The Changing World of Philanthropy

Technology is changing the way the world does business. And fundraising and friend-raising in the nonprofit world is no different.

The digital revolution, combined with today’s troubled economy, is enough to turn anyone’s philanthropic agenda upside down. So, we talked to several experts about what every fundraiser, volunteer and board member needs to know to stay successful. Here are the 4 key points.

1. Use technology, such as social media and online auctions, to share your message and engage donors.
Technology, particularly social media, is an integral part of daily life for a new generation of donors, and it allows them to share the causes they’re passionate about with hundreds—if not thousands—of others. So, “it’s ‘de rigeur’ for nonprofits to have a Facebook page,” says Barbara Talisman, vice president of the Pursuant Group, a family of companies that works with nonprofits on fundraising.

Organizations are using technology, including social media, to talk to different groups of donors about their passions. Lincoln Park Zoo supporters who are interested in conservation can subscribe to the RSS feeds to get real-time updates from researchers in the field.

This fall, the zoo launched a program that allows supporters to donate on their cell phones. “With your thumb, you can feed a gorilla,” Kate Fridholm, the zoo’s senior director of annual giving. Technology can also be part of live events. At the Ravinia Festival’s 2010 Gala Benefit, the silent auction was conducted on iTouches. The men at every table were glued to their screens!

The bottom line is, if technology and social media intimidate you, consider taking a course at your local college extension or community college.

2. More experiences, less stuff.
With the economy the way it is, many donors have shied away from accepting gifts in exchange for their money—like the Caribbean cruise in a live auction—Talisman says. And they’re weighing whether or not to pay for an event ticket, versus simply writing a check that gets the full tax writeoff—and online fundraising lets donors give whenever. Many supporters have said “no thank you” to thank-you gifts, which reduce the value of their donation, Talisman says.

Instead, “ ‘I want the experiences,’ ” Fridholm says, quoting a donor. That means being a zookeeper for a day, working with researchers or going on a behind-the-scenes tour—anything that reminds them of the mission they’re a part of. If you want to give supporters an opportunity to donate publicly, Talisman suggests a “reverse auction,” where donors who offer bids at various price points can stand up and be counted.

3. Make giving tangible, and show donors the results
More and more, organizations are creating giving trees or wish lists for directed giving—buying computers for a classroom, for instance. Creating directed packages is especially important at this time of year: Most organizations raise 40 to 50 percent of their money in November and December, says Holly Hall, features editor at The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

4. Use the personal touch.
The end of the year is also a perfect time for trustees and board members to make calls to donors, reminding them of their impact and listening to their ideas. Hall tells the story of one family that wasn’t planning to renew their gift to a program that helps children with speech impairments learn how to speak—until they got a call from a child they had helped.