Is The Donor Universe Shrinking?

Scientists have argued for years over whether or not the universe is expanding or shrinking. With the recent arrival of the Giving USA statistics for 2013, many nonprofit leaders are asking the same question about another type of universe –the “universe” of prospective donors to our non-profit organizations. For some of these leaders, there may be some signs that this universe is actually shrinking!

In a summary article from The NonProfit Times by Mark Hrywna, some interesting points were made about this shrinking pool of donors.

In the area of higher education, John Lippincott, the President & CEO of the Council for Aid and Support to Education (CASE) pointed to the high level of professionalism among higher education advancement that he believes helped education to experience its strong period of growth following the recession. Lippincott said, “Education for a long time has made a strong investment in fundraising operations.”

But, there remain some challenges even in higher education when viewing alumni giving. While the total dollars given by alumni continues to increase, the actual participation level among alumni has dropped. The bottom line: fewer alumni are giving more money.

In the area of human services, Irv Katz, president of the National Human Services Assembly in Washington, DC, was sobered by the basically “flat” change in giving to human services nonprofits. As Katz is quoted in the NP Times article, he says, “People don’t perceive the human crisis as critical as they had at the height of the Great Recession.”

Also, he viewed that the giving “borders between these categories are a little more permeable.” In other words, donors who are concerned about human services might have their charitable dollars counted in other areas such as public-society benefit or religion.

In the area of religion, has seen a slight decline in charitable giving while retaining the largest total dollar amounts given to any sub-sector. In my own work with faith-based groups and congregations of all shapes and sizes, I’m seeing a similar situation. In many churches, for example, the number of pledging households is shrinking, but the actually dollar among being given is increasing.

All of this points to a continuing unease among some donors – many of whom aren’t certain that their economic woes are over.