Blackbaud’s report and the future of fundraising

November 4, 2011

Can it be true?  Blackbaud’s recently released report, Growing Philanthropy in the United States,  notes that philanthropic giving stands at a paltry 2% of the average disposable income – a 40 year average.


How can nonprofit fundraisers increase giving to keep up with the pace of society’s increased demand?

Blackbaud brought together a think tank of 35 fundraising leaders at their first Growing Philanthopy Summit in June and arrived at a plethora of recommendations for growing individual donors in the new economy.

The resulting report, authored by Adrian Sargent and Jen Shang arrived at a host of recommendations, just a few of which I’ll touch on here:

Redefine relationships from donor relationships to individual relationships.
You’ve heard it before:  your donors are not atm machines.  Your supporters support what they’re accomplishing through you – not your annual fund (ugh, can we agree to get rid of that term once and for all?).  Increased donor surveying is one way to gain a deeper understanding of their motivations.  Recognize that there’s no such thing as generic persuasion.

Re-orient toward longer term measures of fundraising performance.
In everything that we do, we should be thinking about the lifetime value of a donor.   We know this intrinsically, but how do we apply measurements?  Perhaps more importantly, how do you educate executive directors and boards to the concept?

Enhance focus on retention and building supporter loyalty.“A 10 percent improvement in attrition can yield up to a 200 percent increase in projected value.”  Yet organizations continue to focus on new donor acquisition to the exclusion of true relationship building.  Is stewardship in your organization an afterthought or relegated to an underpaid admin?  Get with the program!  Showing your gratitude is fun, it makes for good karma and it’s everyone’s responsibility.

Promote the development of shared back office facilities.
The study “recommended that groups of nonprofits in a given community get together and share fundraising expertise with the creation of one central back office facility.”  Or think about starting a mastermind group like my friend Heather did!

Encourage the adoption of monthly giving.
“The wider adoption of monthly giving (also known as regular or sustained giving) in the U.S. could itself transform philanthropy.”  No!  Really???  GET OUT!  I’ve been beating this drum for the past three years.  Start it, nurture it, grow it.  End of story.

Redesign the system of professional development and certification for fundraisers.
Hmmm.   Membership associations are struggling mightily in the new economy, more than likely because they need to take a hard look at what’s in it for members, not vice versa.  I am not a huge fan of certification programs.  What, after all, do they prove?  That one has obtained the required credit hours and mastered the test taking process or concepts deemed by the accrediting organization to be valuable?  I don’t believe certification truly can measure who is best in their field or, for that matter, creativity and passion for a mission.

Educate board members about the intricacies of fundraising.BINGO!  Fundraising is everyone’s job.  Period.  You’ve got to recognize too that board education is a process.

Break down organizational silos and encourage greater collaboration between teams.How can your marketing department and your development office operate in a vacuum?

Blow the whistle on organizations claiming to have zero costs of fundraising.
Can we have a “Hallelujah and amen!”?

Encourage and promote best practices in social media.
It’s called “social” media for a reason and, in my humble opinion, the potential for building relationships – not necessarily fundraising, but building relationships – is unlimited.  How can you integrate social media (and don’t forget email!) within your fundraising plan?

Tackle high turnover rates in the fundraising profession.The sector has been talking about fundraising employee turnover for years with little resolution in sight.  I’ve faced it myself as a development director, coming on board as the fifth DD in three years.  Developing continuity and true relationships is next to impossible in that kind of environment.  I’ve faced it myself as a consultant, chided that my work was too “market-y” and “it won’t work for us.”  Fundraisers need to take the reins and lead.  We can’t ask for permission.

There’s more.  A whole lot more.  Do your organization a favor.  Download Growing Philanthropy in the United States, print out a copy for your ED and every member of your board and make it an agenda item it at your next board meeting.  Better yet, make it the focus of your next board meeting.

The future of your organization depends on it.

How does the small nonprofit organization create a donor-centric “road map to success that can take the scary out and bring in a sense of comfort, self-confidence, and focus about what can and should be done?”  Simple Development Systems: Successful fundraising for the one-person shop is on sale now!

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Mazarine November 4, 2011 at 11:45 am

Love this post Pam!

Especially love the part about growing monthly giving! Your snark is hilarious!


Pamela Grow November 4, 2011 at 11:51 am

Thanks Mazarine. You should have seen it before I edited it.

David Blenko November 5, 2011 at 7:20 am

Thanks for the post and useful summary of the report’s recommendations, Pam!

Pamela Grow November 5, 2011 at 10:35 am

Thanks David. I only touched on it. Really a “must read!”

Lori Jacobwith November 11, 2011 at 9:25 am

As you said, the report truly is a must read. Lots of great findings for both staff and board to be aware of. Thx for the recap!

Pamela Grow November 12, 2011 at 6:14 am

Thanks Lori – I agree!

Esther November 13, 2011 at 3:41 pm

Thanks for a great post that helps us understand the most important recommendations of the Blackbaud report.

About the recommendation to, “Promote the development of shared back office facilities,” is anyone aware of examples of communities that have done this well? What would it look like — and how could you protect sensitive or insider information about your donors that you wouldn’t necessarily want shared with your neighboring nonprofits?

Pamela Grow November 13, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Thanks Esther! It really is an eye-opener and there’s lots more that I didn’t cover. I do think every board member should read this report. We did talk about this at the last #smNPchat. Are you on Facebook? We’ve started a group there to continue the discussion – join us!

Betsy Baker November 14, 2011 at 6:59 am

Pam, this is one of my favorite posts from you. And I agree with Mazarine – loved your own personal insight. 🙂

Gayle L. Gifford, ACFRE November 14, 2011 at 9:11 am

Thanks for leading a great #smNPchat discussion on this last Friday. Lots of really wonderful comments and thoughts.

I wanted to repeat two things that I thought were missing:

1. Most small shop fundraisers aren’t out there making face to face contacts with donors, listening and asking enough.
2. I think all potential and current donors could use some giving benchmarks. It would be great to have some significant national advertising dollars invested in giving. I’m old enough to remember Independent Sector’s Give 5, but there was never enough umph behind it to really capture the public’s imagination.

Sandy Rees November 22, 2011 at 4:24 am

Good stuff. And thankfully, it’s all doable, even for the smallest nonprofit!


Pamela Grow November 22, 2011 at 5:59 am

Thanks for your feedback Gayle. I certainly agree with you about the face to face contact – and your key word “LISTENING.” When your job consists of being grantwriter, individual giving manager, database manager, volunteer coordinator, event planner, webmaster and MORE, it can be tough finding the time. I do recommend 30-60 minutes daily on the phone.

Sara March 6, 2012 at 11:15 pm

Fantastic article especially the point about certification for fundraisers. I took the CFRE exam and did not succeed. It doesn’t reflect my ability to raise millions of dollar but more so my inability to write an exam. Before I even consider pursuing it again, the CFRE society needs to rethink their application process, exam and promote the importance of this certification to the community. I want my donors to look at my business card, recognize CFRE and feel confident that they are in the hands of someone who is committed to their profession. Amen.

Pamela Grow March 7, 2012 at 2:50 am

Thank you for writing. I knew that certification wasn’t for me when, three-quarters of the way through the initial Fundamentals of Fundraising course, the topics of marketing or donor-centered fundraising were never even addressed. And don’t even get me started on technology. Dan Kennedy has this to say: “think accurately about the ‘certifiers’ and their purpose as well as their qualifications. Whether university or association, it is about money. In many cases, it was dreamt up by an entrepreneur who is hidden behind its curtain, to get money from insecure, weak-minded people desperate for approval and validation and unable to provide that for themselves.”

William Dauster November 20, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Wow! Coming out against certification is a new one to me. Never seen it put down the way it is here. Sure I have seen extraordinary fundraisers without “approval and validation” but to put down those that seek professional status is the most ridculous thing I have every heard. For those of you who have born with the valuable knowledge to be great fundraisers, my hat is off to you. For those of us that sought mentors, mentored others, formal and ongoing training, volunteering for the profession and education that was followed by a CFRE, well, let’s just say it is not all about a test. I am not embarrassed by my CFRE and 15 years of recertification, to the contrary, I remain proud.

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