It’s official – the pandemic fundraising surge is over and everyone knows it. Even the Chronicle says so.
But there’s a good chance your Board may still be in surge giving la-la land. What to do? In the short run, maybe do what Feeding San Diego’s Ali Cobran did, as reported in the above-linked Chronicle piece. She walked her Board painstakingly through the big gifts that were received during the pandemic and why they are unrepeatable. For instance, one company donated their travel budget to the food bank when everyone was stuck at home. Unrepeatable.
The current lean fundraising times are the product of more than Covid being (mostly) behind us. It’s a wake-up call that fundraising as we know it is in deep flux. Retention rates have been dropping steadily for more than a decade. The percentage of Americans who donate has been falling as well. Ten of billions in potential income are tied up in donor-advised funds whose owners have already realized a tax benefit and who are under little pressure to direct their funds. No one seems to be able to explain what the economy is doing. And many in Congress are bent on creating economic chaos.
Fundraising mavens keep talking about ‘returning to normal’ or ‘the new normal,’ but that’s a trap: There is no normal, new or otherwise. Your job is to navigate the deepening uncertainty by making flexible plans, by experimenting, and by making sure your higher-ups understand that like it or not, it’s a brand-new philanthropy world.
There’s an upside to all this. Being in uncharted territory, scary as it is, means each of us get to play a role in creating whatever comes next. Isn’t that a whole lot more fun than running a playbook that has reached its ‘sell by’ date?