Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Way of Life

I’ve always considered fundraising to be not just a profession, but a way of life. Some cynics may scoff at that or consider it a snide way to elevate fundraising at the expense of other professions, but I think there’s a lot of truth to it. After all, with most jobs, when you leave work, the last thing you want to think about is anything associated with your work.

But not so with fundraising. I know that many members are very much involved with philanthropy in their personal lives—donating, volunteering, getting involved and giving back to their communities and organizations they believe in. We clock in long hours at our professional organizations and then turn right around and wear a different hat—volunteer, donor or adviser—with other charitable organizations, often offering our fundraising expertise and experience.

That’s one of the unique aspects of our profession, and one of the most uplifting. I get a lot of great emails from around the world about the tremendous volunteer and charity work that AFP members perform outside of their professional lives. But I received one recently from Sharon LeeMaster, CFRE, in our San Diego Chapter, that I feel compelled to share with you.

Christina (Christy) Wilson, a member of the chapter, sent an email to about 20 of her colleagues saying that her husband, Jeff, had not been able to find a kidney donor and asked if they knew of any individual who might be a candidate.

Three days later, Karny Stefan, CFRE, a member of the San Diego Chapter board and executive director of Waldon Family Services, called Christy. She didn’t have a candidate. Instead, she said she wanted to be considered. It turned out Karny was a match, and the surgery was performed successfully.

Christy and Jeff later wrote in an email: "From Jeff’s perspective, he finds himself understanding the enormity of the gift that Karny has given him—a chance for renewed life and health. We can honestly say that life is a gift—whether you come to understand this because you have just received an organ from a donor, experienced the miracle of childbirth, or just enjoyed a walk on the beach with a loved one or friend. Take time to remember this, savor a moment in time just for the sake of doing so and take time to live, love and laugh!"

What a wonderful story. I'm so pleased for Christy and Jeff, and Karny, you epitomize what it means to be a professional fundraiser.

I'm not about to suggest that fundraisers are more philanthropic than any other professionals. The great thing about philanthropy is that it knows no borders or boundaries. But it is uplifting to be part of a profession where you can hear about these types of extraordinary stories all the time, and even on occasion, be a part of them.

Have a story to tell about a colleague’s unique gift or volunteer effort? I won’t be able to highlight every one of them, but I'd love to hear them.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

2009 and the Economy

It’s almost a cliché to say now that we are living in "challenging" times and that the economy is affecting everyone. Except that clichés are based in truth, and the truth is, the economy IS affecting everyone, including the fundraising profession and the nonprofit sector.

Not only is the demand for services rising as individuals and families struggle with the economic downturn, but charities find themselves with depleted resources as government and individual contributions are, for most organizations, declining.

In AFP's most recent State of Fundraising Survey, just 46 percent of respondents raised more money in 2008 than they did in 2007, the lowest figure ever in the history of the survey. At the same time, 40 percent raised less, which is the highest figure we've ever seen in that category. Anecdotally, I've heard from some members that this is the toughest fundraising environment they've ever experienced.

AFP has been affected as well. Over the last six months, we have cut approximately $1.7 million from our original 2009 budget of $12 million. We've managed to do that in a way that has had a relatively small impact on our ability to deliver core programs: by freezing vacant positions and salary increases for vice president level staff and above; suspending staff retirement contributions; subleasing additional office space and reducing meeting and travel expenses, as well as other expenses in all areas of operations.

The most difficult reduction was the elimination of six staff positions. I want to stress that all of these decisions, including the staff positions, were made with extensive and frequent evaluation and discussion. We took a hard look at all staff and chose areas where we could most easily cross-train staff or transfer responsibilities to similar positions.

This is probably a familiar scenario you have seen played out at your own organization or one of your colleagues'. All of us are doing more with less, and despite this, charities are still seeing success. As I look back again at our State of Fundraising numbers, it’s remarkable considering this environment that 54 percent of organizations still managed to raise the same or more funds in 2008 than in 2007. As we review media stories from across North America, I'm still amazed at the number of mentions of charity campaigns meeting (or exceeding their goals). True, there aren't as many as in past years, but success IS possible. (Access some of the free resources AFP has put together.)

One of the reasons that charities are successful in this environment is that the economy is forcing them to focus their fundraising on what they do best. In a similar manner, AFP has protected its budgets and programs related to ethics, education and training. These areas encompass our core missions, and we are committed to providing the same level of high-quality programming as we have in past years. In fact, if anything, we're delivering more services and many of them for free.

Is the economy turning the corner? We are seeing signs of improvement and hopefully these signs will become stronger and more apparent in the coming months but we are likely to see a continuing challenge to our fundraising efforts.

So here's the point I'd like to leave with you. Despite everything that has happened, remember that you are still in control of your own destiny. The decisions made by you and your charity have more influence on your future success than anything the economy might do. You have a significant amount of control over your fundraising fortunes. Good strategic and tactical decisions, made through due diligence and consultation with colleagues, volunteers and supporters, will most often result in positive numbers over the long term.

So stay positive. Yes, the economy is affecting everyone. Yes, you have to do more with less. But wealth is still being created, and people's generosity continues unabated. Focus on your core strengths, and you can get the job done.

Let me know your thoughts: what do you predict awaits us in the near future in terms of the economy and giving? And if you want, tell me how your organization is doing! I look forward to hearing from you.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hello and Welcome!

Hi, everyone, and welcome to my blog. I haven’t blogged before, but have enjoyed reading others and thought that it would be good to have this communications outlet to our members and others interested in AFP and the fundraising profession.

So what do I hope to accomplish with all this? Well, one of the things I love—LOVE—about my job is being able to talk with members around the world. Of course I can’t speak with every one of you directly, so a blog like this is another way we can share with each other.

Also, there are so many things AFP does to advance fundraising that it is probably hard to keep track of them all. After all, you’re busy with your professional career, and the typical practitioner is besieged with more and more responsibility (and pressure). There’s a lot going on, and you may not always hear about AFP activities or what’s happening in the profession. So what I hope to do is provide you a little insight into some of the things AFP does that don’t always get the limelight: programs of which you might not be aware, projects that are being developed and ways we’re helping the profession.

I think it goes without saying that I hope you’re a member or are considering joining, and that you’ll remain a member for years. I might on occasion point to a program we’re offering if it makes sense in the context of what I’m discussing, but I really want this blog to be an open communication between you and me.

Some of my posts may cover serious issues affecting the whole profession; others might be a little more light-hearted or personal. Regardless, I hope you stop back often and feel free to share your own point of view.

Oh, and if you do respond and want to leave your name, please give your chapter name (if a member) or just general geography. I always like to know where people are.

My best to you on your fundraising… and happy reading!