2017 Fundraising Results Showed Significant Upswing

Two surveys on the economic health of philanthropy released this week show that 75 percent of organizations met fundraising goals during 2017 and giving by big donors accelerated 47 percent during the fourth quarter year-over-year.

The survey results had fundraisers optimistic for the remainder of 2018.

The Nonprofit Research Collaborative (NRC) reported that along with reaching goal during 2017 the result is the highest percentage that have met goal since the survey started in 2010. The results also showed that 63 percent raised more money than in the prior year, which is an improvement compared to the 58 percent that had increases in charitable gift receipts from 2015 to 2016.

“The 2017 NRC study showed some amazing, record-setting results that reflect the professionalism, skills and ethical dedication of fundraisers and charities,” said Mike Geiger, president and CEO of Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), which is one of the five members of the NRC. “There was such dramatic change over the past year — economic, political, social — but charities and their fundraising programs continue to inspire donors to take action. Through strong donor engagement, innovative programs and a commitment to high ethical standards, the charitable sector is raising more funds than ever to improve communities around the world.”

Organizations that were most likely to reach goal include colleges and universities, with 85 percent hitting the amount planned. The least likely to reach goal were charities in the “public society benefit” subsector, which includes consolidated fundraising activities such as United Way, Jewish federations, and community foundations plus groups that work on societal issues such as civic engagement, civil rights, or community and economic development.

Among public society benefit organizations, 62 percent met their fundraising target. Other types of organizations, such as those working in arts, health, human services, or religion, fell between the high of 83 percent and the low of 62 percent.

“Successful fundraising requires a good plan and multiple approaches to appeal to donors,” said Eva Aldrich, Ph.D., president and CEO of CFRE International, another NRC partner. “This wave of the NRC finds growth in major gifts receipts at 65 percent of responding organizations, plus continued success with appeals for smaller gifts through direct mail, online campaigns, and cash donations such as in an offering plate.”

The survey also sought predictions regarding 2018. Among all survey participants in both the U.S. and Canada, 61 percent project another good year for fundraising in 2018.

In the United States, 10 percent of those surveyed thought the tax law change would help increase giving and nearly two-thirds (62 percent) thought giving would either stay the same or decline. Another 28 percent said the changes are too complex to attempt to guess.

Along with AFP and CFRE, NRC partners include the Association of Fundraising Counsel, the Giving USA Foundation, and the National Association of Charitable Gift Planners.

The quarterly report of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project showed a startling 47 percent increase in giving from donors who gave $1,000 or more.

According to results in the 2018 Fundraising Effectiveness Quarterly Report, covering the fourth quarter 2017, overall donations to nonprofits in the U.S. increased 4 percent in 2017 compared to 2016. It reverses a year-long decline of 4 percent through the end of the third quarter of 2017, with substantial increases in giving at all donation levels to end the year.

While there is a correlation between the increase and the recent tax changes and run up of the stock market in the same time period, more research will be necessary to understand exactly why giving increased so suddenly near the end of the year, according to the report’s authors.

Annual donor retention also increased to 46 percent, which means that nearly half of all donors who gave in 2016 also gave in 2017 to the same nonprofit organization. This figure is an improvement from the annual donor retention rate of 41 percent reported in 2009, the statistics show.

The report was drawn from data of 9,179 nonprofit organizations across the United States with 7.7 million donors and more than $7.6 billion in contributions. Representing a diverse and representational sample of the overall $390 billion in giving in the United States, the “Growth in Giving” database is the largest database of nonprofit donation history available for public and private research.

“The increase in major donors near the end of the year was impressive, as that group was missing in action through the first three quarters of 2017,” said Elizabeth Boris, chair of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project and founding director of the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute. Another element of the report was the continuing increase in retaining new, first-time donors. In just five years, nonprofits have improved this metric by more than 25 percent.

The Fundraising Effectiveness Project was created in 2006 and includes the collaboration of the AFP and the Urban Institute. The “Growth in Giving” database, with more than 125 million donation transactions, is continuously updated by fundraising software providers Blackbaud, Bloomerang, DataLake, DonorPerfect, DonorTrends, Kindful, NeonCRM, SalsaLabs, SalesForce, SofTrek, YMCA of the USA and 7-Day Adventists.

To download the Fundraising Effectiveness Quarterly Report, and learn about other tools to help measure fundraising effectiveness, visit www.afpfep.org