So, What’s Ahead?

In the flurry of daily deadlines, we seldom take the opportunity to step back for a look ahead. Where’s the industry going? What are we doing to make sure our organization is prepared?

The 4th Annual Inspired Fundraising Summit at Avila University offered regional fundraising professionals an opportunity to do just that. Sponsored by the Hartsook Institute for Fundraising and presented in partnership with NonProfit Connect and the Association of Fundraising Professionals, the afternoon forum offered three distinct lenses from which to peer into the future.

Professor Jen Shang, Ph.D. led off with the broadest and most far-reaching perspective, a challenge to consider what might be new in “philanthropic projects, tools and organizational designs” over the next 25 years. “Self-sacrifice is not sustainable,” she quipped in assessing some current (and older) models of giving.

Dr. Shang presented recently completed research, Insights into the Future of Philanthropic Innovation, in which the focus on 25 leading/successful philanthropists established that the self was not sacrificed, but grew through helping others. Building on that initial research, Dr. Shang presented her case for the need for philanthropic literacy – “one’s ability to experience, express, and grow love for mankind, sustainably based on knowledge and ‘good thinking.” It’s an enticing concept, and worth downloading the report to dig a little deeper!

Lest the crowd float away into the esoteric, Roger Craver, Agitator and pioneer direct response fundraiser, was on hand to bring them back to reality. In his presentation, "Don’t Eat the Poinsettia,” he emphasized the need to move from myth-based to evidence-based practices.

Rather than rely on “rules of thumb,” (mail more, make more; a 2-for-1 match beats a 1-for-1; etc.) he encouraged attendees to challenge their own thinking and practices in a considered and measurable way. “Maintaining status quo is the highest risk habit an organization can undertake,” he cautioned. 

The final session was a panel of local philanthropists, as has grown to be the tradition at the Inspired Fundraising Summit. Lamar Hunt, Jr., Founder of Loretto Foundation, and Kent Sunderland, President of The Sunderland Foundation, responded to a broad range of questions about why they give and why they don’t. 

There were a number of worthwhile insights – “It’s still a relationship business.” “Doing your homework” (preparation) and “personal follow-up” still make a difference in how funding happens now. But it was also fascinating to listen to their perspectives on how these family foundations are changing as the next generations move into major giving decisions.

So, what's ahead for you? More importantly, what are you doing to prepare?

Recession’s Impact on Donor Expectations

It’s encouraging to see the growing trickle of positive economic reports.

But resist the temptation to rely too heavily on John F. Kennedy’s observation that “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

This recession may have changed those tides forever. Not just in terms of dollars available for philanthropy, but also–and more importantly–in terms of donor expectations. 

A recent report from PricewaterhouseCoopers offers some interesting food for thought.

“The recession has tempered both the rampant excesses and overzealous idealism extremes of consumption.”

Consumer goods marketers are beginning to think in terms of “purposeful shoppers” who give greater consideration to spending patterns.

“There will be a stigma associated with wasteful, impulsive spending, while thoughtful, responsible spending will be more socially acceptable.”

If that’s the standard by which donors are judging themselves, will they expect any less from the causes they support?

"Items that make shoppers feel like they are getting something that will hold its value for the money (rather than something that is going to go out of style next season or has limited, narrow usefulness) will be judged worth the investment."

Sounds a lot like stewardship. Conscious and consistent. But also demonstrated and communicated.

If giving trends correspond roughly with income (as they have in the past), we may see giving increase as income increases.


 And donor cautions will not be limited to economic considerations … but to other expectations of value as well.