift seem? Not very. And so, I find other uses for that money.
The other side of the coin is the nonprofit that finds small donors tiresome at best. In truth, it can cost as much to process a small gift as the gift is worth and that much more to keep that donor on our radar. So maybe we just stop soliciting for those small gifts. Or we do in such a desultory fashion, the donors feel fine ignoring he request.
This may or may not matter for larger organizations—the ones who can get those large gifts. But for most nonprofits, $25 Million is a quarter of a century’s worth of operating budget–or more. Not what they should be focusing on at all.
What should they focus on?
As with much in life, it really does depend. It depends on the nonprofit’s needs and its resources. Many of our clients are very small; their needs are small also. This doesn’t mean they should not consider how to grow—they should and in most cases, they must. But in a year—this year, next year—the need is to raise something well under $100,000 then small donors make a lot of sense to focus on. And then to shine that laser light on how to continuously keep and move those donors up.
That means a robust annual fund. But it all means reaching out to those at the higher end (and, yes, that might just be $1,000 or even a bit less) to engage personally. Have your gala or other special event—it does bring your community closer—but stop relying on it for the bulk of your funding. Consider that event the kick-off of your fundraising not the culmination. As I tell my clients, when you wake up in the morning after the event, the response should not be, “Whew! That’s over until next year.” Rather, it should be, “who did I see/meet yesterday that I need to reach out to today?”
To circle back, the most important trend that I see in fundraising is relationships. They still matter. And perhaps, in today’s busy world, they matter ever more than before.