Raising Funds in a Difficult Economy

by Rich Draeger
Central Illinois Association of Fundraising Professionals

The United States has been through a difficult economic stretch the past four years. In the State of Illinois, the nonprofit world has been hit particularly hard by funding changes and decreases in government funding.

And yet, despite the challenges, many nonprofits in central Illinois continue to thrive. A Growing Philanthropy Summit was held recently in Washington DC, with 35 industry professionals sharing thoughts and concerns on fundraising. Among several key ideas from the summit were the concepts of:

• developing a more integrated approach to fundraising.

• tackling high turnover rates in the fundraising profession.

• encouraging and promoting best practices in social media.

Local Approaches

So, how do we take on some of these approaches locally? Many charities and nonprofits are working on ideas, including easier ways to give, such as monthly giving through electronic fund transfers (EFTs), or by credit card. According to leaders at the Growing Philanthropy summit, this type of giving typically generates a higher lifetime value and is more engaging to younger donors, both for its ease of use, as well as its green approach.

A high turnover rate in the fundraising field is also a concern, since “people give to people, not organizations.” The Central Illinois Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) offers many opportunities to network and share best practices, continued education and training. Many agencies across the region are blessed to have senior leadership that has been engaged in the nonprofit world for many years. The value of their experience is shared through membership and participation in industry organizations like the AFP chapter.

Also crucial is the emerging world of social media. A quick survey of local AFP members showed varying degrees of social media applications. At the Growing Philanthropy Summit, it was noted that to better connect with young people, the focus should be on engagement, not on donations, recognizing that many young people are not in a position to give cash, but it is not a reflection of their interest in charitable causes.

Currently, online giving constitutes about 11 percent of all giving and is certainly a growing area of emphasis. Bradley University reports an increased usage of social media, especially in reaching out to young graduates. Shelly Smith of the Bradley Fund reports, “I am collaborating with our alumni relations office in efforts to engage young alumni much more than they have been previously. We also see our alumni affinity groups working more with social media as a means of raising money and awareness for Bradley.”

Other efforts include sharing of resources and increased collaboration among like-minded agencies, especially in approaching governmental funding opportunities. One local nonprofit spoke of its work with the Illinois Partners for Human Service, a statewide organization of more than 700 human service providers, and with the Institute on Public Policy for People with Disabilities, an association of organizations that provide support services to people with developmental disabilities. Both organizations are dedicated to influencing public policy in Illinois to ensure quality services—and adequate funding to provide those services.

As we move forward in this slowly recovering economic climate, nonprofits have to streamline their efforts in an integrated fashion. Development professionals must be more multi-faceted in their approach to donors, no longer simply relying on the tried and true.

Be Transparent, Respectful

Finally, as we learned in the recent economic downturn, transparency is also key to fundraising, as donors truly become partners and more engaged in a hands-on fashion. One participant at the Growing Philanthropy summit said it best: Donors do not wish to be seen as “piggy banks” or funders alone, but as individuals with philanthropic goals and aspirations that we as fundraisers must strive to meet.

The members of the central Illinois chapter of the AFP pride themselves on honesty, innovation, creativity and growth of these relationships that will carry our vital services well into the future. You, as donors, help us by demanding the best practices, expecting the most from your relationship with our various causes, and holding us accountable in our stewardship of your donations of time, talents and treasure.

Teddy Roosevelt put it this way: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Central Illinois is a very giving region, and we thank you and appreciate the trust and support you show us constantly.iBi

Rich Draeger is the assistant development director for The Salvation Army in Peoria, and vice president of public relations for the central Illinois chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

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