What fundraisers are thinking and how they are planning for the year ahead
By Gail Picco orginally published on the AFP Canada blog.
As 2020 approaches, many fundraisers are assessing what has—and hasn’t—worked for them in the past, even as they cope with the external dynamics buffeting the sector today and consider the emerging critique of the structure of philanthropy itself. From sector-wide issues to program planning for their own organizations, fundraisers across the country are heading into 2020 with their eyes wide open to the challenges and plans to meet those challenges or, at least, understand them better.
“What does it mean to disrupt our sector,” asks Rickesh Lakhani, CFRE, executive director of a community-based organization working with children and youth in Toronto. “Whatever is happening now—whether it’s inclusion, harassment or lack of innovation—needs a critical eye. I’ve been looking at Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas and thinking about how people can be incentivized to break down the structure of the power imbalance.”
Juniper Locilento, MPNL, CFRE, chief development director of a national organization of community food centres, agrees. “After spending time in 2019 with the work of Rob Reich and Anand Giridharadas, I’m more oriented than ever before towards social change philanthropy and I’m thinking critically about the balance of power in philanthropy and demonstrating that my organization will strengthen democracy rather than plutocracy,” she says.
Faith Rowland, account manager, community development for a national health charity in Saskatoon talks about the quality of the donor experience. “People want to feel connected to a cause,” she says, “like they are making a positive impact on their community.” Rowland also thinks honesty and reputation are critical in the age of social media, as is honouring diversity and making it part of our day-to-day business.
John Wong, CFRE, is the director, community and fund development of a New Brunswick-based child development organization serving the Atlantic provinces. He says appealing to young people in authentic ways to become informed, engaged philanthropists is important in the coming year and that there is a “growing call for greater financial transparency, effectiveness, and sustainable impact.”
Amid the complexities of sector dynamics, fundraisers are making plans for what they are—and are not—doing in the coming year. Rowland says her organization’s fundraising focus in 2020 will be donor conversion to monthly giving, enhancing the major gifts portfolio and legacy giving. While many in the sector are conflicted about the power imbalance in philanthropy, Rowland is not alone in looking at a major gift strategy, at least in part. “In terms of revenue generation, we are looking at the major gift piece and third party events,” says Lakhani. “We have an expansive growth strategy where we will double our program in three years. We’re also investing in advocacy and public policy.”
Locilento is thinking about the future of fundraising. She says she’s considering “the speed of change” and how to embrace innovation. Specifically, to move from “doing digital” to “being digital” and to have the courage to employ 10X thinking rather than seeking to change by 10%.
Paula Attfield, chair of AFP Canada, and president of a charity marketing firm that advises many clients, says it’s important to, diversify revenue streams. “The old ways still work, but will they forever? Likely not. Innovation is a must.” Attfield says it’s also important to “take care of your staff. Allow them space for their well-being and professional development. If you don’t, you’ll lose them.” Lakhani couldn’t agree more. “One thing we are not going to do is grow fundraising on the back of fundraising staff. A measure of our success is that staff don’t burn out.”
Fundraisers appear to be looking at the immediate future with a good deal of pragmatism.
“I think that it is going to be a more challenging year for charities as we see increasing prices and stagnant wages,” says Rowland. “This will impact the ‘middle’ donors who may have less disposable income.”
“With charitable organizations increasingly relying on a dwindling pool of higher-income donors, charities increasingly need to figure out how to engage millennials with philanthropy,” says Wong. “However, it can be hard to convince the younger generation to give when many don’t necessarily have the means. This is one of our greatest challenges—and opportunities.”
“I believe people will give more or about the same as they are now, but it may not be in the way we thought,” says Lakhani. “There are less people on the books with CRA, and there’s GoFundMe and point of purchase contributions that are harder to track. And with a focus on ultra-wealthy donors, people may not believe a $50 gift means that much. I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that it does.”
“I think the trend in the amount of giving will continue to be less when you factor in inflation,” concludes Attfield. “That’s why fundraising professionals need to do better at their work than we ever have before.”