Nonprofit Leaders Translate 2015 Giving USA Data into Tactics for Philanthropic Success

According to Giving USA: The Annual Report on Philanthropy, 2015 Book_Image.jpgset a record as America’s most generous year in philanthropy with a total of $373.25 billion, a direct reflection of both economic improvement and the dedication of philanthropists driving Americans to record levels of giving.

In conjunction with the publication of this year’s report, Campbell & Company collaborated with nonprofit professionals across the nation to discuss the current state of philanthropy. Informative presentations took place during a series of events in Chicago, Washington D.C., St. Paul, Cleveland, and Milwaukee. We also hosted two webinars; a national webinar and a Pacific Northwest webinar. With nearly 900 attendees and more than 20 presenters, panelists, moderators and co-sponsors, we captured detailed findings and translated Giving USA’s data into actionable results.

Below, we summarize key insights shared in our national webinar and events.


Giving USA 2015 results remain positive and panelists emphasized the importance of building strong results by continuing to find ways to cultivate deep and impactful relationships with donors. Panelists suggested that nonprofit professionals strive to meaningfully involve donors in an organization’s mission and steward the relationship long-term. A consistent challenge continues to be the need for nonprofit leaders to diversify sources of giving (i.e. individuals, family foundations, corporations, etc.). Another point of focus was identifying areas to dedicate funding to in order to maximize a gift’s impact. And an increase in donor- advised funds presents new challenges to organizations on the rules and regulations fronts.


Organizational representatives described steps their institutions had taken to address emerging trends and sustain growth during the past year around the following topics:   

There is a growing need to understand Millennial donors and create effective outreach programs that are distinctive and directly appealing through a combination of the right communication vehicles and personal opportunities to play a significant role in the organization’s mission and impact. The potential upside of a long-term relationship can be substantial gifts if organizations engage Millennials and develop bonds that can be stewarded for years to come. To do this, organizations must create meaningful volunteer efforts that are not generic. The first step is to acknowledge that Millennials receive and share information in completely new and different ways, and embracing this change is necessary to bring them into the fundraising process. Adapting to them and understanding what is important to them is key.

Give donors hands-on experiences. A rising trend is to afford donors the opportunity for experiential, hands-on philanthropic work that exhibits a tangible impact that they can hear and see on a personal level. To do this, organizations should strive to provide volunteers and potential donors with opportunities to take part in transformational work that speaks to your mission. By providing opportunities to engage with your mission on a more personal and deeper level, volunteers and donors will feel more connected to your work and to the impact of their donations. If donors feel more connected to your mission and can witness the impact of their investment, they will very likely participate at more substantial levels.

Online giving is on the rise as an important channel for giving. While online giving still does not quite match direct marketing, understanding and deploying social media and web-based fundraising strategies in conjunction with existing efforts can be an important part of relationship-building and “friend-raising” to engage existing supporters, but also a channel to capture the younger donor population.  It is important to understand that in adapting your message for online giving tools—like making it easy for donors to engage via Facebook, LinkedIn or even, as some organizations are doing, creating apps—that your message remains strong about why your organization is the best place for a donor to contribute. It can be difficult to quantify the ROI of social media in fundraising, but it is an important way to build the brand and share the case and impact, and while its direct effectiveness cannot always be quantified, it is an important information channel for new and emerging donor segments.  

As always, donor cultivation and stewardship remains a priority. Fundraising should always be a driver of relationship development. It remains critically important to let donors know that they are directly making a difference in the process of philanthropy. This should also be a mandate within the organization, where you cultivate internal development experts who, in partnership with the program stuff, are adept at building authentic connections with donors. These connections must provide meaningful opportunities for impact. It is critical to understand your donors, how to best communicate with them and how frequently. From the donor perspective, it should feel like a partnership and not a transaction.

Mega gifts are increasing across all sectors, and influencing both an organization’s philanthropy and mission. They are often the result of long-term, nurtured relationships that an individual or family has with an organization. More and more, these larger gifts are very nuanced, and the blended gift—one with both immediate and planned or future components—is becoming more common. Large donors often start out as modest ones and become mega gift donors after a long partnership. If you do not cultivate these donors early in the relationship, you may miss profound future opportunities for long-term investments. Deep engagement in the organization—bringing them closer to the case—will, over time, translate to significant gifts.  


Panelists and attendees alike were excited and optimistic about philanthropy’s continued growth, expressing admiration and recognition for fundraisers and philanthropists. The positive results are not only an indication of Americans’ generosity, but also of the hard work and dedication of our nonprofit professionals nationwide. Panelists also suggested organizations show resilience; although the results are currently strong, markets and economies will continue to have ups and downs, so it is fundamentally important to think long-term and plan strategically.

Campbell & Company is grateful to all of the organizations and non-profit leaders who have partnered with us to produce their respective Giving USA events.  

Click here to listen to Campbell & Company’s Giving USA 2016 webinar.