Perhaps the most concerning giving trend in the U.S. is the continuing decrease in the total number of donors making charitable gifts each year.
Regardless of the variables and reasons researchers point to in explaining this decades-long trend, I remain convinced that people are not growing less interested in doing good. I remain convinced that human nature is still accented with generosity. I remain convinced that our social DNA still encourages our support for one another, even if unconsciously. I remain convinced that our better angels still whisper to us, nudging our hearts in the direction of compassion.
How, then, should advancement leaders respond to this broad and discouraging trend of fewer and fewer donors?
Part of the answer to this important question, of course, lies in the fact that advancement professionals need to get better at employing data-informed plans to identify and invite new donors to give. We need to do this multiple times each year. Further, we need to get better at personalizing stewardship and solicitations so that current donors are retained. We need to lean into using multiple channels – from the “tried and still true” direct mail, email, and phone strategies to digital and social media strategies.
Yes. Of course, we need to do all these operational basics.
But the more compelling answer to this significant question is that advancement leaders need to adopt a new mindset around the nature of the work itself.
I have previously written that we should view our work as analogous to serving as generosity sherpas for donors. We should proactively guide donors to the summit of meaning and joy during their giving experience.
Most donors do need guides. But I’m also convinced that we – the sherpas – need a candle to light the journey’s path.
While humans still desire to be generous, helpful, and supportive of others, the lived experience today for so many of us is one of increasing isolation, disconnection, disillusionment, and distrust. Even as we claim more “connections” through technology, we are growing further away from truly knowing each other.
It’s in this darkness of modern-day detachment our candle is needed. Through our enthusiasm, we must provide the light so that the truth of human compassion can be laid bare and easily seen by all. Through our encouragement, we must make less murky and questionable the fact that the human spirit leans into goodness. Through the sharing of our experience and knowledge, we must help others see clearly that their support, no matter how modest, is needed.
We will begin reversing the trend of losing donors each year when we start embracing our work as more than operations, strategies, and tactics.
We will begin attracting and keeping more donors when we start believing that we are donor guides. And, that we are holding candles.