By Jerry Henry, Partner
“For many that rely on philanthropy…this is not just a tough year. This is going to be a tough era.”
–Patrick Rooney, Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University
“Ugh! What’s our organization supposed to do?” one client asked dejectedly upon reading the statement above in a recent publication based on the 2012 Giving USA report, which we highlighted in the last issue of Atlanta Results.
Patrick Rooney, the executive director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University , was reflecting on what has become the second-slowest giving recovery from a recession since 1971. What gives many of us in the nonprofit sector additional anxiety is that – as Rooney suggests in other statements he has made and in other articles where he is quoted – it will be as much as ten years before we regain the ground lost in philanthropic giving due to the “Great Recession.” Others are even posturing that the recovery could take even longer due to the increased uncertainty among donors because of the challenges in the global economy, political gridlock domestically and a host of other anxieties (health care, the aging population, etc.).
So, what are we supposed to do in leading our organizations?
I’d suggest one place to begin is educating your Board members and keeping them informed of what is going on in your particular segment of the nonprofit sector. The roles of Board members are as critical as ever; and I’d suggest three points you should hammer home with your organization’s leaders.
First, they (and you!) must adopt an attitude of patience . Things are going to continue to be challenging and slow-going as the economy recovers and as the philanthropic spirit grows once again. Continuing to focus on the basic “best practices” of fundraising will be important. Also, developing a fundraising plan that is measured and based on realistic expectations given your organization’s history and knowledge of your constituents is important. Looking for quick-fix gimmicks, or hoping that social media will be the way to grow philanthropy rapidly for your organization, will not be the answer. We’re in this for the long-haul.
Second, secure the philanthropic support of your Board members …this is critical. Emphasize that during their term of service, Board members should make your organization one of the top three priorities within their menu of charities they support. It goes without saying that 100 percent of the membership of the Board must support the organization through annual gifts and in any capital or special projects being undertaken. While we all know this to be one of the basic principles of successful fundraising, I am constantly amazed at the organizations who struggle to achieve 100 percent Board giving – and this is especially true in the human services segment! Board members must lead through their personal philanthropic support.
Third, Board members must heighten their efforts at building relationships on behalf of your organization. Keep the focus on individual donors! In this era when many donors are choosing smaller numbers of organizations to support, personal relationships can make a difference whether your organization is viewed as important or worthyof a philanthropic investment. And your Board members’ passion about your mission and their willingness to talk personally with others about your organization will make a difference.
What’s an organization supposed to do? Start at the top with your Board and encourage them to “keep on, keeping on!”
The good news is that charitable giving IS growing!