GivingUSA Data: A Wealth of Information, A Poverty of Action

Like you, I’ve been reading the GivingUSA report about philanthropy’s slight decline in 2018.  While the data is certainly correct, the resulting conversation, however, may be wrong.

To be clear, I do not doubt the data’s veracity, I question our response. I also don’t doubt the intention and wisdom of those who analyze or produce it, but it may be causing us to focus on the wrong things. All of the information, the stats, graphs, and charts, would be more helpful if they were more thoughtfully accompanied with direction. As leaders of this sector, we have a responsibility to be iterating, and arguably innovating, to drive better execution for nonprofits, not just unempowered explanations.

If you ask any executive director or fundraiser who is trying to raise enough money to balance their budget, let alone expand their programs, they will tell you it’s very hard – and they’re right. Fundraising is not only a job with equal parts that are wholly rewarding and sometimes terrifying, but also to do it right, we have to approach raising money with a level of confidence such that we can overcome near any obstacle. 

After all, if we fail as fundraisers, we potentially fail the people who we help and who need us most: the beneficiaries of our mission and programs. For this reason, while we need all the insights that the Big Data in our sector can aggregate, our prognostication should inspire some level of confidence, not just consternation.

Simply put, it’s on us to figure out what needs to be fixed.

To fix what’s not working, nonprofits must move fundraising from an ad hoc, administrative function to a central leadership priority. There is no technology nor training that can instill this requisite culture in any organization. Once a priority we can help nonprofits to identify, engage, compel, and inspire giving online and on-land.

We generally know what to do, but it requires coordinated execution. This belief has already led grantmakers to take action who have known, and now clearly see, that:

1. The existing nonprofit revenue model doesn’t align with available resources.

The basic revenue model for nonprofit organizations has changed as the values and priorities that underpinned it have shifted. Public funding at federal, state and local levels has declined and, yes, overall philanthropic funding is not growing at pace. That said, we know that nonprofits with 70% of their contributed revenue coming from individual donors, at all levels, balance their budgets. But, we haven’t helped enable and inspire the kind of giving that gets to that kind of funding ratio, excepting the advent giving days, the promise of turnkey peer-to-peer-campaigns, and relative ease of now sourcing new board members online. 

Let’s help them focus on a renewed commitment and expansion of individual giving.

2. Being tax-exempt does not mean nonprofits can be technology-exempt.

In a time where social media, text messages, email are the most prevalent ways people communicate, nonprofits needing to establish or diversify revenue can no longer rely well-written direct mail and well-produced to stimulate giving and build community.  Instead, nonprofits must consistently and credibly engage their donors, volunteers, and constituents – and personalize the experience for each in a way that creates a real and lasting relationship. Donors now expect nonprofits to be technologically literate, responsive to their personal interests, and constantly generating fresh content, despite an organization’s time and budget constraints

Let’s bring them new technology and bring it together, in one place, so it can be easier.

3. Fundraisers don't have access to the expertise they need to succeed.

The skills needed for effective nonprofit fundraising today are complex and numerous. Successful fundraisers must be creative copy writers, graphic designers, social media influencers, data analysts, relationship owners, public speakers, project managers, and many others. While there are workshops, conferences, publications, available to anyone, they are disjointed and don’t give nonprofits the level of guidance so each can move from producing outputs to sustaining outcomes. Access to fundraising expertise can no longer be luxury nonprofits might afford one day. It’s a necessity that nonprofits need to access and leverage each day.

Let’s give them actionable guidance and direct support they need.

It’s time to move our conversation from insights to intention and ideas to implementation.  What do you think is the grantmaker’s role in ‘the fix’?