Fundraising and the Unpredictable Struggle
As 2017 begins and a new calendar year approaches, I realize in my fundraising world we are just starting the second quarter of the 2017 fiscal year. At The Salvation Army, everything in my world centers around Christmas. In Central Indiana, for example, from hundreds of volunteers working the kettles and ringing the bells to direct mail, social media and face-to-face asks, my organization depended on the holiday season to generate several millions of dollars in 2016.
The fact is, we are behind in our Christmas fundraising efforts. From a seasoned fundraiser perspective, nothing weighs more heavily during the holidays than the stress of that simple fact. It is now my job to create the plan of attack for the next nine months to achieve the fiscal year fundraising goal, which will not be easy. When others in need depend upon your success, you constantly strive to seek solutions.
Did we see this coming? Maybe we should have.
For fundraisers, it always helps to start a new year at full speed.
Instead, donors have moved into 2016 by hitting the brakes.
Our just-released “Atlas of Giving” forecast predicts a charitable giving decline in 2016. The downturn is already underway, with giving through February down 1.4 percent compared to the same period in 2015.
These early results were driven in large part by January giving numbers, which recorded the first monthly decline since the nation’s deep recession ended in June 2009. January’s decrease of 0.6 percent from December snapped a 63-month streak during which giving consistently rose on a monthly basis as the country experienced economic recovery.
According to the study, reasons for the slowdown in 2016 giving included stock market volatility, lower gross domestic product, church giving declining at a faster rate than any giving segment, and the redirection of charitable dollars to the 2016 national election. Other negative factors affecting giving include a possible recession, likelihood of increased interest rates, inflation and economic uncertainty.
Per Philanthropy News Digest, giving in the first half of 2016 was flat, and the forecast for the balance of the year was at 2.1 percent. In December, there were stories in the media on double-digit declines in donations to hunger-relief organizations in Indianapolis.
A story in The Atlantic, featuring a cover photo of The Salvation Army, noted that, according to researchers, the losses of the Great Recession do not entirely explain why people aren’t giving as much money to charity:
It’s possible, of course, that many Americans no longer feel the same fuzzy feelings after giving their money away that they once did. This could result from the “engagement fatigue” noted in the YMCA’s latest national community survey, which shows that Americans are volunteering less time and donating less money to causes that were once important to them. Respondents said their communities are not improving as much as expected, and they believe that governments, businesses, churches and schools need to do more to help out.
Before we totally hit the panic button for 2017, we should look at Liz Bardetti’s “2017 Philanthropic Giving Predictions,” published at CSRwire. Bardetti forecasts a 3.8 percent increase in individual giving, a 6.4 percent increase in foundation giving (due to projected GDP growth) and a 4.7 percent increase in corporate giving.
We must continue to encourage people to give and ask for gifts. Whether we like it or not, 2017 is here. We work in a complex and changing fundraising environment. We need to do whatever we can to generate more funds by gaining new donors, lowering the donor attrition rate and making sure the pipelines for annual gifts, major gifts and planned gifts are strong.
If you are behind in your fundraising goals, take a deep breath and analyze the factors that will increase financial results. Each fundraising year stands on its own, and you must be adaptable to environmental changes. No one said our profession is easy—but it sure is interesting!
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last nine years and has had the CFRE designation for the last 25 years. He has also been a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals for over 35 years. He received his doctorate from West Virginia University with an emphasis in philanthropy, masters from Marshall University with an emphasis on resource development and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with emphasis in marketing/management. Currently he is executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org.