Fairmount InSights

Despite the daily barrage of head-spinning news coming out of Washington, let’s not lose sight of a few facts back here in Philadelphia:

  1. Many Philadelphians are angry about federal policies that hurt us, and are motivated to respond.
  2. We live in a wealthy region with a long history of people coming together to solve problems.
  3. We have effective nonprofits with intellectual and human capital in need of financial capital.

How do we move from problem to motivation to action? It may be a long distance run, but there is a path. Forget for a moment supply and demand; let’s demand a supply. For starters, recent research has established that people are ready to donate more money to causes they care about.

People are translating concerns about the country’s future into increased charitable giving.  

National research regarding the impact of previous presidential elections on philanthropic giving revealed minor and short-term fluctuations. The 2016 election, however, revealed marked changes that have persisted months after the election. The research evaluating the charitable giving plans of 1,000 Clinton and Trump voters following the inauguration revealed noteworthy insights. We’ve heard some of this before, but it’s worth considering what it means for the region’s nonprofit sector.

Giving Increase Graphic (cropped)

In short, the data reveals:

  • Both Clinton and Trump supporters intend to increase their philanthropic donations by approximately 25% to causes that align with their respective world views.
  • Small donors (those giving under $100) plan to double their giving.
  • Young voters (ages 18-34) are increasingly activated and motivated to be philanthropic. They are actively donating more now and plan to give more in the future.
  • The 24-hour news cycle has become a major factor in stirring passions that are, in turn, motivating charitable giving.
  • People are paying attention to, responding to, and supporting organizations that are able to cut through the clutter with information on how they are responding to the issues their supporters are reading, hearing and caring about. These nonprofits are choosing to be operationally nimble and to strategically respond to the news cycle and current events by communicating directly to current and prospective donors. As a result, they are able to capture and connect with emotionally-primed audiences.

Capitalizing on this expanded motivation requires addressing both the demand and the supply sides of the equation.

Enhance demand: Nonprofits need to step up their asks. 

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.  At Fairmount Ventures, we invest a lot of time crafting strategies that consider the strengths and needs of each nonprofit. Call us if you want specific advice, but here are some elements to consider:

  1. Examine your organizational culture regarding investing in infrastructure and staff that support development and communications. In the for-profit sector, it is a given that an organization needs to invest money to generate money. In the nonprofit sector, it is often anathema to the culture. Take a look at yours.
  2. Be immediately responsive to inquiries from current and prospective donors. As obvious as this sounds, we are astounded by the number of nonprofits that tell us that they are too busy to respond to donors’ requests to help. Prioritize and figure out how to engage people that want to help you.
  3. Cut through the clutter. Understand if your current and, more importantly, future donor base is reading snail mail, email, Twitter, Instagram, et al., and start communicating with them where they live. Recall the statistics cited above: 18 to 34-year-olds plan to start being philanthropic, and people giving under $100 plan to double their giving. Catch this wave.
  4. Take a hard look at your board. Your board may have been the perfect mix of people for 1998 or 2008, but is it the right group of people for the future? You upgrade your infrastructure, your staff and your programs; when is the last time you evaluated how to maximize your board’s strategic value?
  5. If it’s worth having, it’s worth asking for. Words of wisdom from an old cabby driving us to the Milwaukee airport years ago. Get over any inhibition of asking for money: people want to support good causes that are doing things they cannot do themselves. Ask yourself if your own feelings of discomfort are more important than your organization’s mission and the people you serve.

Increase supply: Enlarge the proverbial pie.

Our April edition of reSources discussed the fact that the Philadelphia region is in the bottom 20% (41st out of 50 major cities) in philanthropic giving as a proportion of family adjusted gross income. Our suggestion that we organize the region to change this generated a significant number of “count me in” responses. Fairmount Ventures followed up with discussions with a few dozen nonprofit executives and leaders of local philanthropic institutions and received an overwhelmingly positive response. Along with expressions of interest to participate, we also heard how to tweak the approach to be more effective and avoid potential conflicts. We are ready to start to take action on this.

Let’s steal a page from the Paris Climate Agreement, i.e., rely on individual volunteer actions to achieve a collective good. Let’s:

  • Create a commonly shared goal for annual philanthropic giving for the Philadelphia region.
  • Raise broad public awareness to communicate the need, benefits, and path to success.
  • Encourage giving to individual organizations of donors’ own choosing.
  • Establish a mechanism to report and track success.

This needs to be a collective activity that goes beyond any one of our organizations. We’d love to hear from others regarding your ideas and interest in participating.

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