Written by Jennifer Fitzgerald
For nonprofits seeking an effective, long-term fundraising strategy, realizing that donor motivation can be an internal, self-determined action is key. Not to mention adapting to a constantly-changing digital world.
“Fundraising is the gentle art of teaching the joy of giving.”
These words by Hank Rosso, founder of the Fund Raising School in 1974, which later became part of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, ring true for many nonprofits across Western North Carolina (WNC). While there are multiple ways that a nonprofit is funded—including grants, bequests, and corporate contributions—dollars generated from fundraising play a vital part in the overall budget.
“Because our daily work to fill plates provides the most basic, fundamental need for over 100,000 people experiencing hunger in WNC, we work very hard to stay on track with fundraising—our mission demands it, and our conscience requires it,” says MANNA FoodBank’s CEO, Hannah Randall. “Every dollar that comes in the door is another 3.5 meals we can provide, and considering that during our last fiscal year, we provided enough food for 15.2 million meals, we know how important it is for us to continue our fundraising efforts to support the growing need for food across WNC.”
And keeping the fundraising events relevant and fresh for the community is key. Nonprofits must assess what works best for their organization and donors and be willing to update and change up the event as needed from year to year.
Twenty-five percent of the Asheville City Schools Foundation budget comes from donors. Copland Rudolph, development director of the foundation, explains that their fundraising efforts have moved from a sit-down dinner with silent and live auctions to an engaging speaker event with a reception beforehand.
“Our board has made a strong commitment to actually have all aspects of our organization align with our mission of excellence with equity,” says Rudolph. “A semi-formal event with a $60 per person ticket isn’t equitable nor does it encourage all of our community to attend.”
If a fundraising event is not successful, Rudolph advises to analyze why, but don’t be afraid to get rid of it: “Events with the sole purpose of fundraising are a huge time/resource drain.”
Many nonprofits have fundraising events throughout the year with significant “signature” events interspersed. These events require large numbers of volunteers, manpower, and organizational skills.
MANNA FoodBank hosts two signature annual events—Blue Jean Ball in the late spring, and Empty Bowls in the fall. Both events are important fundraising initiatives for MANNA.
“The planning and execution for both events is very involved, as we work with many local businesses to make each event as successful as possible,” says Randall. “We very much rely on volunteer support to pull off each 1,000-attendee event, and have a dedicated staff member who works year round to shape the events, as well as continuing to create and strengthen MANNA’s partnerships with the local and regional businesses who are as dedicated to eradicating hunger as we are.”
MANNA’s chief development officer, Mary Nesbitt, oversees all fundraising activities and, as Randall puts it, “Mary is an incredible executive with a real knack for connecting philanthropists to initiatives that are close to their heart.” Randall points out that MANNA covers a 6,434-square-mile region of Western North Carolina, which makes it vital for their supporters to have a real connection to the work that they are making possible.
The Walnut Cove Members Association (WCMA) comprises a group of Cliffs at Walnut Cove property owners who are interested in supporting local nonprofit charities. The WCMA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that raises money through member dues, donations, and an annual “Weekend of Giving” fundraising event. Since its inception in 2007, WCMA has awarded 270 grants, totaling over $930,000, to a diverse range of nonprofits.
“The Weekend of Giving is our biggest and only fundraising event,” says Robin Sipos, chair of the WCMA. “The event began with just a golf tournament, then we slowly added events such as an auction dinner which then became a gala dinner. We then began to include things like a tennis tournament, clothing drives, and, this year, we added a croquet tournament. It’s the only fundraising event for the year—we don’t want to overwhelm our membership by asking for donations year-round.”
“The Weekend of Giving has certainly evolved,” says Karen Spacek, chair of the WCMA Grants Committee. “We realized we needed to offer more things to engage membership since not everyone plays golf—now Weekend of Giving includes a variety of activities, a little something for everyone.”
Enough to Go Around?
In times of tragedy, the public seems to be more apt to contribute to those in need. But are there enough funds to go around? Is giving increasing or decreasing?
According to Giving USA 2018: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2017, charitable giving by American individuals, bequests, foundations, and corporations to United States charities rose to an estimated $410.02 billion in 2017. Giving by individuals totaled an estimated $286.65 billion, rising 5.2% in 2017 (an increase of 3.0%, adjusted for inflation).
“Americans’ record-breaking charitable giving in 2017 demonstrates that, even in divisive times, our commitment to philanthropy is solid,” says Aggie Sweeney, CFRE, the chair of Giving USA Foundation and senior counsel at Campbell & Company. “As people have more resources available, they are choosing to use them to make a difference, pushing giving over $400 billion. Contributions went up nearly across the board, signaling that Americans seem to be giving according to their beliefs and interests, which are diverse and wide-ranging.”
“The increase in giving in 2017 was generated, in part, by increases in the stock market, as evidenced by the nearly 20 percent growth in the S&P 500,” adds Amir Pasic, Ph.D., the Eugene R. Tempel dean of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. “Investment returns funded multiple very large gifts, most of which were given by individuals to their foundations, including two gifts of $1 billion or more. This tells us that some of our most fortunate citizens are using their wealth to make some significant contributions to the common good.”
Asheville City Schools’ Rudolph believes that, locally, catastrophic events such as Hurricane Florence will become more frequent and continue to draw community resources. Does this bring more competition and options for a person to give?
“I would portray it more as prioritization than competition,” says Loretta Shelton, the Four Seasons Foundation executive director. “There are many needs in our community, and donors give priority to those needs according to their own interest and affiliation. Since WNC is a highly desired retirement destination, we are seeing an increased demand for our hospice and palliative care services. As our nation ages, WNC will continue to see a pronounced increase in the number of people over the age of 65. By supporting our foundation, donors help us build the capacity needed to meet those growing demands.”
“Western North Carolina is home to many impactful charities who we view as partners in meeting the needs of our neighbors across the region,” says MANNA’s Randall. “Thankfully, Western North Carolina is also home to an abundance of generous and caring people who want to make a difference for causes, like hunger, that matter greatly to them.”
With changes in federal tax laws beginning in 2018, fewer donors will be able to claim the charitable deduction on their taxes. As a result, most middle-class taxpayers are no longer making charitable contributions for tax purposes.
“With the number of nonprofits in North Carolina and our country growing by more than 40% over the last decade, the competition for donations has certainly increased,” says David Heinen, vice president for Public Policy and Advocacy for the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits. “This is particularly true in 2018, when analysts suggest that fewer than 10% of households will use the charitable deduction, as opposed to about one-third of households under the old tax structure. As a result, it is much more important for nonprofits to cultivate a personal relationship with their donors instead of approaching fundraising as merely transactional.
Red or Blue?
One might presume that being apolitical is a wise strategy in order to avoid polarizing potential donors—true or false?
“By law, charitable nonprofits must be nonpartisan—meaning they cannot endorse or oppose candidates for office or political parties and cannot make campaign contributions,” explains Heinen. “In an increasingly polarized political environment, remaining nonpartisan helps protect nonprofits from losing the trust of their potential donors. Of course, it is legal—and a good practice—for nonprofits to advocate on issues related to their missions. Many nonprofits use their effective policy issue advocacy as a way to remind donors of the important work they do.”
Spindale-based WNCW (88.7 FM) is a non-commercial public radio station, a nonprofit entity through license holder Isothermal Community College. They find themselves in a unique position when it comes to politics and social issues, explains Director of Programming and Operations Joe Kendrick. While it is wise to avoid politics in their programming and fundraising, they play music that directly speaks to social issues, the environment, and, at times, politics.
“We play music that reflects many viewpoints in these areas, and from time to time get comments about certain songs or artists. Sometimes these comments are positive, and sometimes they are complaints. We have gotten complaints about gospel music, for example, and we have gotten complaints about anthems espousing more liberal views, and for things like carrying NPR news. We don’t try to offend anyone, of course, and shy away from songs that advocate violence, that stand against a political party or figure, that advocate anything illegal, and so on. But we can’t help but offend some people at times, especially when folks can tend to be very sensitive to political and social issues these days—the same kind of sensitivity to issues that are the inspiration for so much of today’s music.”
“There are so many social issues out there, not just political ones,” says WNCW Director of Radio Operations Dave Kester. “Our membership is made up of every background you can think of. I’ve learned over the years that it’s a true melting pot. I ask my folks to be mindful of that before giving the impression that we would take any side. Their personal views should remain just that. If we were to ever present any side, we would have to present all of them. That might be tough.”
Motivation to Give
McCray Benson, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Henderson County (CFHC), believes that donor motivation is an internal self-determined action—a soul searching process that helps us discover who we really are inside and out.
“This action can be swayed with influences by group behavior, personal requests, connecting with a higher reward—but ‘doing good works,’ ‘doing the right thing,’ or ‘responding to our higher angels’ helps us become the person we want to be,” he says. “We are also conditioned to respond to crisis.”
The CFHC is a public charity that builds charitable capital to fulfill the philanthropic interest of local donors, providing endowment and non-endowed options, advised and designated options, using investment strategies for growing charitable funds and distributing funds for purposes as intended by donors.
Benson agrees that more competition exists for our resources and our attention, with the greatest competition created by the attraction to consume more and have more.
“Robert Putnam says in his research that every additional 10 minutes our society spends in commuter traffic we reduce our time used in volunteering for community service by an hour. What we want for ourselves is in deep competition with what we want in society and it is hard to determine which will have more importance for us in the moment. We mature a little more with every experience, or so I hope. More nonprofits are created every day; more products are created for us to consume every day; more things are created for us to spend our time, money, and energy on every day. Each of us must wrestle with the angel that confronts us.”
At Four Seasons, motivation to give comes from many different reasons, including a love for fellowman, pride in community, and an opportunity to create a legacy in the name of a lost loved one. Many simply want to use their resources to help others.
WNCW’s members, meanwhile, give because they love the station and believe in keeping a great blend of music alive.
Building a relationship with donors is critical for nonprofits. More than likely, your mother taught you to always acknowledgement a gift with a thank-you note. Appreciation is important regardless of the situation and circumstances, including at a nonprofit.
WNCW literally offers thank-you gifts when donations are made, along with an on-air personal “thank-you” during their fundraising drives. Their members have special access to a “members only” archives page and special offers throughout the year. Each year, they have two fund drives yearly which can bring in between $175,000 to $200,000 per drive. There are two to three months of planning prior to the drive and then two months or so after the drive to take care of fulfillment and wrapping up loose ends.
“There are hundreds of staff and volunteers that work together to make our drives successful and I can easily say thousands of hours of prep before and after,” says the station’s membership director, Kim Henson. “Our listeners and members are vital to us staying on the station. We appreciate their support and repeatedly thank them for being so valuable to us.”
Looking to the future, what will be the “next frontier” in giving? Online giving and even contributions through social media campaigns have opened new avenues for convenient donations.
“I think that our true ‘new frontier’ is within our next generation,” muses the CFHC’s Benson. “The speed of our own innovations will need our next generation to catch up with the knowledge to actually make adequate use of these innovations. Electronic mediums and devices are tools, no different than a pencil or calculator is a tool. The innovation is in discovery coming from involved philanthropy, determining results, causation factors, and ability to repeat the outcomes. Funds are a representation of human effort; value of contribution comes from the talents; skills and abilities are used to create wealth. Philanthropy is how our wealth begins to work at having worth within our society.
“People give by experimentation. Watch a baby as a child develops—they test people by giving what they have and expecting you to give it back. Humans constantly test the world around us. The tools that make it easy to conduct transactions must give back some sense of return. Our ability to determine how meaningful and trustworthy these tools are for our philanthropic giving have yet to be determined. Letting go is never easy, no matter the tool. Every gift goes through a competitive decision process with every donor.”
Benson pauses, then tightens the lens in summary.
“We [at CFHC] are continuously learning more about diversifying into enterprise systems where our client systems become a part of our revenue systems. This works best when the progression of client success yields a profitable enterprise for the nonprofit organization and the client. How our clients’ successes become our products that will yield greater resources. Current examples include our local domestic violence shelter operating a restaurant that provides job skills and opportunity while making a new revenue stream for the shelter.
“Creating an economic system requires interdependent components. We will be seeing more components to our nonprofit organizations, with consumers yielding more products for the greater good. We shoot ourselves in the foot when we create enterprises that cause mission drift rather than achieving our mission’s purpose.”
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