Posted , by Erin Phillips, Marketing Director and Campaign Consultant. Topic: Boards of Directors, Giving USA, Nonprofit Management.

On Friday the Hudson Institute’s Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal, in partnership with Illinois University’s Center on Philanthropy, hosted a discussion titled “Giving USA 2012: Who Gave, How Much, and to Whom in 2011?” The Curtis Group’s Vice President, Wendy McGrady, along with Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy Executive Director, Patrick M. Rooney; Nonprofit Quarterly’s Ruth McCambridge; and Tom Pollack of the Urban Institute/National Center for Charitable Statistics served as panelists. Holly Hall of The Chronicle of Philanthropy moderated the discussion.

For those unable to attend in person in Washington, DC, the Hudson Institute simulcast the event and nearly 100 others participated virtually. The first half of the 90 minute program was led by Patrick Rooney and Tom Pollack who provided an overview of the study’s findings and some overall assessments. Tom concluded that despite increasing pressure from cuts in government funding and additional demand from donors to show return on investment, evidence shows nonprofits have a history of being adaptable and resilient to changing economic conditions. He closed with the statement that there is room for modest optimism with regards to the state of philanthropy in our country. Then Wendy and Ruth were each given the floor to present their respective takes on what the numbers mean. Wendy opened her remarks, “Now that you have seen these numbers, what do you do? How do you respond?”

Here are some of the highlights of what she advised to nonprofit leaders and their board members:

First, share the Giving USA results. Wendy encouraged the sharing of Giving USA’s findings with a nonprofit’s donors. People like to know what is going on nationally in philanthropy, she advised. This provides the framework of how an organization fits in. Carefully consider how you will communicate your organization’s progress. Talk about strengths and educate donors on your challenges. Use this opportunity to motivate a volunteer or donor to help your organization.

Then, use the numbers to determine the focus of your future development efforts. In her remarks, Wendy recommended you do this in two specific ways.

1. Focus on individuals. Development is not a transaction; it’s about building long term relationships. When looking at the sources of giving, it is easy to see it is all about individuals. Giving from this source is up 3.9% in 2011 and 8.5% cumulatively over the past two years. It is people, not large corporations, not community foundations, that again accounted for nearly 88% of total giving in the U.S. in 2011 when you include family foundations and bequests. As Patrick said, “Nine dollars out of every ten dollars given is given by an individual.” And this has always been in the case since Giving USA has conducted this study for the past fifty six years. Strengthening existing relationships by stewarding donors and developing new relationships by cultivating prospects will ensure an organization’s financial stability. (More on this can be found in our latest newsletter “Raising Money: Summer 2012.”)

2. Have a strong case for support and communicate it well. While the IRS decertified over 200,000 nonprofits last year, there are still over a million nonprofits competing for dollars in our country. This means your organization will have to work even harder to stand out. To remain a philanthropic priority when high net-worth individuals are consolidating their giving into fewer, high impact donations, you must demonstrate your organization’s value to your donors. Your mission and your message should be clearly articulated; you have to make a case for being a solid investment.

In conclusion, Wendy encouraged nonprofit leaders to read Giving USA, digest the numbers, and from there develop some concrete action items to plan for your nonprofit’s future. As we often remind our clients, successful fundraising is 80% planning and 20% solicitation. Giving USA is a great resource to help build your development plan.

If you didn’t have a chance to tune in to the Hudson Institute program, the audio recording is now available on their website and we will be posting a link of the video to our website in just a few days. We hope you have a chance to watch and benefit from the insights and advice offered by the experts. The complete Giving USA study, as well as a free executive summary, can be found on Giving USA’s website. The Curtis Group will also be hosting a webinar on August 14th at 1:00pm on this topic. A communication will be sent shortly with details.

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