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Is American Generosity really on the decline?

Three tips for counteracting recent charitable headlines

You’ve probably seen these headlines recently:

Giving USA 2017: Total Charitable Donations Rise to New High of $390.05 Billion

How America Gives Special Report: Breaking the Charity Habit

American Generosity Declines in the 21st Century, Report Suggests

As you can see, the recent and somewhat contradictory charitable headlines can be confusing to all of us. For those of us in the day to day work of a nonprofit, it’s hard to know what each of us can and should be doing in response to this information. I’m going to refrain from forming an opinion about these numbers (and let you read the reports for yourself) and instead provide some tips for getting the work done despite the confusion. Because we know that fundraising fundamentals are always important, in every economy with every type/age of donor and for EVERY. SINGLE. CAUSE.

The other thing I know is that I’m not sure that any of us are ready to support the claim that Americans are potentially becoming less generous. However, there is one key piece that stands out to me – Americans gave more than they ever have, but the gifts are coming from fewer people.

So, what does that mean for ordinary organizations and nonprofit people like you and me? I’ll leave you with three takeaways.


1. KEEP the donors who have already said they care about what you do!

Now is the time to step up the stewardship game. According to Penelope Burk, the author of Donor Centered Fundraising we lose most of our donors between gifts one and two. This is because donors say they just don’t feel like their gifts made a difference. Penelope says there are three things donors need to know to keep giving: 1) the organization was glad to receive their gift, 2) it is being put to its intended use and 3) the gift is helping the organization achieve the desired effect. That’s it.Are you simply sending the standard thank you letter, thinking it alone will help you retain donors? Not so fast. Special and unique communication, typically as personal as possible, will help donors continue to make giving to your organization a priority. If they know their gift is making a difference, they’ll continue to give.

2. ENGAGE your current stakeholders.

Intentionally develop your pipeline in an engaging way that is connected to your current stakeholders and core purpose. Where do you find your best new donors? Look to your current donors. Can they bring like-minded friends and co-workers to an event or engagement opportunity that shows how you change lives? Use a variety of communications platforms to reach these people to introduce your mission. Are you taking any opportunities to expand your nonprofit family through your current “fans?”

3. Understand WHERE NEXT GEN PHILANTHROPY is heading.

If you haven’t downloaded Achieve’s two-part 2017 Millennial Impact Report, supported by the Case Foundation, I highly recommend that you do. The report is fascinating and highlights that millennials are looking at giving and volunteering in a different way. The Chronicle article notes a similar sentiment. The study outlines that millennials feel they can affect more positive change through activist-type behaviors like signing a petition or attending a rally vs. giving or volunteering. Think about how can you involve and engage the next generation in meaningful ways that don’t necessarily start with giving.

The bottom line on American generosity?

The basic principles will never change: to be successful your organization must engage donors in meaningful ways to let them know their support makes a difference. Then you must be open to the new ways of thinking and giving being heralded by the next generation.

Want to talk more about this topic? Join us for HAPPY HOUR, a FREE event hosted by Aly Sterling Philanthropy and Sarah K. Nathan, Ph.D. of the IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy will be joining us to share her thoughts and ideas on the headlines.

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