No one knows for sure how the new tax law will affect charitable giving because despite breathtaking advances in technology, no one has invented a tool that can see into the hearts and minds of people.
Do folks donate to nonprofits because they get a tax write off, because they want to make a difference, or is it a little bit of both?
As a recovering academic, I can attest that the literature (cited below) on this subject seems to make an argument that tax incentives do make a real difference in how much people give.
And if the eggheads and prognosticators are right, the nonprofit sector is in for a rough ride ahead.
A realllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllly rough ride.
Short of crying a river, what’s a nonprofit leader to do?
1. Tell your story effectively by measuring the impact of your work and showing how your work enriches people.
If your nonprofit isn’t already expert in these areas, find people who can help you – a university professor or graduate student, consultant, marketing firm, marketing-savvy volunteer, social media guru, film maker, videographer, photographer, or a combination of the above.
If you’re flummoxed about where to start, here’s a link to free resources from the Kellogg Foundation about how to think about logic models and program evaluation.*
2. Communicate to your donors in a respectful and personal way.
Just last month my husband and I got separate form letters – neither was addressed to us by name – from two organizations we knew well asking us to make a contribution.
On the surface that sounds pretty standard except for that fact that we founded and led those organizations for many years.
If donors aren’t treated as the awesome important people they are, they ain’t gonna step up when you need them.
Requests to your biggest and most loyal donors need to be made in the most personal way possible and in ways that honor their previous contributions to your organization.
3. Develop a carefully conceived strategic plan!
Geez Louise, if this isn’t the time for your staff and board to do some serious strategizing about where your organization fits into the world (looking at: what differentiates you, your strategic priorities, staffing plans and contingencies, strategic partners/alliances, alternative revenue models, etc., etc., etc.), then I don’t know when in the world would be the right time!
4. Get active politically!
As I’ve written previously, this is a time for action. Your nonprofit needs to be on a first-name, kiss-hello basis with every single elected official who represents your organization.
In addition, if you don’t already belong to your state nonprofit association and the association that represents your type of nonprofit, now’s the time to send in your dues and make a connection.
Those organizations will keep you aware of the latest developments on public policy that can have a real impact on your organization.
5. Pray (or, if you’re not a spiritual person, take time to breathe and reflect).
The work of nonprofits is difficult even in the best of times! Make sure you take time to relax, reflect, laugh, and enjoy.
Wishing you an awesome 2018!
Auten, Gerald E., Holger Sieg, and Charles T. Clotfelter. "Charitable giving, income, and taxes: An analysis of panel data." The American Economic Review 92.1 (2002): 371-382.
* Thank you Ida Rose Flores for sharing this website!
Pat Libby is a management consultant to nonprofits and philanthropies. She has served as an academic, senior executive, board member, and consultant to innumerable nonprofit organizations and foundations since 1978.
Get in touch if you have any questions!