Why You Need to Broaden Your Organization’s Funding Horizons | npENGAGE

Why You Need to Broaden Your Organization’s Funding Horizons

By on Mar 20, 2019


This piece originally appeared in “The Right Mix: How Diverse Income Models Influence Giving” by the Blackbaud Institute. Download the full report to learn how to develop a stable, sustainable, and supported organization.

For all the attention paid to how nonprofits raise funds, there is very little public understanding about the practice of fundraising and the various income streams nonprofits rely on. There are widespread notions that fundraising is a necessary evil, or that dollars spent on fundraising are being diverted from the organization’s work. This is a dangerous mischaracterization of the role that fundraising plays in supporting and sustaining the work of the nonprofit sector.

Here’s the truth:

  • Nonprofits depend on charitable support. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics®, charitable donations underwrite 23%—almost a quarter—of all nonprofit expenses; that percentage increases to 51% when you include only those organizations with budgets of $10 million or less. There is no question that without charitable dollars, nonprofit organizations could not fund their missions and work.
  • Fundraising is the practice of securing charitable gifts. While it’s true that some donations are made without fundraising outreach, the vast majority of charitable gifts are made by donors as a result of being asked, which makes the practice of fundraising essential for organizations to survive.
  • Fundraising is an ongoing and continuous effort. A study by the Urban Institute® and the Association of Fundraising Professionals® found that in a one-year period, 96 donors were lost for every 100 donors gained. In pure dollars, this meant that $4.695 billion new (or increased) dollars were raised to help cover the $4.264 billion lost due to donor attrition.[1] To fuel growth, or even to keep pace with current needs, organizations must continue to invest in fundraising efforts to support their programs.

At BoardSource, we understand there are real risks to underinvesting in fundraising, including the possibility of becoming overdependent on a small number of donors. Through the “Measuring Fundraising Effectiveness” framework we created with GuideStar®, BBB Wise Giving Alliance®, and the Association of Fundraising Professionals, we formed a way for nonprofit board and staff members to quantify the risk associated with a lack of diversification—what we refer to as the Dependency Quotient.

It’s a very simple concept that invites organizations to consider this question: What percentage of our operating budget would be left unfunded if we lost our organization’s top five donors?

For some organizations, this question reveals tremendous vulnerability and fragility. Without their top five donors, they would cease to exist. For others, it documents that a change in the giving of one donor—or even five—would be unlikely to create organizational distress.

The defining difference between these two realities is what this report is all about: investing in a smart, strategic, and diversified approach to fundraising.

There is no question that it takes time, effort, and—yes—money to build a strong and resilient fundraising program. But the fact is that investments in fundraising should be made not despite our need to fund our missions and work, but because of it.

nonprofit fundraising


[1] Source: 2016 Fundraising Effectiveness Survey Report, Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute and the Association of Fundraising Professionals


Anne has 20 years of executive leadership experience in the nonprofit sector and was appointed President & CEO of BoardSource in 2013. BoardSource is an organization that trains and educates nonprofit leaders at the highest level – the board – providing tools, resources, and research data to increase board effectiveness and strengthen organizational impact. Under her leadership BoardSource has expanded its voice and built a scalable model of program delivery that has resulted in a more than 200 percent growth in the number of leaders served.

She played an instrumental role in the launch of several new leadership initiatives including the Stand for Your Mission campaign. Anne also has deep expertise in fundraising strategy and leveraging the board’s fundraising role.

Anne has been honored as one of The Nonprofit Times’ “Power & Influence Top 50.”

Comments (6)

  • Karen says:

    Wow, Anne you have really opened my eyes to the ongoing effort needed to retain our partners in mission. I would not say that 96/100 are lost, but I can say we can and need to improve in our relationships with the benefactors. Thank you for sharing.

  • Shelly Gammieri says:

    That’s a staggering dollar figure tied to lost donors. That leaves a lot of room for improvement and certainly justifies the investment in donor retention initiatives. Thank you!

  • Mary Sommer says:

    Maintaining a consistent strategy, needs to be a higher priority.

  • Claudia says:

    This makes a lot of sense and matches metrics to conversations we often have. I’m surprised the figure is so high 96 donors lost for every 100 donors gained.

  • Cathy says:

    “..investments in fundraising should be made not despite our need to fund our missions and work, but because of it.” I agree with this wholeheartedly. Thanks for your thoughtful article!

  • Christine says:

    Wow… “in a one-year period, 96 donors were lost for every 100 donors gained”. That’s a powerful statistic. When I learn things like that I think of the bumper sticker about bake sales for fighter jets. Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where social good was valued more? Until then, we must rely on our dedicated fundraising professionals!

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