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Optimism surges

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By Ret Boney

Driven in part by the economy, fundraisers are dramatically more optimistic about the environment for raising money than they were last year, says the newly released the Summer 2004 Philanthropic Giving Index.

The index is published every six months by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and measures the degree of optimism fundraisers feel about the giving climate in the U.S., based on a survey of nonprofit development staff and fundraising consultants.

The rise in optimism began six months ago and “showed the greatest one-year increase since the inception of the survey” in 1998, the report says, and is at its highest level since September 11, 2001.

The Index increased almost 9 percent from the December 2003 index and more than 25 percent from the index published a year ago.

“Typically we’ve seen things change by two or three percentage points in six months,” says Patrick Rooney, director of research for the center.  “So the order of magnitude of these changes really jumps off the page.”

Improvement in the stock market last year, coupled with a national increase in personal income, are factors in the sharp increase, the report says, a conclusion based on previous research conducted by the center showing both factors are strong predictors of individual giving.

The percentage of fundraisers who believe the economy is having a positive impact rose from 7.4 percent to nearly 45 percent during the last year, while those who say its impact has been negative has dropped by more than half, the report says.

“It’s not just economic factors that drive giving, but those are the things we can measure, quantify and track,” says Rooney.  “The more intangible things are that people give because of the mission of the nonprofit and because they see the needs across the country, their community and the world.”

The Present Situation Index, which assesses the current climate for fundraising, and the Expectations Index, which measures the expected climate over the next six months, are calculated from the same survey data and also posted their largest one-year gains since the survey began.

The report, which divides the fundraising industry into seven subsectors, finds fundraisers from “arts, culture and humanities” nonprofits are most optimistic, while those from the “public/society benefit, animal and international” organizations are least optimistic.

The most successful fundraising techniques were major gifts and direct mail, the survey says, while the greatest increase in success over the past year was foundation grants.

Email and internet solicitations were reported as least successful, although their use has become more popular.

The next index will be released in December 2004.

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