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Don’t Be Fooled, Donors Absolutely Have Money

This article originally appears on the citizenpolity.com blog. Click here to read the article on that site.

It is not surprising that economics have played a large role in some non-profits’ hesitations in launching large capital campaigns or asking for more donations. When compared to all time high of $314.07 billion in 2007, 2008 saw the total given dropped roughly 3% and 2009 was no better. According to the US Giving Report and the Center for Corporate Giving, donations were down an additional 8%. Although the year has yet to finish, the Boston College Center on Wealth and Philanthropy predicts that in 2010 individual giving will most likely drop another 4%.[1] It should come as no shock then that the Philanthropy 400 Report has giving to the nation’s largest Charities is down almost 11%, the biggest drop in almost two decades. However, this does not mean that money is not available.

As a result of these depressing numbers, many non-profits are holding back from going after individual and corporate donors, but this is a mistake. On the contrary, non-profits should continue to pressure donors because there is still money to be had, as evidenced by the spending leading up to the November 2nd midterm elections.

The November 2 elections have provided a glimmer of hope for non-profits, one that has nothing to do with the shifting within the political guard, but in the fact that they provided evidence of available money. According to studies done by National Public Radio and the Center for Responsive Politics, politicians in this year’s midterm elections spent roughly $4 billion dollars on their election campaigns, an 80% jump from just two years ago. For example, in Nevada, the second most expensive midterm senate race in history, Democratic Senator Harry Reid’s impressive $22 million+ campaign revenue was comprised of 22% PAC/Special Interest contributions and 69% individual donations. His opponent, Republican Sharon Angle, raised 99% of her campaign’s $21,470,516 from individual donations.[2]

With raises similar to these held across the country, any non-profit can see that both corporations and individuals do have money to spend, despite what the studies on national donations are suggesting. These data also suggest that a non-profit waiting to launch a large capital campaign may be a mistake. Veteran fundraiser Bob Zimmerman, in a recent interview with the Philanthropy Journal, puts it best when he says “It’s true that private giving went down in 2009, but it still was more than $300 billion. Can we make it on that? I think so. Some organizations think they shouldn’t launch campaigns until things get better. But what does that mean?  It’s not as if a new day will dawn at which time everyone will know that “better times” have arrived.”[3]

Some non-profits have taken this message to heart. As the Non-Profit Times recently reported in it’s article “Donors Ain’t Broke” that numerous organizations have already recognized this fact. For example, the Dana Farber Cancer Institute recently completed its historic $1 billion campaign.[4] Likewise, Columbia University has launched a (seemingly appropriate) $4 billion campaign. Even the city of Newark was able to raise $240 million in donations for various city projects.[5]

Even though charitable giving is down from 2007, there are still over $300 billion going to non-profits across the United States. More importantly, the midterms have shown that, despite their giving being down, the money is still out there; non-profits just need to go and claim it. Therefore, I officially declare the time for non-profits to wait to ask for donations as over.


[1] (http://www.newswise.com/articles/boston-college-offer-first-projections-of-2009-2010-charitable-giving-by-us-households2)

[2] http://www.opensecrets.org/races/summary.php?id=NVS2&cycle=2010

[3] http://www.philanthropyjournal.org/resources/fundraisinggiving/post-recession-capital-campaign

[4] http://www.dana-farber.org/abo/news/press/2010/dana-farber-completes-historic-1-billion-dollar-capital-campaign.html

[5] http://philanthropy.com/blogs/philanthropytoday/big-donors-lift-renewal-effort-in-newark/28305