What are the philanthropic lessons that 2012 has taught us?

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When I was young, my mother taught me a valuable life lesson every time I asked “Is it ready yet?  Are we there yet?  Can I start now?”.  She always counseled patience and said “good things come with time.”  This was always followed up with a direction to do something constructive while I waited.  Now, as an adult working in the field of nonprofit fundraising, I can really appreciate my mother’s solid advice.  Good things, do come with time, but while we wait for them we should be busy with constructive action and planning.

In a Nonprofit Fundraising Study, published this month by the Nonprofit Research Collaborative, results of 2012 fundraising are analyzed.  What becomes clear is that the U.S. economy is trending up, slightly and slowly.  Unemployment is trending down, slightly and slowly.  Historically these indicators impact donors, increasing their confidence and typically causing them to begin contributing again or at an increased level.  The Collaborative’s survey polled  over 1200 charities in both the U.S. and Canada and there results show that donations have increase in 58% of their respondents–the largest share since 2006.  Results in both the U.S. and Canada were similar.  Major gift, online gifts and special event proceeds increased at half or more of the reporting organizations.  This data is the source for cautious optimism.  While the study chronicles a slight increase above the previous year it is clear that while we work and wait, there are some key activities we should be minding:

  1.  Develop comprehensive plans for engaging donors and potential donors
  2. Focus on engagement strategies that support greater donor retention
  3. Provide a fundraising program with appropriate budget, staff and responsibilities
  4. Adapt to changing communication methods – this is the time to take a hard look at how you do things and for whom and should these change to be more effective?

The study projects forward to 2013 and reports more than 70% of the organizations expect a very slight to moderate increase in fundraising results.  The lessons here seem to point back to the lessons of my mother of patience, accompanied by work and preparation.  Time spent in these areas will yield stronger results as the economy improves and donors become more confident and supportive.  So the improvement of 2012 and early results in 2013 give reason for hope.  During this time, take a hard look at your fundraising program and audience, contact methods.  Focus on building donor engagement, increasing retention, utilizing appropriate communication vehicles and creating a development program with firm accountability.

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