Monday, June 20, 2011

The Fundraiser's Report Card (or, What the Giving USA Foundation's 2010 Report Means for Nonprofits)

Each year on the last day of school, my kids bring their report cards home in a sealed envelope.  This is always a big deal in our house, mainly because they are anxious to see if they've been promoted to the next grade. 

(I'd imagine that their father and I would know if that wasn't happening well before report card time. Regardless, their anticipation of how they did over the past year is kind of fun to see.)

With the release of Giving USA Foundation's 2010 results on charitable giving, today is kind of like report card day for us fundraisers, isn't it?

As those in the nonprofit sector know (but others reading this - hi, Mom! - may not) Giving USA is a highly reputable survey in the philanthropic world and taken seriously, as it should be. 

(I admit to being a little like my kids and myself as a parent on this day:  I'm eager (and optimistic) to see the results, to gauge how we as a profession are doing and where the giving is going, but I'm also usually not all that surprised about the results.)

This year's report doesn't have too many surprises, in my view.  "[T]otal charitable contributions from American individuals, corporations and foundations were an estimated $290.89 billion in 2010, up from a revised estimate of $280.30 billion for 2009. The 2010 estimate represents growth of 3.8 percent in current dollars and 2.1 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars."

It's encouraging to see an increase - albeit ever so slight - but this shows that the economy is still slamming charitable giving, which translates into countless nonprofits still struggling to provide services to the very people who were once their donors in better times. I hope that this means that giving is on the road to recovery.  It will be interesting to see if the 2010 numbers are revised downward next year, as the previous years' numbers have been.

What I always like to look at in the statistics is where the money is going, and who is giving it.  Again, not too many surprises here. As has been the case in the past, giving by individuals leads the pack (with those holding bequests, no less).  Corporate and foundation giving follow.

Religion still leads (and we know why: because their constituents are asked to give weekly) but is followed by education for the first time in recent years.  That's encouraging for those in that subsector.  Human services is still shaky - and worrisome, especially given how these groups tend to be impacted by volatile state budgets and whatnot. 

So, what does this mean for nonprofits and their fundraising?  Three words.  The same three that we've been chanting since the Great Recession started. 

Individuals, individuals, individuals. 

The big bang for the bucks might be in the corporate coffers, but a bigger bang can be had with the individual donors.  It shows that just as many resources on the nonprofit end need to be devoted to the individual donors and cultivating them for potential bequests.  (Making for another reason why attending the 2011 Millennial Donor Summit is a good idea.)

Again, the need to focus on individuals isn't surprising, but all too often its not where we direct our time. We don't always call at least three donors each day to say thank you or wish them a happy birthday. We don't always follow up after special events. And thank you notes are oftentimes considered the bane of a development officer's existance.

These sorts of tasks are a fundraiser's homework. And if we do our homework right (and every night), there won't be many surprises on our end-of-year report card.

Link to the Giving USA report on the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University's website.

What Other Fundraisers and Nonprofit Professionals are Saying:

Mitch Nauffts of the blog PhilanTopic has a good summary of the Giving USA report's highlights and links to other commentaries about it.    

On her blog Talisman Thinking Out Loud, Barbara Talisman provides fundraisers with ways they can use the report right now.

Jocelyn from Marketing for Nonprofits gives her insightful take.

Andrew Watt, CEO of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, says that the Giving USA report indicates we have a long road ahead.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

That Ain't Workin': Comments for Nothin' and Your Clicks For Free

I'm not a Dire Straits fan (in fact, I despise the song with the skewed lyrics in the subject line above). But it's the first thing I thought of when I noticed a few questions posed by some nonprofits in my Facebook News Feed this morning. 

Perhaps you've noticed this sort of thing, too. 

Status update from a local, grassroots organization that supports people with disabilities:

"It's a hot one out there today!  Where does everyone go to stay cool?"

Followed by this, from an educational group:

"Tell us the SPF level on your sunscreen!  Share with us ... we want to know!"

Really?  I mean, do you really want to know such trivia?  And, um ... why?

This sort of question would make sense if this was an organization with a mission having something to do with skin care or preventing cancer, but it's not. Or if the query about places to stay cool was followed up with a listing of summer recreational activities that are conducive and amenable to people with disabilities. That would be informative, interesting, interactive.

Instead, what these general questions represent is mindless chatter disguised as "engaging with our audience."  And for quite awhile now, it has been one of my pet peeves of how nonprofits are using social media - Facebook in particular.  I've noticed this becoming more and more prevalent ... and as a fundraiser and a donor, I don't really get it. 

Or maybe I do.  Maybe one explanation is this:  many of us have had to sell our bosses or our boards on this newfangled notion of "doing social media."  In the best scenarios, they were merely hesitant.  Worse case, they were downright obstinate, refusing to go where everyone had gone before. (I've had the experience of working for both.)  But we sold it to them (because that's what we do) under the guise of "engaging with our audience."  We believed that the masses of people Liking and Friending us would rush home from our galas and our donor recognition dinners to spend the wee small hours of the morning breathlessly awaiting our photo uploads.  And that they would gush over them, making us feel like we were, indeed their number one nonprofit. 

We believed that our Fans and our Friends would engage us in meaningful dialogue, that they would become evangelists for our cause, spreading the word to their friends and family.

And part of us knows ... they're not. 

So we fundraisers/PR directors/development coordinators start feeling a bit desperate, thinking that maybe this isn't working, wondering if we screwed something up with our profile or our settings. We start counting likes and Friends, in case of that moment at a meeting when we're asked how many "friends" our organization has.  How many people we are engaging with, even if we're ... um, really not.

We start floundering, getting off course and off strategy. 

And from a donor's perspective, well ... I think these casual snippets of conversation, as if we were standing around at a fundraising event (talking about our preferred sunscreens?) have the dangerous potential of disenfranchising our donors.  In the case of the two organizations I mentioned above, there aren't any comments on those questions and that isn't a surprise now, is it?  Who can be bothered with answering such drivel?

I think it also communicates what could be perceived in the eyes of our donors as a lack of focus on the goal or mission. We who do social media know that these status updates really only represent nanoseconds of time in the scheme of millions of other to-dos throughout our long days, but our donors might not recognize that.  They see what they see, and if our board members are seeing a barrage of questions about sunscreen and inquiries of "so, what's everyone up to this weekend?"  then it becomes eyebrow-raising, a potential turn-off in terms of interest and support. 

It comes back to the stories, the stories, the stories.  Social media (and don't get me wrong, I adore this Internet thing of ours) is tailor-made for stories galore. I believe it has so much potential but yet so much of that is squandered with the banalities.  The story about your client, that kid your organization helped in that new program, that volunteer who has been an unsung hero for 20 years ... the substantive content gets sacrificed for constant crap.  It's always been quality over quantity, in all of our fundraising communications.  Social media is no different. 

The compelling status updates that link your Friends and Fans to the mission of your organization or what your organization is about are going to be the status updates worth remembering - not forever, no. But my money's on it lasting longer than even the strongest level of sunscreen.