Independence, MO – I visited earlier this week with the leaders of two prominent Kansas City foundations.
Their insight was revealing.
Both, whose organizations have traditionally made capital and operating gifts but focused exclusively on operations in the last year, said requests are down noticeably.
I pinched myself to make sure I hadn’t dreamed their words. In an era when many nonprofit organizations’ budgets are shrinking under reduced government support and declining earned revenue, they’re asking for less money?
What’s more, both said, they’re sensing growing optimism about the economy and a return to traditional modes of giving. They were quick to say things aren’t what they were several years ago but affirmed their belief that donor confidence is improving.
My visits were interestingly timed. Next month, the Giving USA Foundation will release Giving USA 2010. Researched and written by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, the report’s June 9 release is inked in most fundraisers’ calendars.
The report is certainly informative. It tells those interested in giving what share of the previous year’s philanthropy was given by individuals, foundations and corporations and to what organizations it went. It’s a useful tool for evaluating shifts in the sources and recipients of the charitable gifts on which it reports.
What it says nothing about, and what the two foundation leaders volunteered, is the role – positive or negative – fundraisers play in philanthropy’s expansion and contraction. And if research is a reliable reflection of reality, it’s significant.
Bank of America Charitable Foundation recently asked high-net-worth donors – those with household incomes of at least $250,000 and net worths of at least $1 million – about their philanthropy. The 2006 study shed light on what motivates the financial benevolence of those whose giving comprises the majority of our country’s philanthropy.
Among the questions asked was who most influences respondents’ giving decisions. You might suspect it was an attorney, accountant, financial planner or other adviser.
Not so. The Bank of America report says the person who most influenced high-net-worth donors’ giving was the fundraiser of the organizations to which they gave.
Let me be clear: I appreciate the information Giving USA 2010 will share. But given the fact that it will likely report a decrease in philanthropy from 2008 to 2009, my qualm is with what it doesn’t say.
After reading the report, most fundraisers will consign themselves to the fact that they’ll raise less money this year. What they’re not reading is that they and their colleagues – if the Bank of America study and my visits earlier this week are any indication – are the most significant cause of the decline.
I am committed to growing philanthropy – not passively watching it contract – 25 percent in the next 20 years. With earned revenue and government support on the decline, it’s the only way the United States’ unique and essential nonprofit sector – which comprises nearly 2 percent of our gross domestic product – will survive and expand to meet the burgeoning demand for its services.
Wake up, fellow fundraisers. Think about what you read and hear. Ask questions. And when the answers aren’t satisfactory, keep probing.
Then, after you’ve satisfied your curiosity, get on with your important work. The nonprofit sector’s future is in your hands.