On this episode, Rick Happy, renowned philanthropic advisor for over 35 years— and a mentor to me — shares wisdom and advice all members of nonprofit leadership would benefit from considering.

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Reflections and recommendations for nonprofits based on the new-norm of uncertainty.

“People like to give and people want to help, but a lot of times they don't know how. And that's where nonprofit organizations can play a role in educating folks across the board, regardless of their socioeconomic background.” Click To Tweet

It goes without saying that 2020 confronted us all in many ways. Regarding the economy and philanthropy, most of us predicted a considerable decline of the GDP and giving. But contrary to those expectations, 2020 brought a strange, end-of-year outcome: according to Giving USA, charitable giving reached a record $471.44 billion in 2020.

What happened? Major gifts saved the day. Some fundraisers would say 2020 was a record year. For example, Mackenzie Scott, the writer, philanthropist, and owner of Amazon shares demonstrated a game-changing strategy worth noting. Trust-based giving. Her philanthropy is often under the radar, sometimes anonymously, and remarkably rapid. Hundreds of organizations received grants of $1 million to $10 million with little to no strings attached. As my guest Rick Happy, Principal & Managing Director at CCS Fundraising says, “I have to believe you’re going to start seeing shifts in how the wealthy, at the highest wealth, are giving their money away. Maybe fewer strings, less constrained, less oversight, faster decisions, more impactful decisions – we could be on a new course here.”

That said, the trend of giving for the everyday American is on the decline. In 2005, families that earned $1M+ accounted for 12% of charitable deductions. In 2018 families who earned $1M+ accounted for 33% of charitable deductions. Last year 20 million fewer households gave than the year before. This is a big problem. Income inequality is a huge issue in this country and in philanthropy. Every year we are seeing fewer and fewer donors. So when we hear positive headlines about philanthropy and the increase in giving, it’s important to go deeper into the numbers. Although we see an increase in giving year over year, the number of donors has been decreasing over time. As the fabric of a civil and democratic society, this is a serious challenge for the nonprofit sector, especially regarding the survival of robust programs. We need to do a better job engaging people at all levels of giving. 

While some organizations benefited from the outpour of support during the year of crisis, others were forced to lay-off staff, shutter doors, or merge to survive. Two sectors saw decline  according to CCS’s Philanthropic Landscape Annual Report 2021: healthcare (3% decrease) and the performing arts (4% decrease). Performing arts organizations really struggled, and as long as we are virtual, this is going to be a challenge. 

One thing we know for sure: wealth is not an indicator of generosity. Grassroots fundraising is having a new day especially online. In fact, social media was the area that grew the most in giving in 2021; online giving accounted for 13% of overall giving—up from 10% in 2019 and continuing to increase. I’m eager to encourage everyone to engage with causes they care about to buoy our community at large. 

On this episode, Rick Happy, a philanthropic renowned advisor for over 35 – and my mentor, shares wisdom and advice all members of nonprofit leadership would benefit from considering. Take a listen to the first interview Rick did with me in the height of the pandemic, episode 8. In that episode, we talked from the eye of the hurricane about techniques to find funders and stay afloat. It’s been almost 18 months since then and things have definitely changed. Today I am interested in exploring with him what humanity has learned in this time about giving, and about our own human behavior when it comes to times of crisis. Join in!

Key Takeaways: 

  • Rick Happy’s reflections of the last 18 months: How the giving sector changed and grew during the COVID 19 pandemic.
  • The most affected sectors by the pandemic and the problem behind the loss of donors. 
  • How to engage the everyday giver as a “sustainer” to expand your funnel through communication about the impact of a gift. 
  • After seeing what happened during the pandemic, is staying the course the best idea?
  • Mackenzie Scott’s transformational gifts to thousands of organizations and how she is bringing back trust-based philanthropy. 
  • The power play between donors and organizations: How to regain trust and leadership through building healthy boundaries. 
  • Are we facing more economic woes? Advice to consider for the years ahead.

Notes and tips from this conversation:

According to CCS’S feasibility studies, only about 1 in 5 organizations tell their donors about the impact of their gift. And it’s also through studies that they’ve come to the conclusion that the number one motivator to give is not taxes or recognition, it’s knowing their contribution is impactful. 

  • Tell your donors about the impact of their gift. 
  • Open your funnel to include communities of color as donors. 
  • Remember that wealth is not an indicator of generosity.

Extra documentation:

  • Write a one-page description of your abilities: Do people know who I am and what I can do? 
  • Build a brag book: Keep your spirit up! Remind yourself (and even others) of all the great work you’ve done!

Connect with Rick on LinkedIn 

Episode Resources

LSC blogpost post Clubhouse chat regarding the annual giving report

8: Rick Happy | Philanthropy During a Time of Crisis from May 2020

Snapshot of Today’s Philanthropic Landscape 10th Edition, 2021

Lilly School of Philanthropy annual giving findings 

Giving USA 2020: Charitable giving showed solid growth, climbing to $449.64 billion in 2019, one of the highest years for giving on record

CCS Fundraising 

The Bridgespan Group