Recent headlines report that giving grew sluggishly in 2018. AFP’s Fundraising Effectiveness Report says that growth was about 1.6 percent. Blackbaud estimated about 1.5 percent growth. That is potentially below inflation—depending on how you look at it, giving went down.
Well, actually, the charitable giving story is a bit more complicated than that:
- Higher education giving is up. We saw a substantial increase of over 7 percent in cash receipts at the end of fiscal year 2018 (usually July) per the VSE survey. Giving is also changing. A large part of that increase was in alternate giving vehicles like donor advised funds and individually-directed but “other organization” receipted funds like family foundations, etc.
- Campaigns continue to set records. One reason for this is something all the giving reports have pointed to, a massive growth in really big givers. Many charities are setting records for mega-donations at a time when their donor retention, overall participation, and total number of donors are declining. If your organization has the fundraising infrastructure and giving opportunities in place to court these big donors, you are going to see the impact of this historic wealth transfer.
- Broad giving statistics require context. Overall, giving is likely to be sluggish when considered in comparison to things like GDP and inflation in a slow growth economy. Income inequality is getting worse and the student loan debt crisis is an actual crisis that we know is impacting alumni willingness to give.
In fact, as a few of my favorite industry pundits have put it, most of the doom and gloom about fundraising results is overblown, tax policy didn’t really have that much impact and most of the problem is how we’re engaging donors.
- Younger donors are giving differently. Millennials make up a huge portion of our potential donor base. They are responding to different types of appeals, are more burdened by debt, and may be just as likely to give to a compelling GoFundMe campaign directly supporting a friend in need (or a compelling social media case). We ultimately will all start to behave like the young people. So, if you’re not adapting to these new, digital first and socially networked giving tactics, you are going to have trouble attracting and keeping all types of donors.
- Reports from fundraising CRMs and fundraiser surveys are only one part of the picture. If people are giving differently, donor advised funds, Facebook giving, and other methods are changing the game, our impressions and data are going to lag donor behavior. I would suggest that we can talk to the donors directly and ask them how they are giving and how they plan to give.