Campbell & Company recently convened panels of nonprofit leaders at multiple events across the nation to discuss the real-life implications of the Giving USA 2011 report on philanthropy in America. The panelists discussed the importance of demonstrating impact and maintaining donor relationships, as well as the changes they have observed in giving from individual, corporate and foundation sources.
A Slight Uptick in Giving
According to Giving USA 2011, total American charitable contributions rose slightly after two years of recession-fueled decline. While these numbers have brought about mild optimism, the difficulties of the last few years have necessitated a shift in strategy.
“Many nonprofits expect giving to increase by small percentages in the coming year,” Stacy Palmer, Editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, said at the June 21 Washington, D.C. event. “And to achieve that gain, they are turning to their most loyal donors, and especially to wealthy supporters.”
Donors Want Impact—and Nonprofits Need to Show It
“Our donors are expecting more and more research and more and more impact,” Vicki Escarra, the President and CEO of Feeding America, said during the June 21 national webinar.
According to Laura Thrall, the President and CEO of the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago—a group that has helped lead the way in carefully assessing the return on investment of philanthropic dollars—this emphasis is not simply a demand from donors, but an important responsibility that nonprofits have in tough economic times. “As a community of philanthropists, we have to make sure that people not only survive, but thrive,” she said at the June 22 event, held at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
Relationships Still Matter
Panelists emphasized the importance of maintaining long-term relationships with individual donors. Stephen Falk, the President of Northwestern Memorial Foundation, said that the middle and the bottom of his organization’s donor pyramid are the strongest they’ve ever been, but seven- and eight-figure megagifts have been slower to return. Still, Northwestern Memorial’s relationship management practices and focused planned giving program have helped it weather the economic storm.
“You have to listen carefully to your donors, be flexible and adjust,” said John Lippincott, the President of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), later adding that conversations with donors are becoming “more transformational than transactional.”
Corporations and Foundations Are Looking for Strategic Partnerships
Panelists noted that corporate giving is becoming more strategic and more multifaceted, with a focus on nonprofits that can provide a larger benefit and a stronger emphasis on giving in multiple ways, including in-kind gifts and
Despite the challenges posed by the new fundraising environment, Ellen Alberding of the Joyce Foundation, which has assets of $800 million, emphasized the importance of not becoming too defensive in the strategies nonprofits pursue. “We’re still looking for those risk-takers, those great ideas, and we still want to invest in them,” she said.
Philanthropy Remains a Core American Value
Speaking at the June 29 Boston event, Norman Stein, the Vice President of Development at the Boston Medical Center, called the data “sobering,” and noted that philanthropy has not substantially changed as a percentage of net income over the past 40 years. Development professionals, he said, need to find ways to better communicate their mission and shift their stakeholders’ paradigms so they see each cause as a major investment.
Still, many panelists saw the persistence of philanthropic giving as a cause for optimism. While the economy affects the level of contributions, Americans have consistently supported their favorite nonprofits through good times and bad. As their incomes continue to recover, so should their giving, and those nonprofits that emphasize best practices and strong donor relationships will stand to benefit.
“I think what we’ve learned coming through the Great Recession is how resilient philanthropy is in this country,” Lippincott said. “It pays to invest in your fundraising in both good times and bad.”
For more information on Campbell & Company’s Giving USA 2011 events and to access the Giving USA microsite, please click here.