The Urban Legends of Fundraising – Part III of III

Urban legend – An urban legend, urban myth, or urban tale is a form of modern folklore consisting of stories thought to be factual by those circulating them. (Wikipedia)

The final installment of the 3-part Urban Legends of Fundraising messages focuses on the faulty thinking that the broader economic environment will greatly impact your organization’s fundraising success.

Since the fall of 2008, organizations of all types have grappled with the fact that the economic and financial environments have been bad – very bad. The bursting of the housing bubble brought with it broad market contractions of at least 30%. Internet news outlets as well as traditional media could not file enough reports on the worst recession since the Great Depression.

And the fundraising world began to wring their hands. Articles were written, conferences were created, and shop-talk centered on “the negative impact of the economy on fundraising.” One almost came to believe that the environment was the predictor of our success or failure!

But according to the USAGiving Foundation, as compared to 2007, total charitable giving declined only 2% in the United States in 2008. So, the housing market collapsed and the equity and broad markets dropped over 30%, but charitable giving declined only 2%. Hmmmm.

I’ve sat with development leaders who, when asked about their progress, almost immediately begin to blame the economy. And yet I know of other development leaders who rarely mention the broader economy when asked the same question. Guess who is having success?

Here is the truth: Good fundraising work will predict your success, not the economic downturn (or uptick). Sure, we all have to operate within the economic environment, but in good times and in bad, money is always being given – and lots of it. In fact, over $40 billion to educational institutions in 2008. That’s billion with a “b” – during the worst recession since the 1930s.

So, yes, we should all understand the economy. But don’t get caught up in it. Why should we? Is there much we can do to impact the broader economy? Typically, no. So, why not focus on things you can impact? Focus on your donors and focus on your organization’s vision for the future. Is your vision compelling, clear, and concise? Are you operating an effective major gifts programs and moving donors closer to gifts through thoughtful visits? Is the message of your annual fund program convincing and donor-centric? If so, regardless of the economic environment, you will achieve your organization’s charitable gift goals. Because contrary to that old James Carville political slogan, “It’s really not the economy, stupid!”



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