Workshop to focus on fundraising in downturn

Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — In the first half of November 2008, unrestricted giving to Old Salem Museums & Gardens fell to half its level from the first half of November 2007.

So Old Salem revamped its fundraising plan for the last three months of its fiscal year, which ends Feb. 28, applying to its annual giving some strategies typically used in securing major gifts.

By the end of December, unrestricted giving to Old Salem through the first 10 months of the fiscal year totaled $714,000 and restricted major gifts totaled $1.5 million, compared to $727,000 and $1.3 million, respectively, for the entire previous fiscal year.

“We’re clearly up and we still have two months to go,” says Michelle Speas, vice president for development and external relations at Old Salem.

In the current economic climate, she says, the most effective fundraising involves “highly personalized, highly individualized touches and strategies” to reach donors and prospects, including phone calls, handwritten notes, personal visits and “peer” letters from board members.

Coping with the impact of the collapsing economy and capital markets on charitable giving will be the focus of a workshop Feb. 25 at Senior Services.

The workshop, from noon to 1:30 p.m., will feature a panel that includes Speas; Scott Wierman, president of the Winston-Salem Foundation; Richard Gottlieb, president and CEO of Senior Services; and Whitney Jones, president of fundraising consulting firm Whitney Jones Inc.

Wierman says people still are giving but the weak economy has caused them to change the way they give.

With the capital markets plunging, givers are less likely to make gifts of appreciated stock or appreciated property, he says.

“People will still give, so you don’t stop asking,” he says. “You have to dial down your expectations.”

Wierman estimates the market decline resulted in a loss of roughly 27 percent in the value of the foundation’s endowment in 2008.

Including contributions it received, totaling roughly half the $30 million it received in 2007, plus grants it made, the endowment totaled roughly $220 million at the end of 2008, down from $299 million a year earlier, he says.

The economic downturn also has affected capital gifts, Wierman says, with the decline in wealth for people who previously made large capital gifts, for example, prompting them to back away from making multi-year commitments.

Like Speas, Gottlieb says Senior Services is focusing on current donors through stewardship, engagement and communication.

“It’s clearly a time to make sure we continue to receive gifts from our loyal donors and to thank them,” he says.

A special campaign in 2008 that focused on major and planned gifts to eliminate the waiting list for its Meals on Wheels program helped the agency increase overall fundraising to $1.8 million, up 48 percent from 2007, Gottlieb says.

Gifts of $10,000 or more in the fiscal year ended last May 31 totaled $663,000, including $440,000 for the special campaign.

Gifts at that level in the current fiscal year so far total $508,000, including one $25,000 gift and two totaling $30,000 each in the last three months.

“We’re incorporating major and planned gift strategies into the annual fund,” Gottlieb says. “A lot of energy should be focused on making the case to existing donors and making them feel a part of the organization’s mission and making them feel their donations are critical and valued and effective.”

Jones says nonprofits should focus on motivating and encouraging volunteer fundraisers and asking them to motivate donors.

Nonprofits also should be more open and honest about their needs and the challenges the weak economy pose for them, he says.

Ultimately, he says, nonprofits need to focus on “the relationship that the donor has with the cause and how compelling the cause is.”

And unlike the decline in the value of any endowment they may have, a decline they cannot control because it is driven by the plunging capital markets, he says, nonprofits can do something about their fundraising,.

“The more effort you put into it,” he says, “the more revenue you can get from it.”

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