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Perspectives: Philanthropy in the New Economy

Resource Center - Foundation

(Oct. 13, 2009) In the new fundraising landscape resulting from economic recession, one thing is clear: everyone in the organization has a role in philanthropy. Staying flat-footed is simply not an option.

Last month, nonprofit consulting firm CCS brought together 24 CEOs and nonprofit fundraising professionals from 17 institutions in a forum called Philanthropy in the New Economy. The discussion focused on how organizations' views and practices in regards to philanthropy have changed over the past 12-18 months. Participants discussed their biggest challenges in the current environment and shared their strategies for success.

Challenges

Asked about the biggest challenges they presently face, fundraisers and nonprofit leaders said keeping donors, board and staff members engaged is of major concern. Also proving challenging is keeping staff in front of donors and board members. Engaging supporters is critical, and so to achieve this, the following challenges must also be addressed (as noted by the forum participants):

  • Focusing on the positive rather than the negative
  • Raising awareness of opportunities
  • Building infrastructure
  • Creating a more philanthropic culture
  • Educating the board about their role in philanthropy
  • Communicating often with donors without a financial request

New Opportunities

Coping with difficult times means leaving no stone unturned and identifying new opportunities. Nonprofits have found several promising new avenues and methods. One organization recently conducted a strategic assessment  of its development operation, helping to make philanthropy a more significant priority among board and staff.

Development staff members themselves are another opportunity to find perspective and tools to cope in a bad economy-and are often overlooked as leaders with great ideas to add to the mix. Other valuable opportunities cited in the discussion were improved communication methods (with increased frequency), increasing cross-departmental cooperation, and recruiting younger volunteers to lead new projects. One organization participated in public relations partnerships with like-minded organizations to the result of greatly increasing awareness of its mission.

Strategies

The new avenues and opportunities named above have led to proactive efforts to ensure success among organizations during the past year. These include:

  • Going green and using more email
  • More efficient use of the website
  • Asking board members to make cultivation calls rather than solicitation calls
  • Inviting major gift donors to share why they made their gifts
  • Asking the CEO to call and thank donors
  • Looking to make best use of social media
  • Encouraging younger people to be involved on committees  to foster the next generation of leaders

Key Advice

Final takeaway points of the discussion on philanthropy in the "new economy" include making a strong case and demonstrating the impact of gifts. Here are a few of several points mentioned in the discussion summary released by CCS (and available in the Attachments section of this story).

Your case is a terrific cultivation and fundraising tool. Communicate with your donors regarding what your organization is doing, its future plans, and the impact on the community. Increase awareness of your organization even if you are not in a position to ask for a gift.

Make more personal contacts. Keep making telephone calls and setting-up meetings to let donors know what you are doing and how they can be involved. When in a challenging financial climate, organizations must increase the frequency of contact with donors and prospects.

Donors want to see ROI. A gift's direct, measurable impact is becoming more important to donors. Organizations must be able to articulate results and return on investment ("Here's what your gift has done...").

This most recent CCS event in Baltimore is part of a series of Fora being held in cities around the world, including New York, LA, Detroit, Chicago, London, Dublin, Geneva, among others.



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