I was sitting around the table with a group of campaign volunteers, who were also significant donors. We were discussing the organization’s proposed capital campaign elements and one of them said, “We need to reduce this endowment part, nobody wants to give to endowment anymore.”
To my surprise, everyone else at the table agreed with him.
I suggested that they not remove it completely, because there are still some people who want to fund endowment and we want to have them included in the campaign – and pointed out that the board had set increasing endowment as a strategic priority.
But, this did get me thinking.
Do people really not want to give to endowment anymore?
I know that giving to endowment has been out of favor for most foundations for some time, but has that sentiment also grown with individual donors?
I don’t have any data, but I started thinking about the comments we have gotten in the nearly 1,000 feasibility study interviews we have done in the past year.
And, while I don’t think we could conclude that “nobody” wants to give to endowment, I think our anecdotal assessment would be that people do seem less excited about giving to endowment. We are frequently finding donors asking questions about endowment and its importance relative to other institutional priorities.
What we are finding is the key to successfully raising endowment in this climate, is to connect it to meaningful outcomes.
There does seem to be some donor skepticism about giving to endowment, just for the sake of creating a bigger endowment. However, if the endowment can be connected to specific programmatic outcomes, the attitude is often different.
If you can paint a clear picture that increasing endowment will have a real, measurable impact on accomplishing your mission – beyond just enhancing the balance sheet – donors will get excited about supporting endowment.
As always seems to be the case, you have to be able to answer the “so what” question, and even more so in order to be successful in raising endowment.