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A local look at Giving USA

The 2019 Giving USA Report was recently released by The Giving Institute, confirming that total donations to U.S. nonprofits in 2018 were down slightly over 2017, an unfortunate (but not entirely unexpected) reversal in a four-year growth trend. Adjusting for inflation, Giving USA states, total giving nationwide was down $7.4 billion from an all-time high of $435.11 billion.

Though it isn’t what the sector would like to see, the decline in giving also defies the most dire predictions regarding the first year of new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act provisions. The analysis from fundraising consulting firm Graham-Pelton notes that “policy in sum does not influence donor generosity,” and that polling indicated “four out of five donors [had] planned to maintain or increase their giving in 2018 despite tax code changes.”

Volatility in the economy, however, seems to have played a role in the downturn: Research indicates a significant correlation between total giving and stock market performance. With the Dow and S&P experiencing a tumultuous fourth quarter, including their worst December since 1931, Graham-Peton calls 2018 “an example of that research come to life.” 

A few other significant findings from Giving USA:

  • Individual giving dropped below 70 percent for the first time since 1953 (though that continues a downward trend that began in the 1970s), with fewer contributions coming from lower- and middle-income donors.
  • Giving was down slightly for the top two subsectors, religion and education.
  • The only subsectors to see an increase in giving were international aid and environment/animals.
  • Giving by foundations and giving to foundations were both up.

To find out how these trends played out locally, we asked some GCN members about their fundraising results over 2018, and whether they’ve made any adjustments in efforts since.

National trends and local realities

In line with Giving USA findings regarding animal organizations nationwide, the Atlanta Humane Society (AHS) reports that donation levels are growing. “Both our 2018 and 2019 year-to-date individual fundraising revenue are up versus the previous years, including year-end fundraising,” said Director of Direct Marketing Stacy Guidice.

In other good news, Communities in Schools of Georgia (CISGA) is bucking the report’s findings about the education subsector. “We have actually experienced positive growth in our funding and donations in the past year,” said Chief Philanthropy Officer Jomal Vailes. “I believe the uptick in giving is a response to the current political and educational environment, particularly the conversations taking place regarding student support services.” 

Vailes also cites a recent expansion of their development staff; a successful GaGives on #GivingTuesday campaign, which raised “slightly more” than the previous year; and an increase in corporate support. “The need for our services has increased, and donors are responding to that,” said Vailes.

Speaking for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Atlanta, Development Manager Kalie Lasiter says that the organization did not enjoy the boost that Giving USA found in giving to the international aid subsector. Instead, they saw a “slight overall decrease in individual giving in 2018, primarily during the year-end giving season,” including fewer gifts from both middle-income and high-net-worth donors. They cite the effects of recent tax reforms and the stock market’s “tumultuous” fourth quarter. However, Lasiter notes that they tend to receive more of their financial support from foundations as opposed to individuals, and “have not felt an increase dependence on foundation funding as of yet.”

As for grantmakers, the Augusta-based Community Foundation for the Central Savannah River Area reported a big increase in 2018 donations, in accordance with Giving USA findings. The Foundation nearly doubled the amount of funds raised, from just over $6 million in 2017 to just over $12 million in 2018, with only a slight increase in the number of donations. “Our Community Foundation has been on a growth pattern for several years,” said President and CEO Shell Berry. “Our increase in capacity and donor relations has contributed to increased participation [by donors].”

At the same time, said Berry, grantmaking totals for the Foundation remained “pretty steady,” with a slight decrease from $8.7 million to just over $8 million (countering the reported trend of increased giving by grantmakers). The Foundation is currently adding grant programs that target specific challenges like poverty and literacy, which is a new approach for the organization. 

According to annual reports, donations are also up at the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta (CFGA), from $144 million in 2017 to $162 million in 2018. In addition, grant totals are up at both the CFGA (from $100 million to $128 million) and the Community Foundation for Northeast Georgia, which awarded $4.3 million in 2017 and $7.8 million in 2018.

Local trends emerging now

In her work with GCN’s Nonprofit Consulting Group, GCN Senior Consultant and EVP Kathy Keeley has noted a number of funding trends in Georgia that substantiate, and color, the latest Giving USA findings.

“What we are seeing in our consulting practice is that giving is flat: from foundations, corporations, government, and individuals,” said Keeley. She notes that a number of counties and cities are cutting budgets – Cobb, for instance, just made a $1 million cut that affects 15 nonprofits – and that individual donations have largely been unable to make up for revenue lost from these and other grant sources.

In addition, Keeley said, larger and more-established nonprofits are facing increased competition from new nonprofits, many just startups, that have proven to be nimble fundraisers. Another pressing issue Keeley cited is the shortage of development professionals and a steady increase in turnover, often prompted by high expectations and short deadlines for meeting them.

Fundraising solutions in progress

CISGA Chief Philanthropy Officer Vailes says that the organization relies on a variety of funding sources, so it hasn’t been affected by swings in any one revenue category. Still, they have been making some strategic changes to their fundraising approach. “One includes a focus on board expansion, and another involves looking at school districts as prospective investors in the services we provide in their schools,” said Vailes. “We have also implemented a targeted legislative effort to increase funding for much-needed growth and expansion in schools, specifically across rural Georgia.”

At the AHS, said Director of Direct Marketing Guidice, they continue to see donors migrating online. Their integrated promotions, via mail, email, social media, digital ads, and traditional paid and non-paid media, are currently driving “significant increases in online donations.” Meanwhile, the IRC in Atlanta is responding to the slowdown in individual giving by ramping up their major giving programs, reported Development Manager Lasiter.

At GCN, fundraising remains a top area for consulting work, Nonprofit University offerings, and member events (including the introduction of a new online platform and other campaign support for GAgives on #GivingTuesday). Senior Consultant Christal Cherry designed a new Certificate of Major Giving course for NU, and the Consulting Group’s Doing Lab series encompasses a “Write the Development Plan” Lab that provides leadership teams with the expert guidance, as well as the time and space, needed to complete a comprehensive fundraising roadmap for the coming year.

Marc Schultz is communications editor at GCN.

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