It was a very good year, Frank Sinatra once crooned.
And after seeing how charitable giving increased in 2013, those of us concerned about strengthening nonprofits and propelling more philanthropy should be singing, too. The Giving USA annual report on philanthropy - released last month by the Giving Institute and Indiana University's Lilly School of Philanthropy - showed that total giving grew by 4.4 percent in 2013, reaching $335 billion.
If trends continue on the same paths for the balance of 2014, charitable donations will soon surpass the high water mark set in 2007 before the Great Recession. Nonprofits have plenty of reason to be optimistic. But thriving in today's environment isn't easy. Donors are more discerning and sophisticated than ever. Too many nonprofits are doing things the way they did 10, 20, or 30 years ago, while tectonic changes in technology and giving habits have shaken the philanthropic landscape.
Based on the results of the Giving USA survey (the executive summary can be downloaded free at www.givingusareports.org) and my own work advising nonprofits across the country, I'm putting forward seven ways your organization can tap into the wellspring of American generosity and transform itself to better serve our interconnected and globalized society.
So here is the call to action:
1. Tell an Amazing Story Better and Stronger
Through traditional and new media, demonstrate impact by showcasing to donors where their money goes. Tell compelling stories that highlight your organization's mission and encourage others to invest in its success. Make sure you have a crisp, clear, consistent message across all platforms. Show real impact!
2. Invest In and Use Technology
No nonprofit today should be tracking annual gifts via an Excel spreadsheet. There are several good, affordable campaign management software options that offer sophisticated analytics and allow nonprofits to track donations and donors in systematic and thoughtful ways. This is a vital investment, not an unnecessary cost.
3. Pay Attention to Donor Advised Funds
Donor advised funds are growing rapidly and reshaping the nonprofit arena. Unlike foundations, you can't find them on Google and apply for a grant. Therefore, monitor closely where gifts are coming from and note a donor's DAF in his/her "permanent record." Such an individual is likely to be a serious (or budding) philanthropist: start cultivating a strong relationship with that donor pronto.
4. Ditch the Golf Outings
Many nonprofits are running the same events they were doing decades ago. Organizations need to reevaluate whether these events yield enough donations to justify the time and expense they require. Groups should also ask whether the events are consistent with their mission. Consider eliminating or totally shaking up the tired fundraising event. Is your golf outing really a worthwhile expense today?
5. Transparency, Transparency, Transparency
Sophisticated donors want and expect financial openness. Make 990s, annual reports and budgets available on your website. Official gift acceptance policies should also be posted.
6. Have a Game Plan for Planned Giving
Most planned gifts or bequests are 200 to 300 times the amount of a donor's annual gifts. Planned gifts now account for about 10 percent of all philanthropic gifts. Get with the program and start a robust planned giving program.
7. Board Giving: Give and Get?
Nonprofit board members should be asked to both donate and fundraise for the organization. Too many nonprofits let their board members slide. If a board member isn't going to financially support an organization, why should anyone else? Boards should also have clear guidelines and expectations about giving. Prospective board members should know about giving expectations before they sign on.
Clearly, transforming a nonprofit is an involved challenging process, and some types of philanthropic organizations are doing a much better job than others at keeping up with technological and strategic advances. Now may be the time for your organization's call to action and adopting the steps outlined above will go a long way toward moving your organization in the right direction.