Doom and gloom are upon us. Everywhere you turn, there’s talk about how giving is going down, how inflation and the economy are going to wreak havoc with your fundraising plans and goals, and there’s a huge giving crisis. All suggesting that you, as a frontline fundraiser, should be terrified that the foundations of your philanthropic world are going to fall apart, and desperate times are coming, etc.

And I was sitting here wondering if anyone out there in philanthropy land is having some balanced thoughts about all this chatter. Then I happened upon Jennifer Harris and her rant (which I edited a bit but stayed true) on LinkedIn where she says:

“I don’t even know where to start with this The Chronicle of Philanthropy article [on the crisis in giving]. I want to be the one who champions the light side of the generosity business – and yet our leading publications bring me down…
…But sheesh, the crisis we are in, I don’t know. I definitely don’t believe [we are in] a ‘giving crisis.’ I certainly don’t think we are in an ‘inclination to give’ crisis either. Generosity abounds.
I DO think we fear reinvention and reimagination as a collective (from government to the social sector) and the grip of the old ways and the absence of a new script is keeping us in purgatory.
Still – fundraising, as an ethos or call to conversation, is not to blame.
The functions we have applied to fundraising, born out of productivity culture (sales and marketing), and heck, while we’re at it, efficiency, and supremacy… they are deeply problematic.
We have dehumanized a human endeavor. Let’s talk about that please?! We have lots to dissect in this profession – including reframing the narrative around what is in fact wrong. I am growing tired of the Chronicle mirroring the bait and switch we see in mainstream media (where on one hand they talk about ‘surprisingly strong 2021 giving’ followed by ‘dark clouds over 2022.’)
We need better conversations. Honest ones. Conversations that lift the heart-centered leaders and fundraisers advancing missions in a broken system. We need to talk openly and courageously about emergent strategies – strategies that break the mold; flex out of the confines of metrics; and create space for organizations and communities to transform; for donors and fundraisers too – to find connection and purpose on the path to change.” 

I read Jennifer’s post and sat back and said to myself: “Well, there you go, there IS someone who is thinking the same thoughts that we are.” And I was hopeful.

Here’s why this topic of a giving crisis and doomsday thinking in giving is so upsetting to some of us. It assumes that the whole thing is about the money. It’s not. It has very little to do with money.

It’s all about the heart, the goodness, the very soul of a human being. It’s about a person wanting to do good on the planet – wanting to make things right – wanting to give another a chance and turn things around. About redemption. Change. It’s about compassion, caring. It’s about thankfulness. Gratitude.

These are all things of the heart – they are the key drivers in giving. Not the economy. Not inflation.

Now, you might be saying as you are reading this: “Come on, Richard. Get your head out of the sand. If a person’s income is affected, their giving WILL go down. So, get a grip. You can’t polish over this reality.”

Well, here is the reality that Jeff and I, and our team, face every day – a reality that I have experienced over the last 45 years of doing this work. When things are tough, the spirit of good people rises above their self-interest to amazing and generous places. They look at their circumstances and then the circumstances of those around them and they say to themselves: “I am doing just fine. I need to help those that aren’t.”

And they do just that. They go above and beyond. They step up and do the unexpected to help another person. A bad situation is turned around.

The numbers prove that donors think this way. In every major crisis – in the 90’s, 2008, etc. – every single one, those organizations whose fundraisers helped donors do what THEY wanted to do were the ones that weathered the financial storm.

This is what brings us back to those donor passions and interests.

When you couple the generosity and gratitude of a donor to what they are interested in and passionate about, you have a powerful driver for giving. And that driver rises above any doomsday mentality to help people and the planet.

Take all your worrying about the economy and the “crisis in giving” and do two things:

  1. Make sure the philosophy that drives your fundraising is rooted in the core belief that fundraising is about helping donors fulfill their passions and interests. Do not depart from this belief! Examine your heart on this so you can fully embrace this philosophy. Then, examine all your cases for support, your asks, your messaging, your strategies etc.
  2. Then, make sure all your fundraising programs are effectively helping your donors do what they want to do.

This is, at once, simple, and complex. It’s about how YOU think and then what you DO with how you think. Think and act differently. And don’t let “the sky is falling” voices turn your head.