Fundraising of 2007 not likely for a repeat in 2008

by ekramer on December 31, 2007

In this country, giving to nonprofits is practically a holiday tradition, prompted by the season’s suggestion to think of those in need. Louisville’s non-profit sector has not suffered from the mortgage crisis or the volatile stock market, but nonprofit organizations are keeping a wary eye on 2008. WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer surveyed several Louisville nonprofits about the trends they saw in 2007 and their outlook for the New Year.

The end of the year brings many things, including pitches from non-profit organizations reminding you to give before January first so that you can deduct your donations on your 2007 tax forms.

Several Louisville organizations, from St. Vincent de Paul to the Metro United Way, say this year’s fundraising efforts are bringing in more checks now than they saw at this time last year, and they are optimistic about their future fundraising efforts — at least in the short-term. That sentiment falls in line with what other fundraisers are reporting across the country, as illustrated in a recent report by Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy. Patrick Rooney is head of research at the Center.

“Fundraisers today are slightly more optimistic about the fundraising environment than they were six months ago or a year ago,” Roony says. “At the same time, they’re not very much more optimistic about the future.”

The roots of this optimism stem from recent history in fundraising. While nonprofits on the whole struggled following the 2001 terrorist attacks and an economic downturn, they saw more pennies in their pockets after 2005 as donations began to increase. Part of this increase has come from nonprofits cultivating several specific strategies. One has been matching gifts, where a donor agrees to put up a large sum of money if others contribute enough to mach that amount.

In 2007, the Fund for the Arts got a $50,000 conditional pledge from former Brown Forman CEO Owsley Brown and his wife Christy. The conditions? Board members of area arts organizations had to increase their current contributions over the previous year and those increases had to add up to at least $50,000. After the Fund put out the call in December, contributions exceeded the $50,000 goal. Also, Jewish Family and Vocational Service recently used a $25,000 gift that other donors matched and exceeded by $12,000.

The other strategy is getting people involved in volunteer activities to experience the actual services nonprofit organizations provide. Wendy Adams is vice president of marketing and communications at Metro United Way.

“We are finding that when people are able to get engaged with their community and see the impact that their donations are having, that they’re much more likely to give,” she says.

Adams says many people volunteer through employee programs, like one of the largest local fundraising projects of 2007 — Yum’s World Hunger Relief Week. Held in October, it raised money for the United Nation’s efforts to combat hunger internationally. Locally, 1,800 Yum employees volunteered their time at almost 50 organizations in the metropolitan area that work to combat hunger. Metro United Way matched those volunteers with the organizations and those volunteers later sent in donations.

However, some local fundraisers recognize possible trouble on the horizon. Again, Wendy Adams: “We are seeing that where the housing market had affected people initially was in lower income areas and we have seen that that has stretched out now to middle class homes and middle class families.”

Adams says this situation would not necessarily mean a decrease in donations, but it could cause expenses to increase for the social service agencies that serve people who have fallen on hard times.

Nonetheless, most non-profit professionals are confident that local organizations can weather an economic storm. One is Kevin Connelly, the CEO of the Center for Nonprofit Excellence.

“I think most agencies are going to come through this pretty well,” he says.

Connelly credits local nonprofits with applying creative ideas to raising money and with involving the community. He recounts how Wayside Mission had once requested people to bring in their favorite holiday dishes to serve in its kitchen. After the health department told the mission this would violate health regulations, Wayside modified its idea. It asked people to bring their recipes and ingredients to the kitchen and help prepare the food. Connelly and others expect that local nonprofits will be able to build on that creative legacy in 2008.

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