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Predictions of challenging year hold true for nonprofits in 2023

By Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE, Notes on Nonprofits

It has been a busy, challenging year for nonprofits. Here is a look back at the questions you asked and critical issues we discussed.

I started the year with my annual trends and predictions column. I predicted staffing shortages, challenges in maintaining public trust, fewer grants, less people giving to charity, and the critical need for advocacy which have all been a reality in 2023.

Stay tuned for my 2024 predictions in next month’s column.

Do’s and don’ts

In February, a colleague told me about a fundraising solicitation gone wrong. This inspired a column on the do’s and don’ts of asking for a donation.

Examples included do identify yourself as staff, board member or volunteer. Do share specific details about your audience and plans to promote your event when approaching a corporate sponsor. Do take the time to understand their business, who their customers are, and what type of engagement and recognition will mean the most to them.

Don’t expect staff to raise all the money by themselves. Don’t exaggerate the scale and scope of an event, and don’t assume you know what matters most to a donor, family, or corporate sponsor without asking them. Don’t expect people who don’t know you to contact you for more information.

Love and the board

One of my favorite columns of the year was in February when I shared 10 sweet reasons to love a high performing board. This included board members who arrive on time and take their service seriously, adopt a strategic plan, recruit new board members with intention and focus, abide by term limits, support the ED, and invest in technology.

Future of fundraising

In March, I was asked to deliver a speech on the future of fundraising. This led me to write a column that included staff turnover, generational differences, giving through donor advised funds, and trust-based philanthropy.

I am a big proponent of endowments and wrote a column about why they are such an effective way to strengthen sustainability and help nonprofits get off the churning hamster wheel of annual fundraising. This prompted lots of feedback from board members and staff alike.

I shared my best takeaways from the international fundraising conference which is always a great opportunity to learn about new techniques and ways to improve the asking process. Another column was about the impact of the economic forecast on nonprofits. I also shared a column on conferences and resources available to nonprofits and fundraising events that are hallmarks of spring in Tallahassee and generate critical funding to meet community needs.

Problem of burnout

After numerous conversations with tired and overwhelmed Executive Directors, I wrote a column about burnout. This is a significant factor in maintaining the health of a nonprofit and should not be overlooked by board members who sometimes forget they are an employer. I encouraged board leaders to check in with the ED regularly to ask if they are taking time off and making selfcare a priority for them and their staff.

Bob Harris shared a check list to help board members avoid omissions in governance. It encouraged board members to record all motions as evidence to members, funders, and stakeholders they are fulfilling their governance duties.

Charitable giving falling

The annual Giving USA report released in June revealed total charitable giving fell to $499.3 billion in current dollars, a drop of 3.4% in 2022, which is only the fourth time in 40 years.

This followed two record setting years for charitable giving driven by the needs of the COVID-19 pandemic. Less than 50% of Americans gave to charity last year which means giving has grown, but fewer people are giving. The report also revealed individuals gave 64%, foundations gave 21%, corporate giving was 6%, and bequests were 9%.

Noise, mistakes and outcomes

Maria Bryan wrote a great guest column on strategies to break through the noise and help set your nonprofit apart. This is critical to ensure your mission is not the best kept secret in town.

I shared an updated guest column by Kelly Otte who talked about the mistakes she’s made as an Executive Director and what she has learned from them. I always appreciate her candor to help new nonprofit leaders avoid these pitfalls.

I wrote a powerful column in August about the need to focus on outcomes, not overhead. It debunked the overhead myth, which is the misperception that administrative costs are an effective measure of organizational impact. The reality is just the opposite. By not investing, nonprofits risk starving the organization with outdated equipment, low salaries, and run-down facilities which reduces their ability to achieve their mission.

Special events and spooky tricks

Nonprofits rely heavily on special events to generate income and engage the community in their mission. Sometimes those events have passed their prime and need to be retired, which was the focus of my September column. I heard from lots of readers who said, “Thank you for writing this” and “We finally had a candid conversation about our stale event thanks to this column.”

Feedback like that keeps me writing!

During the fall, I wrote a column on the busy fall fundraising season which included events, donor appreciation, and preparation for Giving Tuesday. The annual frights and sights Halloween column was full of tricks and treats for nonprofit leaders.

Strategic planning and gratitude

I received lots of questions about strategic planning this year. There are many different forms of planning, and each require a different type and degree of preparation. This resulted in a column on the seven signs your organization is ready for strategic planning.

I also wrote my favorite Thanksgiving-themed column which highlights so many things to be grateful for in the nonprofit sector.

Unethical practice

Earlier this month I received a call from someone who was considering a fundraising position in which they would be paid based on a percentage of funds raised. They called to ask for my input on this practice and I’m glad they did.

The Association of Fundraising Professionals and other leading national organizations consider this practice unethical for three primary reasons: (1) percentage-based compensation can lead to self-dealing, where the interests of the fundraiser outweigh the best interests of the donor and/or the nonprofit; (2) donor trust can be unalterably damaged when they are aware that a commission will be paid to a fundraiser directly from their gift; and (3) the charitable mission can become secondary to self-gain.

It has been a great year of columns and a pleasure for me to answer your questions. Thank you for reading and keep those questions coming in 2024!

Notes on Nonprofits is a column in the Tallahassee Democrat – USA Today Network produced by Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE, President of Stansbury Consulting, and includes resources, responses to reader questions, guest columns, and timeless topics. This column first appeared on December 30, 2023 in the Tallahassee Democrat – USA Today Network. Please send your comments and questions.

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