Fundraising Increases?

Online fundraising is up some percent over last year!  Giving Tuesday grew by another percent!  Headlines like this give me a headache.  The articles that accompany them usually make that headache worse. These could be citing important information.  For example, if online fundraising is increasing, the wise nonprofit will make sure that their landing page—where the donor gets to when she clicks on donate now–is easy to use and encourages thoughtful giving.  But as proof that something is going on in fundraising and your fundraising focus should be about online asks, is fatuous.

Likewise, wonderful that Giving Tuesday is growing.  Maybe. But at most of the organizations I talk with, it is growing at the expense of the regular end of the year giving. It’s not augmenting, it’s replacing. Worse.  It is replacing at lower levels of giving. Oh, wait—the gifts that are gotten are higher than what was given online last year; the gifts, however, are lower than they were from the regular appeal.

Reporting about fundraising makes me crazy because it is so often reporting on the wrong things.

Giving USA tends to look at fundraising trends as if they stand alone, not connected to and dependent on other things.   For example, it is wonderful that charitable giving in 2017 was higher than ever before. For the first time, giving exceeded $400 billion.

That’s the good news. The bad news was that in terms of what it means for the sector—well, heck, it was pretty much of a wash.  As it has been for over 45, giving to charities accounted for about 2% (2.1% this year) the gross domestic product.  We’re not growing.  Rather, we are stagnating.

As for the huge amount, that may be a good thing.  Or it may be a false cognate.

What do I mean?  Well, for the past several years, mega-gifts to mega-nonprofits have been proliferating.  For example, just this week, the Orange County Register reported a $20 Million gift from an anonymous donor to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Beyond wondering who ARE all these people who have this kind of money, there are some critical things to consider.

For starters, in the nonprofit sector we “book” the gift in the year it was pledged.  We have no idea how long the payout period; if the gift is current, deferred, a combination. It paints a pretty but not necessarily an accurate picture of the fundraising landscape.

This is at least equally true of bequests.  A few years ago, the Giving USA report showed a sharp uptick in gifts via bequests.  A trend?  Not likely.  None of the bequest donors are likely to make another gift.  And, in that particular case, there was one person who died and left a billion dollars in her trust to charity.

And I haven’t even mentioned how so much of this supposed increased in charitable giving was gifts to private foundations who only have to then give 5% of their assets to charity, leaving the rest invested and used for other business purposes, nor have we looked at how much was given to donor advised funds—funds that may or may not ever go out to support a charitable purpose.


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