What Giving USA Says About Giving to Your Organization

On Tuesday, the annual learnings from Giving USA were released. This is the longest-running report about charitable activity in the United States, and while it hasn’t always been foolproof, it’s a useful tool for understanding what is happening in the charitable world (at least the U.S. portion of it).

Among the big-picture findings, there are things that can guide your fundraising strategy for the next several months.

It’s about the one, not many
While going after foundation and corporate giving is exciting and holds great promise, the reality is that 86 cents of every dollar given to philanthropy comes from individuals, according to Giving USA estimates. While your experience may be a bit different, the fact remains: Individuals in the United States are generous.

Our job as fundraisers is to build relationships with individuals and strengthen those relationships year after year. You might be growing weary of reading this, but that doesn’t change the fact that retention is critical. Are you constantly thinking about ways to connect with a single donor, to communicate the impact of your program to that single person?

Corporations give differently
Giving USA estimates that half of corporate giving may be non-cash (gifts-in-kind), and 70 percent of that half is pharmaceuticals. If you’re working with corporations now, that’s great. If you’re not, you should think about their role in your giving — but never consider them the Holy Grail.

Corporations often like to give to nonprofits in communities where they have a presence and may want to support a nonprofit that provides a way for its employees to be involved as volunteers. The takeaway here is that corporations do give, but understanding their terms is critical for success. You have to sell your case, and that won’t happen unless you can align it with the corporation’s charitable goals.

Giving USA also reminds us that volunteering is a direct indicator of a person’s propensity to donate. So when you engage corporations and they provide employees to provide hands-on help, make it meaningful. Your next donor may be the person cleaning your warehouse or reading to the children you serve.

Time to go back to school
Well, you really don’t have to sign up for a course at your local college, but there are some important lessons we can learn from their fundraising characteristics. John Lippincott, president of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), was one of the panelists on the annual Giving USA webinar. When asked why he felt educational institutions were continuing to do well with their fundraising efforts, he noted three things:

  • Colleges and universities promise long-term results.
  • They offer multiple points of connection (i.e., music, science, literature, etc.).
  • Educational institutions tend to have highly professional fundraising programs.

There are good lessons here for all of us. How can we package our program so it emphasizes both long-term change and immediate impact? Are there multiple ways a potential donor can connect, or are we offering “one size fits all”? And are we as fundraisers continually learning and developing our own skills, even if our company can’t (or won’t) cover the cost? (This isn’t a suggestion you “go broke.” There are many free resources that require only your time.) Talk to fellow fundraisers with more experience and seek their insight; it’s both good for your career development and a great way to network.

To close, here are a few miscellaneous messages from the Giving USA presentation:

  • Eighty percent of giving from individuals comes from those who itemize on their taxes.
  • Planned giving is like exercise. You won’t see results right away; results happen over time.
  • Pledges (of significant size for capital campaigns, for example) currently often extend beyond the typical five-year limit due to economic uncertainty.
  • Finally, the last note I made during the presentation (and I’m sorry I didn’t write down who said it) is central to making sure your piece of the income reported in Giving USA grows: Focus on making the goals and aspirations of individual donors come true instead of focusing on realizing the goals of your organization.

Wise advice for all of us — old dogs, those of you new to fundraising and everyone in between.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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