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.