Nonprofits have to compete for attention with the plethora of communications that possible donors get on a daily basis, whether in their mailboxes or on their smartphone screens. That’s causing the industry to adapt and shift in new ways to remain top of mind with their intended audiences. Frank Doria, the vice president of advancement at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids and a member of the Association for Fundraising Professionals, spoke with MiBiz to discuss the climate for fundraising that nonprofits face in West Michigan and the tools they have to reach out to more donors.
Is the climate for fundraising different in various parts of Michigan?
I live on the east side and work on the west side. I don’t think so. I think communities in both of these areas are very charitable. I think people on both sides of the state overall are very giving people. I think it’s a mindset and there’s a willingness to support each other. I think the families with means are just as supportive on the west side as the east side.
How impactful has technology been in fundraising efforts?
I think it helps obviously with nonprofits that are trying to tell their story and illustrate impact of the mission. The price per story that is told is less because of the platforms we use. We use video in multiple environments during the year. In the area for us of collecting and tracking gifts and donor records, technology is helping us with our ability to store information and just telling that ‘one-off’ story that we can tell on social media and direct the donor to our website to learn more. On the website, there are multiple ways to get involved. Donors are either interested in learning more and if they are already connected with the organization, they welcome emails and links that give them opportunities to see how that organization is growing.
What are some best practices that you’re seeing in fundraising?
You always lead with the mission and tell donors about the impact of their investment and at the same time, highlight the human side of the story you have. You link that investment into the human impact of how that endowment will allow you to advance and better serve the mission of the organization. You need to get back to the basics and people approach that favorably. Some people get overwhelmed with the information that they receive, but if we lead with the mission, I think people will be open to that. At the end of the day, it’s all about the relationships formed among donors, investors and staff. There has to be that relationship of trust. That allows us to share our vision conversations with them early on. It’s all about engagement, education and inspiration.
How important is the ability to communicate succinctly?
We’re communicating more often and doing it in a shorter space of time. You communicate what the organization achieves in a shorter amount of words. Younger donors spend more time on technology platforms rather than dealing with mailers. With technology, we are just really consumed with information. If the communication is shorter and to the point, you’re more likely to get a response.
How are spontaneous disaster relief appeals impacting traditional giving?
There are those moments of time when there’s a God-given event that happens where people are responding with donations. At the end of the day, the typical family only has so much to give. The long-term success for nonprofits depends on consistent communication and engaging and inspiring their donor base. … At end of day, typical families only have so much to give and they will continue to give to organizations they believe in.
How will changes to the tax laws affect charitable giving?
We’re waiting to see how things flush out. The information I’m getting is telling me that people giving at the $1,000 and below level will always give. The families that are giving anywhere from $5,000-$25,000 may decline. We should be telling donors to talk to CPAs about the impact of tax laws. But people will still give because of the mission of an organization.
Economists and those who analyze the nonprofit sector are saying the country is due for an economic correction. What are your thoughts about that?
I haven’t heard anything like that in conversations I have with my peers, although history is telling us that we’re going in that direction. Here at Aquinas, we continue to tell our story and gain new donors.
What is encouraging people to give?
It’s the mission and impact and the human side of what we do. People want to do something bigger than themselves. It’s a human need. They see the greater good and see how that mission is making the community better. Government and the private sectors can’t provide that service.
What nonprofit sectors are doing really well?
Faith-based organizations are doing well and usually do well no matter what the market is doing. Higher education also is doing really well. There is a big push for the fine arts because the markets are doing well and donors are doing well with their stocks. When the market doesn’t do well, arts organizations will suffer the most.
Are we going to see more collaborations and mergers?
Just like any business, we need to be efficient. If there is an organization with a mission that is similar to the mission of another organization, I would hope they’d figure out a way to work together as one. The more that nonprofits can work together and come together as one, they will be more efficient. Donors want to see that their dollars are used in the most efficient way possible for the greater good.
How impactful has Giving Tuesday been?
It’s a moment in time when we all come together and tell our stories, and donors are getting used to having that day to make contributions. It highlights the nonprofit sector and the good that we do.
MiBiz new coverage of Michigan’s nonprofit sector is made possible through a generous sponsorship by the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, a leader in funding, initiating and leading programs that benefit the Grand Rapids area in the arts, community development, education, environment, health, and human services. For more information, visit grfoundation.org.