The economy’s tightening. Signs are everywhere.
After topping $4 earlier this summer, Eastern Jackson County gas prices continue to hover around $3.50. Homes are selling slowly. Loans are hard to come by. And earlier this week, the sale of Merrill Lynch and the federal government’s bailout of insurance giant AIG sank the Dow Jones Industrial Average 25 percent.
There’s plenty to get you down. But there’s also reason to hope.
Philanthropy climbed from $295 billion in 2006 to $307 billion in 2007, an increase of more than 4 percent. What’s even more significant is that the jump, which occurred in a year when many began feeling the press of a tightening economy, happened despite Warren Buffet’s $31 million gift the previous year to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. That the $307 billion given in 2007 did not include Buffet’s gift makes the increase even more significant.
If philanthropy is available and growing, how do nonprofit organizations get their fare share? By sticking to the basics.
First, encourage the organizations you care about to remember their missions. They should invite donors and prospects to give to the differences they make in people’s lives, not their budgetary needs or financial shortfalls. Encourage nonprofits to emphasize benefits over features and be specific about how philanthropy will increase their impacts.
Organizations should also ask their best donors to give more. Annually, nonprofits should personally invite thetop ten percent of their supporters to give more than they did the previous year. The requests should be made thoughtfully and emphasize how the additional dollars will help the organizations impact more people through their services.
Third, organizations should ask supporters to introduce them to new prospects. The surest path to new donors is paved by those who already give.
Next, organizations that want to raise more money should live by the numbers. We know individuals give 85 percent of all charitable gifts – not corporations or foundations – and that 15 percent of all donors are responsible for 85 percent of all philanthropy. Encourage the organizations about which you are passionate to live by these metrics.
Finally, encourage the organizations you care about to build champions. Nonprofits need people who place their livelihoods above nearly everything else, save themselves and their families. Such advocates help nonprofit organizations exceed their goals and lead them to others who care about their missions.
I spent most of last week with Boy Scout councils in Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania. While their demographics differ, they possess a striking similarity: committed constituents.
From the head of a community foundation to a retired banker to the owner of a small construction company, the councils’ donors – when asked to quantify their philanthropic plans – pledged ongoing annual support and significant additional dollars for capital improvements.
They understand the councils’ physical and programmatic needs. But they give because the councils have clearly presented their cases for support, asked for specific gifts and demonstrated the differences more philanthropy will make in young lives.
Many will point in coming weeks to a darkening economy as cause for skepticism and doubt. And while it’s true the economy is tightening, our commitment to improving the lives of those around us has always proven stronger and more resilient than any challenge we’ve faced.
Believe what you will, but know I’m betting on a bright future. You’re welcome to join me.
Matt Beem is president of Hartsook Companies, an international fundraising consulting firm. He lives in Independence.