I admit it. I wait for the Giving USA numbers to come out each June with perhaps more excitement than is due. What will they tell us? Are things really looking up, or does it just feel that way? Will there be any big anomalies? A big swing one way or another? And then they come out and… well, I’m not ever that surprised by the results, honestly. At the 60,000 foot level, they tend to say the same thing every year: most giving to religion and education; 72% from individual giving, outright with about 7-8% more through bequests each year. I guess that what does surprise me is the conclusion that more organizational leaders do NOT take from these findings, year after year: despite the fact that $227.7 billion dollars were given by individuals last year, and individuals gave $8.67 billion more than last year, so many anchor their growth strategy in corporate giving, the smallest part of the giving pie.
My hunch – from conversations with many of these organizations – is that the instinct is to go where the money is: okaaaaay. And the perception, often from the board, is that corporations are where the money is. But, of course, we don’t have to go digging very far to find that the many millions of giving individuals in the country give about 2% of their disposable income each year while corporate giving has fallen and stagnated at levels not seen since 1977 – a mere 0.8% of corporate profits last year. So, clearly individual giving IS where the money is, but building an individual giving portfolio feels unattainable to many organizations.
The reason I most often hear is, “I/we don’t know ‘those’ people”. And with the proliferation of the Philanthropy 50, the Most Generous lists, the Forbes Titans of Philanthropy, the press on those who have taken the Giving Pledge, it is easy to understand why accessing “those people” does not feel like it is within the purview of the thousands of small and medium-sized organizations around the country.
But, who do you really need to know? For sure, knowing and engaging high-net worth individuals who can and will give major gifts is critical and wonderful. Giving USA confirms again that having volunteer opportunities that attract, inspire and engage these individuals is key: 88.5% report that their giving follows their volunteer involvement.
Leadership donors – those who can give between $1,000 and $10,000 or $25,000 a year – are the bread and butter not only of these Giving USA numbers, but of strong, small and mid-sized organizations around the country. (After all $1,000 is $83 a month. $83. How much was your cell phone bill?) The “big dog” organizations have known that for years and have invested staffing and fund development strategies to find and keep this cohort above all others. What can the little guys do to catch up? The details in Giving USA this year point the way:
- Leadership donors report that they often give to inspire others. Do you give your current leadership donors (at whatever level) a voice in your communications? Do you seek out some who are willing to be showcased to share their story of inspiration with others? It’s not just about finding those who will be solicitors for you (nice though that is!) but those who are willing to tell your story to others… or have their story told.
- 66% of individuals report that they give regularly to a few organizations they really care about. Are you offering the opportunity to give multiple times a year? Through different channels? To many parts of your core mission that matter to your donors? I am not advocating a constant, unceasing barrage of mail and email to your donors, asking and asking, always with a hand out. But, I do know that small and mid-size organizations can cut back – waaaay back on the number of times they invite people “to the table”, either because of fear or just a lack of staff or volunteers to get appeals out the door. Could you divide the impact of what you do into four or five different pieces and send an appeal, an email, a link to a video on your website quarterly or about every other month? What and who would it take to do that? $200 at a time builds up quickly.
- 90.8% report that they have some or great confidence that the not-for-profit sector can solve problems in society. That’s HUGE confidence, especially given the much more dismal numbers we were seeing just five or six years ago… (And much greater confidence than Congress currently enjoys, yet they don’t seem to have pulled back the political fundraising…hum.) Here’s the “But” and it’s big: the Fundraising Effectiveness Project found that the not-for-profit sector has a crisis of donor retention. Those who believe in your organization give regularly; however, there is a huge number – on average, 59% of donors – who are getting passed around from organization to organization, year after year. Notice that I say “passed around”, not “jumping around”: so often we’re complicit in letting them go by not paying attention to donor stewardship and reporting back on the impact of giving in a way that matters and gets noticed. (Check out our podcast #7 and #15 for more on stewardship.) Recoiling at the thought of soliciting four times a year? What if you communicated a powerful stewardship message in between each of those appeals? Much more palatable, right? And your donor retention will move closer to those few who top 70% – and you’ll build stronger leadership giving along the way.
In the end, I know what keeps a commitment to individual giving off the table for many organizations: the reality is that individual giving is a “people to people” business and that can be messy, it doesn’t have a tidy recipe that bakes up every single time. It is like cooking – you throw yourself into it with good ingredients, you tinker with what works and what doesn’t, you ask others how they’ve made it come out so well and try again and again. Lots of people know how to cook. You can too.