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What’s Top of Mind for Fundraisers in 2017?

Resource Center - Foundation

Instead of predicting what might happen in 2017 (and you can find a lot of those articles here), we asked a few AFP members what issues they are most concerned about—the trends or challenges that are keeping them up at night.

To no one’s great surprise, public policy and the new Trump Administration was the number one issue. In fact, every single U.S. member queried by AFP mentioned expressed concern and uncertainty about the potential impact of the new Administration and the possibility of major tax reform that could affect the charitable deduction and other giving incentives.

“Regardless of political philosophy, we see our clients across the country challenged by deep uncertainty about what the incoming administration will bring to the nonprofit sector,” said Liz Knuppel, president and CEO of Skystone Partners in Cincinnati, Ohio. “Whether related to shifts in the tax law or budgeting decisions, there is no track-record of policy decisions upon which an organization may predict the future with any real degree of certainty.  Naturally, nonprofit organizations feel unsettled and limited by their abilities to plan beyond the next week or month.”

Those comments were echoed by Martha Schumacher, ACFRE, MInstF (AdvDip), president of Hazen, Inc.: “The change in administration is of course a huge thing here in Washington, D.C., but the issues run much deeper, considering the potential impact not just on philanthropy, but sector practices in general and items like IRS oversight. It’s been interesting to see the recent fundraising bump some organizations have seen using urgent, short-term messages about possible upcoming policy changes, but it’s really unclear what the long-term impact will be.”

Retaining Top Performers

Looking at issues within the profession, attracting and retaining great fundraisers at all levels of experiences remained top of mind for most of our responders.

The ongoing concern I have in development is the recruitment, training and retention of top-performing fundraising talent,” said Kevin Foyle, CFRE, vice president for development for Development and Public Affairs at the UT Health Science Center in Houston, Texas. “It’s always been an issue but seems to be an accelerating concern in light of the pending retirements happening across the sector.  I think more and more we are attempting to create a career ladder within our own organization to build the mechanism to bring junior and mid-level professionals in and move them up as their skills develop.  It’s not rocket science but it takes time and energy to ‘grow your own’.”

Scott Decksheimer, CFRE, partner with The Vitreo Group in Calgary, Alberta, agrees, and sees an increasing emphasis on shorter-term projects and fundraising needs. “Deficits in skill, ability and, availability are impacting results, and this dearth of talent is also affecting how fundraising is being viewed by those outside of fundraising,” said Decksheimer. “Organizations are looking at new ways of dealing with this problem. In 2017, we expect more temporary placements and expanded use of project-focused contracting to keep critical initiatives afloat.  These changes alone deeply challenge our ingrained beliefs that the management of long-term relationships can only be done with long-term staff. The rise of short term placements will seriously test beliefs.”

Mike House, CFRE, president and CEO of the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation in Edmonton, Alberta, is also looking internally, but especially at his middle management team. “How to help my middle managers how to work with their teams is one of my biggest concerns this year. They have no experience in dealing with personnel conflicts, managing expectations, performance management, or helping others to realize their potential. So we are looking hard at implementing training that helps these high performers transform into good people managers.”

And in the area of fostering employee performance, loyalty and satisfaction, Rachel Hutchisson, vice president of corporate citizenship and philanthropy at Blackbaud in Charleston, South Carolina, has this time on the rise of human social responsibility. “Employees are increasingly looking for a greater diversity of options for giving back and supporting causes, and organizations need to listen to their employees more and take cues from them,” said Hutchisson. “It’s a shift in mindset from Corporate Social Responsibility to what I call Human Social Responsibility, where organizations, as conveners of people, will take their lead from their employees and their individual human social contracts. This will result in more organizations looking for ways to support employees’ causes within the broader scope of their CSR programs, incorporate giving and volunteering that employees do on their own time into these programs, and encouraging skills-based volunteering as a dual employee development and community investment tool.”

Diversity and Technology

There were of course plenty of thoughts about the upcoming year in fundraising and what sort of trends charities were going to need to address.

Looking at more diverse donors while understanding that more contributions seem to be coming from fewer but wealthier donors, are two keys for Luce Moreau, CFRE, president of Fondation Du CHUM in Montreal, Quebec. “Charities are increasingly relying on larger and larger donations from smaller numbers of high-income, while receiving shrinking amounts of revenue from the vast population of donors at lower and middle income levels. At the same time, donor demographics and our population is shifting, soon to be a non-white majority, and philanthropy will shift in a similar pattern. We have to walk that road right now.”

Vivian Smith, CFRE, executive director of the Langley Memorial Hospital Foundation in Langley, British Columbia, says all of the nonprofit communications sounds like traffic and noise at the London Heathrow Airport at the height of the tourist season. “Take all the noise from the traditional channels (newspaper, radio, television), add in the hum from the “old” social media (websites, Facebook, Twitter) and then pour in a mix of the emerging social media channels,” says Smith. “How can the charitable sector continue to be a strong presence amidst all that traffic? And how can my particular charity stand out in my noisy community? That’s what’s been on my mind lately.”

Decksheimer is also seeing clients and other organizations facing the challenge of technology adoption. “Smaller non-profits can no longer afford to delay adopting current technology and tools – donors are demanding that these things be in place,” he said. “Donor and constituents, via surveys and feedback, are telling us that an up-to-date and easy-to-use web presence is a critical factor in where they choose to give, and its importance is increasing. Online giving is not just for the smaller gifts anymore – some donors are making five and six figure gifts via web portals. With this shift to increased use of technology by donors, data security, data storage and data privacy will become ever more important.”

What’s on your mind in the New Year? Email us at and let us know of your thoughts, or your response to any of these ideas. AFP will be exploring these trends and challenges throughout 2017.

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