Nonprofit Fundraising Trends: Reflections from our Giving USA 2019 Webinars

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2018 was a year of mixed results for charitable giving, influenced by a strong economy, a volatile fourth quarter for the stock market, significant tax law changes, and a complicated policy environment. How did this complex landscape impact organizations in communities across the country?

We unpacked the Giving USA 2019 report’s nuanced results in four in-person events—in Chicago, Cleveland, DC, and Milwaukee—and two webinars throughout the month of June. In all, over 1,000 nonprofit professionals attended our events and 23 speakers weighed in on the data and discussed prevailing trends.

Read on for five key themes that emerged during our National and Northwest webinars, as well as our in-person events.

DIVERSITY, EQUITY, INCLUSION AND THE DONOR BASE

Our webinar panelists underscored the importance of embedding the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion into fundraising programs and throughout entire organizations. They encouraged development professionals to challenge their preconceived notions of who can be a philanthropist, where wealth resides in communities, and how they define philanthropy.

“We need to spend time on diverse philanthropy and understanding the impact of that,” explained Vice President of Education Rob Henry of CASE. “Diversity, for us, is people of color, women, and young alumni. So, when we think about that spectrum, the question becomes, ‘what are we doing differently to engage these audiences?’”

Engagement strategies discussed ranged from affinity groups, giving circles, and volunteering opportunities to simply making a point of asking people of diverse backgrounds to give. Panelists also stressed that this work cannot be restricted to the development department: the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion must be reflected in the backgrounds of the staff and board, the sense of belonging felt by its constituents, and the language the organization uses in its communications outreach.

TAX REFORM AND ITS EFFECTS ON PHILANTHROPY

The full effects of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act remain an open question, and our panelists discussed the uncertainty and concern felt across the nonprofit sector.

Randy Varju, President of Advocate Aurora Health Foundations and Chief Development Officer of Advocate Aurora Health, spoke about the impact he has seen on mid- to lower-level donors and the drop in attendance at certain events. Rather than trying to create a tangible return on the ticket price of events, he counseled organizations to build in more meaningful experiences. In addition, he advised development officers to focus on deeper relationships with mid-level and major donors—with the intent of forging lifelong partnerships.

Chief Executive Officer Kiran Ahuja of Philanthropy Northwest also discussed the significant effort led by United Philanthropy Forum to push for a universal charitable tax deduction. This advocacy work seeks to encourage giving to the fullest extent possible and continue the strong history of philanthropy in the United States.

THE UBIQUITY OF DONOR-ADVISED FUNDS

Donor-advised funds (DAFs) were a major conversation topic in both webinars. Many panelists have experienced an uptick in giving from DAFs to their organizations, a phenomenon they see as an opportunity for relationship building.

“These [DAF holders] are individuals and families coming to us ready to create a strategy, and it is our great honor to work with these folks to figure out the change they want to see in the world and who’s doing that in our community,” said Director of Philanthropic Engagement Stacey Guadnola, CAP, of Greater Tacoma Community Foundation.

“I would encourage anyone who has a donor who’s giving through a donor-advised fund, as soon as they raise their hand and say that they have that giving vehicle, pay attention to that. That means they’re being thoughtful, they’re being strategic, and they’ve chosen you.”

THE SHRINKING SHARE OF AMERICANS GIVING TO CHARITY

The decline in broad-based giving documented in the Philanthropy Panel Study[1] also came up during our webinars. Panelists acknowledged the complex nature of this phenomenon and shared two ways to confront it:

  • Adjust our fundraising practices to retain and nurture donors at all levels and develop our donor pipeline
  • Reassess how we track giving and what’s included in our definition of philanthropy

Through all the threads of conversation in our webinars, panelists returned to the importance and power of relationship building.

Amanda Walker, Vice President for Advancement of The Evergreen State College and Executive Director of The Evergreen State College Foundation, shared these final thoughts in our Northwest webinar: “When you really connect your donors’ values to the people you serve and help them see that impact, you’ll have positive results. If you do this work with heart and with rigor, it can be amazing.”

CROWDFUNDING AND SOCIAL MEDIA

When panelists spoke of philanthropy beyond traditional giving methods, they also touched on crowdfunding and social media fundraising, from amplifying donor impact and sharing stories with a far-flung audience to creating viral campaigns.

Development and Communications Director Maria Kolby-Wolfe of Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) shared how her organization recently raised around $200,000 in a matter of weeks through a Facebook fundraising campaign.

“With Facebook and social media, you have to be ready to move and move fast,” affirmed Maria Kolby-Wolfe. When the family separation crisis first gained national attention last summer, NWIRP pivoted and made quick decisions to build support around this time-sensitive cause.


We’d like to give a special thanks to all our speakers who shared their insights across six Giving USA events, as well as everyone who attended. Our firm looks forward to addressing each of these trends and many others with upcoming content in 2019 and into 2020.

Please contact us with any questions and stay tuned for next year's Giving USA events!

[1] https://www.philanthropy.com/interactives/Disappearing

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Molly Saks

Molly Saks is a Senior Marketing Associate and Online Fundraising Consultant at Campbell & Company. She works with all the firm’s service areas to drive thought leadership strategy and helps organizations increase their impact through online fundraising.

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