A look back, a look forward: challenge

While yesterday we celebrated promise, today on the blog we acknowledge that 2016 was a year that also included challenges — and that with challenge comes opportunity for your institution.

Brexit, the U.S. presidential election, campus discord, headlined violence… these factors and more have joined economic vulnerability in impacting philanthropic behavior and fundraising efforts.

  • Alumni donors have always had the option – and exercised that option – to withhold their giving in reaction to their alma mater’s decisions, changes or activities… but the tendency to make such a statement of dissatisfaction may be increasing. As colleges and universities face student protests and public outrage over speaker selections, “sanctuary campus” labeling, student organizations, athletics funding and support, building names and the display of Confederate flags, alumni are choosing to voice their dissatisfaction with their giving decisions.
  • Graham-Pelton has noticed a rise in a “gilding the lily” syndrome as we have worked with our many clients in the education sector. Some donors who have consistently supported their alma maters and/or their grandchildren’s schools are holding back on their giving because they perceive these institutions to be in strong positions financially as compared to other local, national, and global organizations that appear more in dire need of private support. Many younger alumni are also challenging the push to support alma maters: “Hmmm… An annual fund donation or helping bring clean water to Africa?”
  • Add to this emerging trend  the voice of Malcolm Gladwell and his podcast “Revisionist History.” Mr. Gladwell is drawing attention to the multi-million dollar donations going to institutions “that already have endowments larger than some countries’ gross domestic products” and asking why institutions are investing more in gourmet food in the dining halls and not in helping students afford the tuition costs.
  • The 2016 U.S Trust® Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy Report findings point to family as the key intended designation in the wealth distribution of high net worth households. Respondents indicated that they will leave the majority (74.7%) of their wealth to their children and grandchildren; other heirs will receive 13.6 %. Charities will get the smallest percentages.

How will your institution be sure it rises in visibility as these giving decisions are being made? Have you fine-tuned your case for support to reflect your organization’s impact more than its needs? The changing landscape is not for the faint of heart – now is the time to be bold and confident.

Last, we’ll report on possibility. Stay tuned.

– Pat House, Ed. D., Senior Vice President, Client and Consultant Development

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