Broken economy holds fundraising promise

Todd Cohen

The worst of times for the economy may be the best of times for nonprofits to focus on their fundraising.

The imploding economy and capital markets have shaken nonprofits and givers alike.

Confidence among professional fundraisers in the giving climate, and their expectations for the giving future, for example, have sunk to their lowest levels in a decade, according to the Philanthropy Giving Index from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

But experts say the impact of the economic storm on the giving sector may not be as bad as it seems. For example:

* Wealth and giving patterns for households tend to be more stable than those of capital markets or personal income, says an expert at the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College.

* High-net-worth donors are committed to the ongoing success of the nonprofits they support, says a study for Bank of America conducted by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

* While the economic downturn could affect the overall level of grantmaking, for example, foundations tend to stick to their grantmaking priorities over the long term, says a report by the Foundation Center.

* In 2007, the year before the recession settled in, giving by nearly 200 corporations and corporate foundations grew slightly, says a report by the Conference Board.

* In 2007, the number of donor-advised funds grew over 12 percent, outnumbering private foundations and charitable remainder trusts, says a study from the National Philanthropic Trust.

Experts also say the tough economy may be the perfect time for nonprofits to get back to fundraising basics.

With givers worried about the decline in the value of their wealth and assets, nonprofits need to be smarter and more strategic than ever in their fundraising.

So nonprofits should make sure their fundraising is in sync with their mission; better understand and engage their donors; tell their story simply, clearly and with passion; continue to ask; and ask for right support, which means the kind of support they actually need.

In this special report, the Philanthropy Journal looks at fundraising strategies nonprofits can use to weather the economic storm.

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