A Realistic Look at Annual Funds
All that is needed is to declare the value of giving, to affirm the act of giving and to affirm those who do give for giving. The goal is to make a point of pride out of institutional support — a pride that all can share — whether or not they themselves are donors. It’s not that nongiving is a fault; it’s that giving is a strength and a privilege. Unless the alumni board signs on to this approach, it’s hard o avoid tacitly, subtly suggesting the opposite. To suggest the opposite is to lose the connection to the biggest, most effective, most visible, most inspiring act of engagement the institution has to offer.
In the end, annual giving is about loyalty. It’s about engagement. And the work that advancement departments do in annual giving is really about the hydraulics of the pipeline of major giving. It’s always been this way. The pressures and stresses of recent trends in the business of mass marketing help us see this more clearly.
The issue is: How do we do the work of annual giving in ways that drives our attention away from the bottom line to this more important purpose? Most institutions discover that when they begin to view the money not as the end but as the gauge, as the measure, of a higher value — loyalty — they begin to raise more money. This is the happy paradox.
Is there a larger role for social media here? Is there a future for mass solicitation? Can we sustain the annual-giving program? Most assuredly. But let’s think more deeply about these issues than we’ve thought in the past. These new times will require a new creativity, and they can bring us a new success. The golden age of philanthropy is not past — unless we allow it to be so. Fundraising is quite essentially the business of optimism, and optimism (not necessity) is the mother of invention. FS
James P. Daniel is a partner at Bentz Whaley Flessner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org