The End of Traditional Fundraising Jobs and What to Do About It
For many years, I insisted that there was a paradigm shift in the nonprofit sector, like that moment when the sea retracts into itself before the water surges forward in a tsunami. At times, I got pushback from fundraisers who said that any change wouldn't be massive. In short, they thought everything would stay the same as it always was — until the pandemic happened. Now it's harder to contact donors or ask them to support campaigns.
Since the pandemic, more distance has occurred between donors and nonprofits. Further, technology has grown exponentially. And by this point, we’re all familiar with generative artificial intelligence (AI) and how technology is shifting every aspect of fundraising. The fact is that there’s a massive paradigm shift happening in society and the nonprofit sector. So, what does that mean? For one, it means the end of fundraising as we know it.
Wealthy Donors Are Creating Distance
Now, before you get nervous, don’t worry. If you love learning, have high emotional and social intelligence, are curious, and are good with people or technology, you should be fine because you’ll likely be resilient and know how to pivot. If you want to continue things as they’ve always been, then maybe the time has come to reconsider that approach.
The fact is that major donors are tired, and they're starting to take advantage of other ways to support their favorite causes without traditional fundraising, like capital campaigns. For one, they don't want to serve on committees anymore. Wealthy donors are distancing themselves from nonprofits because they’re tired of the same fundraisers and approaches to social causes. Now, they have the opportunity to use donor advisories and, increasingly, technology to give to nonprofits — and do it on their terms.
The Confluence of Three Paradigm Shifters
Since the pandemic's end, executives, donors and fundraisers see something's up and different in the sector. I can't tell you how many times I've heard someone say, “Things just aren't the same as they used to be.” The fact is that there are three primary reasons for the paradigm shift that's ending fundraising as we know it and impacting the nonprofit sector.
1. Over-regulation of Nonprofits and the Government's Financial Interest
If you read the economic news, you know that the United States has a massive debt problem. It's been there for a long time, and it doesn't matter which party is in power. We have a debt time bomb. So, what does that mean for nonprofits? You’re going to get increased regulation with more compliance and tax changes so the government can tap into the financial resources of donors and nonprofits. The more regulation the government has over nonprofits and donor information, the less wealthy donors want to give.
2. Saturation of Nonprofits
For decades, we have had 1.5 million-plus nonprofits in the United States. But did you know that 97% of nonprofits operated with less than $5 million in annual revenue, 92% with budgets of less than $1 million, and 88% with less than $500,000? In short, most nonprofits don't scale. That's why we have multiple nonprofits in the same regions doing the same thing. Wealthy donors know this fact. They know most nonprofits are small, and they don't have the capacity to make a scalable and iterative impact. That's a problem for the sector.
3. Artificial Intelligence and Technology
Finally, we have technology providers integrating ChatGPT into their platforms. So what does that mean? You'll get left behind if your team isn't tech-savvy and you're not integrating powerful AI and tech into your fundraising. The fact is that technology is superior to humans when it comes to predicting what donors will do when and what personalized communication will work best based on data. This data-driven approach allows nonprofits to optimize fundraising and achieve higher conversion rates.
The Future of Fundraising Jobs
If you're a fundraiser, you may be asking, “Paul, when do you see this happening?” It's already happening, and, over time, there will be less need for human fundraising teams as technology gets more precise on whom to ask, how and when. Moreover, platforms will create a hard shift of the balance in favor of donors using technology, impact investment and donor-advised funds to direct their giving using an intermediary.
But all is not lost. Yes, there will be a decline in fundraising jobs and even in traditional fundraisers, like capital campaigns. For instance, ChatGPT can write multiple grants at the same time. Still, this is an opportunity if you know where to position yourself. For instance, you might want to embrace technology and become the resident expert in your organization for integrating platforms. By embracing tech, fundraisers can better identify donor preferences and tailor their fundraising.
Still, not everyone’s a techie. How about becoming a master storyteller who knows how to build relationships? The fact is that being a people person is something anyone can do — including introverts. Knowing how to relate to people and get them excited about a great vision and doing something good for the common good is about developing superior people skills. The best fundraisers still will be people who know the art of engaging with people.
The decrease in the number of fundraising jobs in the coming years could be something that you look at as a bad thing — or not. Remember, you choose your outlook and perspective. So, you could upskill and do personal and professional development to lean into technology or into becoming an exceptional people person. Ultimately, the choice is yours. But nothing is going to stop tomorrow from coming, and at a time when nothing stays the same, you want to develop immense resilience and pivot toward your future in fundraising.
The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.
Paul D’Alessandro, J.D., CFRE, is a vice president at Innovest Portfolio Solutions. He is also the founder of High Impact Nonprofit Advisors (HNA), and D’Alessandro Inc. (DAI), which is a fundraising and strategic management consulting company. With more than 30 years of experience in the philanthropic sector, he’s the author of “The Future of Fundraising: How Philanthropy’s Future is Here with Donors Dictating the Terms.”
He has worked with hundreds of nonprofits to raise more than $1 billion dollars for his clients in the U.S. and abroad. In addition, as a nonprofit and business expert — who is also a practicing attorney — Paul has worked with high-level global philanthropists, vetting and negotiating their strategic gifts to charitable causes. Paul understands that today’s environment requires innovation and fresh thinking, which is why he launched HNA to train and coach leaders who want to make a difference in the world.