Despite some positive reports about successful year-end appeals, fundraising is likely to challenge charities throughout 2012.
The economy is hardly the only problem as scandal, technology, and competition in the political arena all force fundraisers to step up their game. Among the questions fundraisers are asking:
Will fund raising outperform the economy?
Donations may not recover until 2016
The improving economy has helped some charities return to raising as much as they did before the recession started at the end of 2007, but new studies show continued slow-going.
More than two-thirds of donors don’t plan to give a penny more in 2012 than they did last year, while 17 percent will give less. America’s uneven economic growth, combined with the problems in Europe and elsewhere, mean donors are jittery and confirm scholars’ predictions a few months ago that it will take another four years for charities to rebound fully from the recession.
Can social media raise big dollars?
Everybody’s on Twitter and Facebook, but not to give
Any organization not using social media looks a bit behind the times, but few groups are getting real fund-raising results.
Now that the novelty is wearing off and the days of experimentation are starting to wane, expect nonprofit leaders to take a critical look at social media and online communications to adjust their strategies to meet their organizations’ goals.
Can a single group raise $6-billion?
The most ambitious campaign in history draws concern, and envy
The University of Southern California raised eyebrows last summer when it announced plans to raise $6-billion by 2018, the largest capital-campaign goal in history and far beyond Stanford University’s record $4.3-billion drive, which wrapped up on December 31.
To succeed, USC needs to raise nearly $1-billion every year, and some fund raisers are skeptical that it can. Others fear the huge goal will lead to a capital campaign bubble in which trustees at other institutions place unrealistically high expectations on fund raisers and intensify pressure to use questionable methods to count gifts.
Photo by Dennis Martinez
Will donors get over scandals?
Loss of trust threatens big campaigns
After a year in which controversy damaged the reputations of nonprofit broadcasters (NPR), international charities (Three Cups of Tea), and college football (Fiesta Bowl), it’s unclear whether donors are losing faith.
The biggest loyalty test in 2012 could come from the sports-related sex-abuse scandals that plagued Pennsylvania State University and Syracuse University in the last months of 2011.
The stakes are high. Both universities are winding up capital campaigns: Penn State needs some $600-million more for its $2-billion drive, scheduled to end in 2014; Syracuse needs $70-million more for its $1-billion, five-year campaign, due to end in December. So far, both report that they’re on track to meet those goals, despite the controversies.
Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon/Newscom
What new ideas might the political campaigns offer?
Mobile technology is hot, but game changers have yet to appear
While the 2012 elections have not yet produced any breakthrough fund-raising techniques, campaign advisers say nonprofits should keep an eye on how the candidates use mobile technology and social media to collect information about supporters.
Thomas Gensemer, managing partner at Blue State Digital, which works for President Obama, says campaigns are finding new ways to “bring people into the fold” through mobile devices—for example, by asking supporters at a rally to text a short code and get immediate instructions about how to help.
Kelley Rogers, president of the Strategic Campaign Group, which advises Republican candidates, highlights a different technology. He says nonprofits could learn from “tele-town halls” that candidates are staging, using a Web application to call a large number of supporters to discuss issues and make fund-raising pitches.