News & Press: Member Insights

The Glass is 70 Percent Full

Wednesday, November 5, 2014  


By Nancy Raybin, Senior Consultant & Principal with Marts & Lundy

Released in early October, the Nonprofit Research Collaborative’s Nonprofit Fundraising Study— Mid-Year Update offers timely insights as we prepare for the last few months of the calendar year. The topline finding is that midway thru 2014 charitable organizations realized a slowdown in giving as compared to last year’s receipts (52 percent experienced growth in 2014 as compared to 58 percent in 2013). This, however, is not necessarily a predictor of what is to come. Instead, we should focus on another key finding: 70 percent of these charities believe they are still on track to meet goals. Optimism promotes success, and this finding offers us actionable insights.

In the NRC study, Melissa Brown does an excellent job of detailing the factors that correlate to an organization’s belief that they will – or will not – reach their fundraising goals. What we see is that optimism (a.k.a. goals will be met) is fueled by the belief that the necessary organizational capacity exists in order to perform every task planned for the last quarter.

As is almost always the case, one size does not fit all. Capacity in a small organization comprises a different set of variables than it does in larger nonprofits.

The Realities of Smaller Organizations

Smaller nonprofits often don’t have enough existing staff to carry out the many activities necessary to pull-off a significant fourth quarter push, and it’s not feasible to staff up in order to build capacity. The key in these organizations is the integration and involvement of volunteers, including board members. This extends reach as well as the frequency of interactions with donors. Keys to making it work:

  • Provide volunteers with talking points they can take to potential donors; help volunteers convey the impact a gift will have.
  • Encourage volunteers to make asks and give them ongoing support once they’ve done it.
  • Stay in personal touch with volunteers; encourage them and celebrate their contributions.
  • Use all of the resources you have but make sure time spent is productive; monitor progress and adjust as necessary.
In a small organization, development staff wear many hats, which can make it easy to lose sight of strategy and, instead, get lost in the weeds. A strong corps of staff and volunteers supported and rewarded by leaders who keep a confident focus on the goals can close the calendar year with a significant increase in giving.

The Realities of Large Organizations

Staff and volunteer capacity in large organizations is – or should be – sufficient to carry out year-end work. However, more people and a fully developed fundraising plan doesn’t guarantee that everything will get done. The focus in these larger nonprofits often needs to be on execution:
  • Get the solicitations out in a timely manner.
  • Host events with tremendous attention to detail and the donor experience.
  • Make sure “The Asks” happen.
  • Communicate across the team, keeping everyone informed and motivated.
With large staffs and volunteer groups, the challenge is to ensure that the low-profile tasks are completed as professionally as those that make headlines. Every aspect of the fundraising plan is important – especially in a year-end push to make up ground in giving.

What could go wrong?

Look no further than Oct. 15, 2014. The S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped to their lowest points since April. If this pattern were sustained, investors might begin to perceive that they aren’t making any gains – even though both economic indicators remain significantly stronger than they were a year ago. These “mini-crises” present challenges to fundraising, but not insurmountable ones.

Just as optimism promotes success, it also fuels giving. And up until mid-October, donors have generally been feeling optimistic about the economy this year. Though this past month may have been a bit of a jolt for some, it’s critical that you personally reach out to your donors. Remind them of the impact their gift is having and their future gifts will have. Make sure they understand how important it is that pledges are honored. Use your organization’s case to paint a picture of what prosperity looks like when philanthropy advances the vision your donor and your organization share.

There are, of course, other factors at play in the world that could affect year-end giving. As efforts ramp up to stop the spread of Ebola, there may be donors who redirect their giving to support this work. We can’t predict natural disasters, but we know the effect they can have on giving.

What we do know, though, is that giving generally increases during the last few months of the calendar year – and 70 percent of charitable organizations responding to the NRC survey believe they will be among the success stories of 2014.

About the Nonprofit Research Collaborative: The Nonprofit Research Collaborative studies charitable fundraising at nonprofit organizations and the factors that drive success and growth. As a collaborative effort, the NRC aims to reduce the survey burden on charities by combining originally separate studies to send fewer requests for survey participation. Members of the NRC include the Association of Fundraising Professionals, the Association of Philanthropic Counsel, CFRE International, Campbell Rinker, The Giving USA Foundation (the research arm of the Giving Institute), the Partnership for Philanthropic Planning, and The National Center for Charitable Statistics Urban Institute. Visit for more information and to view the Mid-Year Update.

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