Over the last decade, the Giving USA Foundation reports that total charitable giving in the U.S. rose by 58% ($298.42 billion was given back in 2011 and $471.44 billion was given in 2020).
Over that same period, giving specifically in support of the environment, animals, and conservation efforts increased by an impressive 107% (from $7.81 billion in 2011 to $16.14 billion in 2020).
The fact that U.S. giving in support of the environment and animal causes is outpacing the increase in total giving may not seem all that shocking. It’s easy to think, “The media reports on climate change and similar issues daily and that kind of coverage naturally increases awareness with donors.”
While that may be partially accurate, it is important to note that studies focused on how the media continue to cover these issues suggest that a politics-first model of coverage – as opposed to a science-first model of coverage – continues to promote a sense of confusion among viewers and readers.
Since a confusing case for support rarely leads to more giving, I would suggest something much more fundamental to successful fundraising is at play here. Namely:
Nonprofits are making the case to donors and prospects that caring for the environment and animals is not just about the environment and animals. Instead, they are pointing out that environmental and animal concerns have fundamental impacts across a wide range – if not all – of the human experience. And that bigger, more impactful case is motivating generosity!
Take for instance, the mission of The Nature Conservancy, “Conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends.” Or, the mission of the Wildlife Conservation Network, “. . . to protect endangered wildlife by supporting conservationists who ensure wildlife and people coexist and thrive.” (italics mine)
Yes, these mission statements start with an environmental and animal focus. But, they both conclude by connecting the environment or wildlife to people. It’s not just about the environment or the animals, it’s about all humans too.
Again, you might say that connecting mission to broader, more global outcomes is easy for environmental organizations but not so simple for your institution.
“Our cause is a local cause,” you might say, “we only serve those in our community.” Or, “Our mission is focused on educating each individual student, not all of humanity.” Or, “Our institution doesn’t have the resources to make the case that we have some huge impact!”
The point is not that we should be making the case that every organization’s mission directly impacts the whole world. The point is that we should be making a case that matters to our donors and prospects.
For instance, “We believe that the more educated our community grows, the more high-paying jobs we will attract and the higher quality of living we will all enjoy. And we are committed to helping make our community known for education, one student and one family at a time.”
Or, “We believe that all community life is enhanced – from education to economic development to civic engagement – when the best possible healthcare is available to all. We are committed to ensuring that every person has access to the best healthcare services available.”
There are any number of ways to link your mission and case for support to the broader world and the bigger outcomes that people care about. In fact, it’s our job as advancement professionals to do just that. Making missions matter motivates generosity.
And if the goal is to encourage the most generous of responses from others, it’s important to remember that donors don’t give to your institution, they give through your institution.