Fortunately, economic times in Shiawassee County have improved in the past few years, and several of our local organizations have successfully raised more donations. Still, many of our fellow residents face financial or personal struggles, and our community still needs further investments in youth, the arts, and our natural environment. We count on nonprofit organizations to improve the quality of life for all Shiawassee County residents.
Unfortunately, some disturbing economic, demographic, and policy trends may not bode well for the future ability of local nonprofits to raise funds to serve our community. Giving is down. National numbers show that charitable giving declined in 2018, for the first time ever since the Great Recession of 2008-09 . Data from a sample of several thousand nonprofits show that giving has continued to decline in the first half of 2019.
National data of course does not necessarily reflect what’s going on in Shiawassee County, but research shows that many large nonprofits are relying on fewer very large donations and grants, while smaller gifts and the number of donors decreases. In other words, says the Nonprofit Quarterly, “fewer households of moderate means are giving at all while more of the money being given comes from those who are extremely well off. This is bad news for small community-based nonprofits.”
Demographic trends are not promising either, as many older, long-standing supporters of nonprofits are passing, or moving, away. Younger donors may have money to give, but they lack a tradition of giving, may not know our local organizations well, and give in different ways rather than writing an annual membership check. Finally, the tax laws are not helping. The 2017 changes in the tax code may have spurred the economy, but it eliminated the need or opportunity for many households to itemize tax deductions, and thus the tax benefits of a large year-end gift are not as appealing for many individuals.
How should nonprofits respond to the changes in giving trends? First, by preparing now for the future. Times may currently be good, but the demographic and tax factors are not likely to improve soon, and if we encounter an economic downturn, giving may drop precipitously. It would be a good time for every nonprofit to review its revenue sources and be sure they are diversified in ways to weather any storm that may come. If a nonprofit is largely dependent on grant funding, now is the time to build a broader base of individual giving. If an organization depends on a few key donors or events for support, it might be wise to spend some time on the GrantStation database at the Owosso library looking for grants.
Individual donors will remain important to every local nonprofit, not only for the financial support received but because local supporters can be the best ambassadors, advocates, volunteers, and fundraisers for a local organization. Every nonprofit should be looking at the profile and make-up of its donors, identifying opportunities for further fundraising, and taking good care of its best supporters. Keeping a donor is much easier than getting a new one. And if a fundraising method works, keep doing it, and look for ways to make it better.
Change is the only sure thing, so it makes sense for nonprofits to be prepared and look for new ways to gain donors and raise funds. Here are four ideas:
- Participate in #raiseUPshiawassee, the local version of Giving Tuesday, the global movement that taps into social media to make generosity go viral. This may not be a major source of funds now, but new donors are younger and tech-savvy, and this is a good way to build a connection with them. Importantly, we need to work together to create a tradition of giving with more people in our community.
- Support the United Way. Workplace giving can be a valuable source of funds for some nonprofits, and this funding source shows promise locally with the arrival of the successful and very professional United Way of Genesee County now serving Shiawassee County
- Get More from Your Donors. Set yourself up for stock donations and IRA gifts from your biggest donors. There are still significant tax benefits for large donors to give appreciated stocks or direct an IRA pay-out to a nonprofit. It can require some upfront work and promotion, but some of your long-term donors might find this an appealing way to provide a gift.
- Estate gifts. Sadly, many long-term supporters of local nonprofits are aging and thus making or reviewing estate plans. Nonprofits should let their donors know that they can include them in their will or name them as a beneficiary of an IRA or insurance policy. Help them build a legacy for a local cause.
The Cook Family Foundation wants to help our community-based organizations be successful. Through our NonProfit Capacity Building program we provide training and technical assistance to local nonprofits to help them review and improve their fundraising tools. A board level discussion of your past, current, and future fund development approaches is a good place to start. As well, our Innovation and Impact grants are designed as investments in nonprofits to help them grow and add new capacity.
Finally, the Cook Family Foundation believes strongly in collaboration and supports efforts like #raiseUPshiawassee that bring nonprofits together to increase charitable support, improve fundraising effectiveness, and allow them to best serve the residents of Shiawassee County. Alone we may be defeated by an economic downturn or other misfortune, but together we can identify and take advantage of the new opportunities that accompany any change or crisis.