The Giving Pledge, Donor Retention and Wishes for the New Year

The new round of Giving Pledges announced on December 9 has generated fresh excitement and debate. The movement which was started by Bill and Melinda Gates earlier this year has thus far enlisted 58 billionaires who have pledged to give at least half of their wealth to charity. The estimated value of the pledges – $600 billion attributed to the original 40 participants alone – is obvious reason for celebration.

The plan is not without its skeptics however, who argue that global redistribution of wealth – an explicit goal of the Giving Pledge – doesn’t  serve the immediate funding needs of charities. Mark Zuckerberg, for instance, may have pledged that he’ll eventually give half of his wealth to charity (and how those assets will benefit charity remains to be seen), but that doesn’t change the fact that nonprofits are struggling right now to provide services at a time when the need is up, but giving is down.

Perhaps the most biting criticism however is that the Giving Pledge doesn’t fundamentally advance philanthropy – another explicit goal of the movement. Case in point: $600 billion has been pledged this year through the Giving Pledge, but giving – actual giving – is down.

In spite of the grave ramifications of declines in charitable giving, we can’t lose sight of one important thing: how much money your organization raises isn’t the only measure of your fundraising program’s success. As an evaluation metric, it’s not even the most important one.

Consider the organization with 1,000 long-term donors giving varying amounts every year, versus the organization with just a few major donors giving annually. Each organization may raise the same amount in individual giving, but the first one is a healthy organization; the second one isn’t.

So what’s the most important metric? It’s the same one it’s always been, of course: donor loyalty.

Though we can influence giving level, ultimately how much our donors give is controlled by things that are out of our control, like the economy. But whether our donors stick with us, or leave … well, that’s all on us.

And so as we come to the end of a year and the beginning of a new one, let me be the first to wish you success where it matters most: inspiring donor loyalty and being an organization that inspires.

Thank you for contributing and reading. I can’t wait to continue the dialogue in the new year!


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