Tim Ebner is communications director and press secretary at the American Forest & Paper Association in Washington, DC. He is a member of ASAE’s Communication Professionals Advisory Council and a former Associations Now senior editor.
Quiet forces are gradually reshaping how and why donors give, creating opportunities for associations to access new resources, engage new members, and build new partnerships.
The immediate outlook is good for giving.
In 2018, Americans are expected to give more to charitable causes—3.8 percent more, by one estimate. That’s good news for nonprofits, including associations. But talk to a few fundraising professionals, and you’ll hear concerns about quiet forces that are gradually reshaping how and why donors give.
Whether they’re responding to new and emerging technologies, pressure for transparency and trust, or broader generational habits and trends in giving, fundraising professionals are retooling their operations and sometimes reassessing their donor base.
“We’re talking much more about impact than ever before,” says Lori Gusdorf, CAE, executive vice president of the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Foundation for Philanthropy. “It’s an important word, because when someone gives, it’s not just for a scholarship or education program. What they’re really doing is providing an opportunity to invest in and grow the profession.”
Gusdorf says that many association foundations are taking cues from well-respected nonprofits and philanthropies that are shifting their fundraising models to leverage impact-investment-style giving. That’s especially true for large, corporate donors, says Jeffrey Tafel, CAE, executive director of the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) Foundation.
“The days of a company just writing a big, old check to support a foundation are pretty much over,” he says. “These days, what we’re seeing is a shift in donors that want to engage with charitable entities whose mission is in alignment with business objectives.”
The reality is that the donor pyramid is becoming much more vertical than it is flat.
That style of engagement has led IFMA Foundation to completely overhaul its approach to fundraising and development. Today, the lion’s share of its charitable contributions comes from corporate donors giving to specific causes over a sustained period.
“What we’re doing now is asking them to make an investment in facility management as a career choice. Because like many professions, we are being faced with a retirement wave and an incredible workforce gap,” Tafel says. “We are going to a completely different well of talent acquisition teams and human resources departments to fund multiyear foundation efforts.”
3.8% Percentage that U.S. charitable giving is expected to grow in 2018
Source: The Philanthropy Outlook, Indiana University and Marts & Lundy
Dave Coyne, CFRE, president of the Sheridan Group, helped IFMA Foundation devise a new strategy to bring in more high-net donors. He says the traditional “80/20 rule” for fundraising campaigns—which holds that 80 percent of donations come from 20 percent of donors—isn’t the rule anymore.
“It may be that 80 percent of your support now comes from just 20 donors,” Coyne says. “The reality is that the donor pyramid is becoming much more vertical than it is flat.”
That’s not to say there aren’t opportunities for organizations to reshape their donor base. New tech-driven trends in giving, such as the emergence of digital peer-to-peer giving and crowdfunding campaigns, make it possible to tap into high-volume, small-amount donations.
“This style of a campaign is great for special projects or events,” Coyne says. “It’s a point-and-click, social-share mentality. You’re not going to get major gifts, but it could help you to fund something on an anniversary, deadline, or with a set goal in mind.”
Such tactics won’t reap the same rewards as a major capital campaign, but they could be a way to engage early with future generations of donors—including millennials, who have surpassed baby boomers in numbers and are likely to inherit one of the largest transfers of intergenerational wealth ever.
And while it’s important to stay connected to your committed core of sustainers, Tafel says, association foundations should also be looking to the periphery for new donors. For example, IFMA Foundation has tapped into state and local economic development and workforce agencies to connect with potential donors in the business community.
Previously, “we weren’t reaching outside of our known universe,” Tafel says. “Where we’ve received a lot of help is by not only by rethinking our scope but also engaging with a lot of outside players."