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February 28, 2019
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March 13, 2019

Silver Linings: A Look Back at an Uncertain Year

2018 was bound to be an unusual year. With the mid-term elections, the general economic gyrations, and the tax changes at the end of 2017, there were a lot of things for nonprofit fundraisers to worry about.

That’s why in February of this year, the Community Foundation of Boulder County and Front Range Source created a very short, informal survey to take the temperature of the nonprofits in Boulder County after this year of volatility.

We asked organizations whether they were up, down, or the same in terms of revenue compared to the year before. And we asked them if they had an explanations or hypotheses for their results.

In general, the results were encouraging:

Overall Revenue: 57% of all the organizations that responded had an overall increase in revenue in 2018 from the prior fiscal year, while 27% said their revenue was flat year-on-year, and 15% said it was down.

When we asked what respondents thought was behind their fundraising performance in 2018, the majority of the answers were about things the nonprofit did to increase fundraising:

  • Stronger “ask”: Respondents said that they increased their asking in the areas of major gifts and corporate giving. Some referred to a more robust year-end appeal. Still others used matching gifts to drive increased giving.
  • Added fundraising capacity: Respondents referred to hiring additional development staff or having new leadership with fundraising experience.
  • Increased outreach and marketing: Respondents mentioned that investments in marketing and communications drove their fundraising results.
  • Changes in programming: Some organizations referred to changes in their program increased their fundraising.

There were comments about external factors like the stock market, tax reform, and the political environment. Generally, respondents seemed unsure if these external factors had any real effect on fundraising results. (At the national level, fundraising experts and data gatherers are also unsure what affect, if any, these external issues had. See this blog by fundraising guru Roger Craver to learn more.)

The upshot? In this small, not-statistically-relevant survey of 50 nonprofits, we found reasons to be hopeful. More than half of these organizations had increased results in 2018.

And many, many of the respondents were doing something different in an effort to raise results, and it was working! They were investing in their organizations in some way. They hired staff, started a new initiative, made more asks, got their message out, and as one respondent said, “solid work is paying off”.

On a national level, fundraising was indeed up 1.6% according to Blackbaud’s 2018 Report on Giving. And from all I’ve heard – both locally and nationally – there was no stand out trend. Some nonprofits had their best year ever, some were disappointed when year-end contributions didn’t show up as expected. Unpredictability reigns!

It’s tempting to fret about the external world and how it might affect fundraising. But 2018 proves that fundraisers who keep their focus can succeed in the face of unprecedented uncertainty by investing time, talent, and treasure in the opportunities they see.

Want to weigh in from your neck of the woods? We’d love to hear from you!

p.s. I wrote another blog about this informal survey for the Community Foundation Boulder County where I serve as Chair of the Board of Trustees. 

 

2 Comments

  1. AnnaMarie Ventura says:

    I took a quick glance at the Blackbaud report, and I think the overall statistic is misleading. It seems that medium- and large-sized orgs saw increases (2.0 and 2.3%) while small organizations saw a DECREASE of 2.3%. Overall, that resulted in a 1.5% increase, but the news for small organizations was not good. Of course, those are the orgs with the least resources, and may prove the results of your survey, which is that taking action and allocating resources to fundraising does produce results. But small organizations may also be most reliant on small donations (from a small donor base) and therefore might have been impacted by the tax law changes.

    • Leslie Allen says:

      Thanks for joining the conversation, AnnaMarie, and for your very good points! More than 50% of respondents to the very informal survey that the Community Foundation and Front Range Source did were groups raising under $500,000, 69% were raising less than $1 million. We were heartened to see that many of these same small organizations attributed their success to actions they took, but you’re right. Smaller organizations can be more subject to swings in perception around things like taxes. One big donation can mean a big variance. Thanks so much for bringing these thoughts to the table. And thanks for all you do!

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