How to Locate Opportunities for Your Nonprofit During the Holiday Season and in the New Year

With the holiday season just weeks away and 2009 drawing to a close, now is a perfect time for your organization to look back on the past year and to focus on opportunities during the upcoming holiday season as well as those in the year ahead.

A Tough Year

There’s no hiding the fact that 2009 was a hard year for nonprofits.  The Chronicle of Philanthropy is reporting that the nation’s 400 largest charities predict a 9% decline in total donations given this year.  The Foundation Center is estimating that the decline in charitable giving will be closer to 10%, based a recent survey with 600 respondents.

Hope for the Holidays?

Many nonprofits have come to count on increased giving during the holiday season.  After a year as tough as this one was for the nonprofit community, the need for increased giving this holiday season couldn’t be greater.

There are two basic reasons why charitable contributions generally increase around this time of year.  First, individual donors often feel more charitable during the holiday season and will often substitute a present under the tree for a donation to a favorite charity.  Second, for many people, an end-of-year charitable contribution is an added bonus in terms of tax deductions.   Regardless of their reasons, donors have generally stepped up during the holiday season.  So what can we expect this year?

When you say the words “holiday giving” perhaps the first thing that comes to mind is Santa Claus standing alongside one of the Salvation Army’s red kettle.  According to a recent article in USA Today, recent news of falling consumer spending has Salvation Army worried, as the organization’s holiday donations efforts depend heavily on foot traffic at shopping malls.

So if potential donors aren’t coming out to the malls, where can you find them?   One answer might be to look online.  For example, the Network for Good, a nonprofit organization that provide online fundraising services, is expecting to process a total of $32.5 million in donations this December, a number that would mark a 30% increase from last year.

Although giving might be down in some areas this holiday season, the good news for your organization is that there are positive indicators in other areas.  The most important thing for your organization is to focus on your mission and—if possible—relate your funding needs to the current state of the economy.

What to Expect in 2010 (and beyond)

It might take a while for charitable giving to return to previous levels, but, rather than focusing on the negative, we think that it is worthwhile to look ahead and map out some possible trends in charitable giving.

In a recent article for the Wall Street Journal, Pablo Eisenberg of the Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership at Georgetown examines the state of charitable giving and offers some suggestions for how to solve the problems we are currently facing.  Eisenberg’s suggestions are interesting and highlight some possible trends that are worth noting.  Some of Eisenberg’ suggestions include:

  • More general operating support. Eisenberg estimates that only 20% of foundation grant money is allocated to general operating support.  Eisenberg argues that an increase in general operating support would allow nonprofits to “hire and maintain quality staff, conduct advocacy activities, build organizational capacity, participate in coalitions and retain the flexibility to pursue targets of opportunity.”   Although many foundations still prefer to make project-specific grants, a move toward more general operating support would be welcome news to many nonprofits.
  • More multiyear funding. Eisenberg notes that most foundations are comfortable with shorter grants of one or two years.  He argues that lengthier grants of five, 10, or even 20 years would be beneficial—especially to policy and advocacy groups.

  • More rolling grant making. Many foundation boards meet only twice a year and limit their giving to times when the board is meeting.  Eisenberg argues that foundations should be more flexible, making grant money available throughout the year.  The good news for your organization is that there are a number of foundations in Pennsylvania with rolling grant cycles.
  • More funding to the truly needy and underserved populations. In a tough economy, demand is at an all-time high for health and human services, education, disaster relief, and various other programming that reaches out to at-risk and underserved populations.  If foundations recognize the increasing demand for these services in the coming year, it presents an excellent funding opportunity for nonprofits engaged in these sorts of services.

Conclusion:  Be Patient and Keep Thinking Outside of the Box

Many nonprofits are familiar with the common grant writing wisdom that says that user fees are a good way to show donors that the nonprofit is doing its part to offset operating costs.   The idea behind this is that it shows donors that the nonprofit is not relying too heavily on foundation grants.

But sometimes common wisdom needs to be challenged.  The Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Va. did exactly that.  According to another recent Wall Street Journal article, the museum recently decided to ask four of its largest donors to help the eliminate its $7 general-admission fee.   The museum suggested that it needed to eliminate the admission fee because many families could no longer afford it in the current recession. The donors responded favorably, contributing roughly $150,000, and the museum was able to eliminate the fee.   And it has paid off.  According to the article, “[w]hen free admission became effective in September, attendance was three times greater during the first week than during the same period in 2008.”

Creative thinking such as this is a great way for your organization to distinguish itself in the current recession.


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