What’s the outlook for philanthropy in 2015? We’re continuing the conversation we began in December, asking leaders in the nonprofit community for their views. What challenges do nonprofits face in a tough economy and increasingly competitive environment? And based on this information, what’s the best way to formulate a great appeal? Here’s what they said.
1. What do you anticipate will be the biggest challenge to nonprofits in 2015?
Timothy Barr, Vice President for Development and Executive Director of the Foundation, St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center: The biggest challenge is maintaining growth while searching for the missing generation of philanthropists. Over time I’ve noticed that this gap exists—it’s as though we’ve lost an entire generation of givers. We need some new faces. The older generation has donor fatigue and it’s time for the younger ones to step up to the plate.
Kate Bech, CEO, Princeton Family YMCA: Without a doubt it’s sustainability. How do nonprofits thrive and grow, particularly in the face of economic and social problems facing society? Our government is not meeting some important community needs and nonprofits feel the pressure to pick up the slack. There should be more government support of important programs and initiatives. For example, despite years of research demonstrating the importance of promoting literacy in very young children, the government has not given a strong push to early childhood education programs. There is an expectation that nonprofits will continue to do more with fewer resources, but we can only do so much.
Michele Pignatello, Chief Development Officer, Kessler Foundation: How do you elevate your message above the chatter? How do you distinguish yourself among charities and causes, many of which are very worthy? Getting your message out in a clear, targeted, and compelling way is always the challenge.
David Munshine, President, The Munshine Group: An increasing number of nonprofits will face a new kind of identity crisis. They know they need to change—by embracing technology and social media—to attract a large base of new donors. But the rate of change is not the same for every organization. Some need to go full-tilt with social media and online strategies right away, while its okay for others to evolve more slowly. You have to understand who your audience is and how quickly it is changing to determine when and how to integrate new methods for reaching a broader audience. If your current strategies are still working, don’t abandon them. They may continue to be effective for the next few years. Add new strategies rather than changing strategies.
2. What are the essential elements of an effective appeal?
MP: Make a compelling case. Be sure it’s a specific ask to the right audience, with the right asker, packaged together in a way that is visually appealing, but not too flashy.
KB: An effective appeal is personal and articulates your cause in an engaging way. It’s a specific ask, concise, not too long, and includes a call to action.
TB: It needs to be personal and direct. Generic appeals are pushed aside. The money you’re asking for must be connected to something specific. Your appeal must be highly targeted. A pithy letter is important, one that pulls at the heartstrings. The appeal letters I respond to are those that have a great impact, saying, “We are using your dollars for something very important,” and it specifies what that something is.
DM: First and foremost, the appeal must be tailored to the interests of the donor. Sometimes this is easy, but other times you have to work at it. For example, if you know one aspect of your work is especially important to a potential donor, you need to factor this into your appeal. Second, it has to be the right time to ask. It may not always be the perfect time, for either the donor or the charity. But if it’s the right time for one without being the wrong time for the other, that’s usually good enough. You can’t always wait for the perfect storm or it may not ever happen.