Fundraisers: The Times, They are a Changing’
Nonprofits continue, with undiminished passion, to seek out ways to change the world for the better. The historic gains the markets have seen in recent years, coupled with the realization that many of society’s systemic problems remain entrenched, have encouraged nonprofits to take on greater challenges than ever before. However, as a continued long-term economic boom seems less and less certain, success will require greater philanthropic investment and test fundraisers’ creativity and stamina even further.
Simultaneously, fundraising talent is in short supply. Turnover in nonprofit leadership and fundraising roles is unsustainable and is being further fueled by record levels of employment. There are more fundraising jobs than there are truly experienced and talented fundraisers to fill them. Donors continue to ramp up their expectations and demands for attention and make more sophisticated decisions—giving larger gifts to fewer organizations as we see anecdotally and in the aggregate data, illustrating the number of donors is decreasing, while overall giving totals continue to rise. The short supply and increasing demands on fundraisers in terms of both quantity and quality is likely to drive seismic shifts in our industry. I think we can expect to see three trends come to the fore: specialization, collaboration and use of AI.
Fundraising has evolved over the past 20 to 30 years into a true profession with specialized and, via CFRE International and numerous academic programs, highly credentialed practitioners. I expect the next evolution of specialization will be a move for many nonprofits toward outsourcing their fundraising talent. Fundraisers who work together collectively and independent of a single nonprofit can share knowledge and best practices across multiple organizations. This trend has taken hold in information technology, human resources and other organizational functions in both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors. For many organizations, fundraising has or will be the next function to be filled via collaboration with “outside” vendors. Like information technology or human resources, organizations are recognizing that, while these skills are important to success, it is not necessary to have them on staff. They can be brought in on an “as-needed” basis.
Collaboration With Donors and Investors
Nonprofits that collaborate with their donors will be the most successful in attracting larger gifts and more investors. Increasingly, what we as fundraisers do goes beyond cultivating and stewarding donors. We need to be engaging donors. Like a private equity or venture investor, donors see the value they are providing as exponentially greater than just dollars. Nonprofit CEOs will need to invest increasing amounts of time building relationships with donors; frontline fundraisers will need to be more knowledgeable about programs and mission. They will need to answer more detailed questions (and, no, I don’t think that precludes those fundraisers being outsourced as described above). We fundraisers will need to more deliberately design opportunities for nonprofits to engage in our organizations.
Artificial Intelligence and Technology Are Coming
I’m not smart enough to see how AI (specifically) and tech (generally) will disrupt the work of fundraisers, but I am smart enough to know we’re naïve if we think they won’t. From a process perspective, technology is making us more efficient, with tools ranging from email, to task management software, to online donation portals that automatically transcribe information into our database. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. There are already services using machine intelligence to prompt next moves for major gifts officers. How long until that is the norm, and we’re automating even more of the relationship between donors and fundraisers?
Change is always scary, but the world does not stand still. The good news is the arc of innovation and evolution curves towards making things better. I expect, driven by the trends above and others I can’t predict, we will finally see giving rise as a percentage of gross national product. Change will be driven by optimism, but also by need. Government is going to do less to solve society’s challenges and provide a safety net for the less fortunate amongst us. A combination of ineffectiveness, the pressure on government budgets to meet their existing commitments while keeping tax rates low and our decreasing trust in government is going to require nonprofits do more and, therefore, to raise more money.
These are exciting times to be a fundraiser, but aren’t they always?
Craig Shelley is a managing director at Orr Group, which provides nonprofits with strategy, fundraising, leadership and management solutions and has offices in New York City and Washington, D.C.
Craig brings an entrepreneurial approach to fundraising, nonprofit management and strategy. Prior to joining Orr Group, Craig served in a variety of positions with the Boy Scouts of America, most recently as the national director of development and corporate alliances. He serves on the executive committee of the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ New York City Chapter and the editorial advisory board for Nonprofit PRO, and is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE).