Just when you think the fundraising picture is getting better…

October 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

It started out as good news: The Chronicle of Philanthropy conducted their yearly study of philanthropies over the past year, ranking the top 400 non-profits that raised the most money, and found that overall giving has risen from a 3.5% median gain to a 4.7% gain. This should be great news, right? Philanthropy is increasing?

Then the bad news begins. Charities on the list together raised 8 percent less last year (after adding in inflation) than they did in 2007. According to the article, “even this year’s healthy figure masks a big divide in the charity world: Most of the gains came at international charities and other groups that get a lot of donated medicine, food, and other products. The other large increases were achieved by community foundations and organizations like the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund that depend largely on gifts of donated stock, which rallied last year.”

But the bad news keeps going. For nonprofits that depend primarily on cash gifts, i.e. most of our arts organizations, giving was virtually flat, increasing by 0.2 percent without any turnaround in sight. Not only has the number of donors decreased, but many of the wealthier donors are cutting the sizes of their gifts and corporate support has practically evaporated.

Additionally, according to an NPR Report and a new study published by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, most of these organizations that are successfully raising charitable donations are large cultural institutions with budgets over $5M. So what about the multitude of small non-profits operating on a smaller budget and with fewer resources that have just as important a place in our culture and society? Some of these smaller organizations report significant trouble in attracting donors past small family foundations and larger gifts, and in this troubled economic time these non-profits are in danger of disappearing. Also troubling, is that if the large cultural organizations are the main recipients of funding (for whatever reasons – better staff power, well-known reputation, higher numbers served), and the smaller arts groups operating in communities of color, or led by artists of color are not receiving this support, then clearly not everyone in our society is benefitting.

Now, I don’t think this study takes into account the arts organizations that employ their funding to get out into the corners of the community, trying innovative ways to reach new audiences and find creative means of impacting the lives of everyone (no matter their socioeconomic status). It is not focusing on anything past programming, not looking at engagement or outreach. But even on the surface this news is troubling. I don’t have the answers to fix this, at least not yet. But for now is there something that we, the fundraisers and arts managers can do?

Do you think that this report is true? Or is it not looking at the full picture? (NPR Report raised a lot of… interesting commentary). Am I the only one who is bothered by this? I would love to hear other opinions.



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