2019 Surprises and 2020 Resolutions in Philanthropy

Posted January 14, 2020

We recently spoke with leaders in the field about the biggest philanthropic surprises on the past year and what they're determined to accomplish in 2020. Read on to discover what they had to say...

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Joe Bondi

Senior Vice President, George Washington's Mount Vernon

Attendance at historic sites, especially in the Washington, DC, area was down in 2019. Mount Vernon relies on our 1,000,000+ visitors each year; they make up 2/3 of our annual budget. The rest of our budget comes from donor support and endowment. So when faced with lower than projected visitation numbers last year, I was surprised and heartened that our donors were more generous than they have ever been, supporting the work of our mission to preserve this important place and educate about the life and legacy of George Washington. We closed the books on our second most successful fundraising year in history, and I am continually reminded of and inspired by the generosity of our donors and friends.

My resolutions for 2020 are the same as they are every year: Make certain we have the best trained, most appreciated and hardest working fundraising team in philanthropy. Make certain every donor feels thanked and appreciated from the 8-figure gift to the 50 state quarter collection we received as a gift last year. Make certain there is never a barrier to supporting Mount Vernon and that we are the best stewards of dollars entrusted to us. Make certain we remain good partners to our colleagues around the estate and at other institutions. And finally, raise every dollar we can to support our mission and aspirations.

Karen Grant

Vice President of External Affairs, Cradles to Crayons

Between the political climate and the new tax laws, I went into 2019 with a little less optimism than I have had in the past. However, as we closed the books on the year, I was pleasantly reminded of the enormous generosity of our Cradles to Crayons family. Whether it was long-term donors pledging to support our Capital Campaign at significant levels or new individuals and families getting engaged in our efforts, I was surprised and humbled by the commitment of our supporters to rally around our mission to ensure that children have the basic essentials they need to thrive and simply be kids

My 2020 resolution is for us to be more intentional and remember that this work isn’t transactional and that it is all about relationships. As fundraisers, we acutely know this, but that sometimes gets lost as we’re focused on our day-to-day tasks, closing gifts and meeting goals. So, my resolution for Cradles to Crayons is for us to spend more time on the relationship building aspects of our work, even in those moments when it would be easier and quicker to get someone to a yes, because with a little more thoughtfulness, we can get that person to a bigger and more engaging yes.

Terry Skoda

Deputy Director of Institutional Advancement, Museum of Arts and Design

There was a lot of speculation at the start of 2019 about the effects of the new tax laws on philanthropic giving. We factored into our projections a risk percentage to account for a possible reduction of giving from our donor base. I was pleasantly surprised to discover at the conclusion of our 2019 Year-End Appeal that, in fact, our constituents were more generous than ever. Our appeal generated nearly double the results of those conducted in the past five-years. This is an encouraging indicator that we are on the right track at MAD and our donors have given us their vote of approval where it counts the most – in donations!

2020 is a year of great opportunity at MAD. During my first year (2019), I spent a lot of time building relationships with our Board and major donors, implementing systems, and introducing new fundraising initiatives to the Museum and its constituents. Now that the groundwork has been put in place, I am able to turn my focus to the future of this institution. My 2020 resolution for the MAD Institutional Advancement division is to add committed new Trustees to our Board and expand our major gift donor base.

Katie McDonnell

Senior Director, Partners in Health

The continual shifting landscape continues to surprise professionals in development as so many variables are moving at once this past year, and certainly the decade. Larger inequity spread, changing overall donor profiles and behaviors. Generational demographic shifts has changed the way philanthropy is approached. Changing tax laws are playing out less than anticipated. Increased use of DAFS has added to anonymity for some donors. Stocks are up again (Phfew!). Digital performance is showing more variability and peaking across longer giving seasons, by design. Offline giving is more steady. Partners In Health launched a particular endeavor to address maternal mortality in Sierra Leone with the help of influencers, The Green Brothers (who are authors and vloggers). A pleasant surprise was how effective “third party” voices were in attracting new donors, and how many new supporters came in to a specific project with sustainer pledges. A disappointing surprise was that there wasn’t more media coverage on key international issues, like the political situation in Haiti.

My PIH resolution is to dream big and ask big on behalf of our patients in 2020especially as the U.S. political distraction pivots eyes away from the poor and vulnerable. We will find more ways to bring the lived experienced of our communities to the forefront and illustrate the record of impact of Partners In Health for larger and broader audiences of potential supporters and advocatesespecially at the ten-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Haiti and the recent five year anniversary of our work in post-Ebola West Africa. It is a joy and privilege to wake up each day in support of a mission and theory of change that I hold so dearly.

Craig Hall

Chief Advancement Officer, Blair Academy

One of the things that surprised us most in 2019 was the lack of stock gifts despite an incredible stock market. On the other hand, we reached 86% parent participation, and raised nearly $300,000 from Senior parents for a class scholarship.

Our 2020 resolutions include more face to face visits, recruiting awesome female alum Trustees, and utilizing more Trustees in the solicitation process.

Bret Silver

Vice President for University Advancement, Drew University

There are conventions in traditional higher ed fundraising that I have always questioned but could not rally the support at other institutions to test. When I joined Drew this past year, I was thrilled that our President, MaryAnn Baenninger, was interested in exploring with me what we could do to improve ROI and results in the University’s annual fund and to bolster performance at the major and principal giving levels – while simultaneously reducing infrastructure costs. She and I partnered closely on a strategic and operational redesign of our program, including recruitment of leadership gift officers with broad, senior-level experience in the sector, andcriticallyoutsourcing the core functional aspects of our annual fund. This approach is of course not without risk, but we feel it is a more efficient deployment of resources and are excited to be moving in this new direction.

In 2020, we’re looking forward to evidence that this was the right decision. Our results are holding thus far.  So far, so good! 

Malcolm Berry

Chief Development Officer, St. Louis Children's Hospital

There were multiple surprises in 2019:

While the path to building a stronger philanthropic culture has been much slower than I anticipated, I have witnessed how gratitude can be a tremendous accelerator to these efforts. So too is a team that doesn’t settle for ordinary, aims for breakthroughs and celebrates impact.

St. Louis is an extraordinary place with extraordinary opportunities. One might argue it’s a “Goldilocks region” ideal for tackling some of the toughest global challenges and social problems that, in many cases, are acute in St. Louis – it is neither too big, nor too small and within a 50 mile radius, we have a high throughput and captive patient population that allows for study of urban vs. rural and high vs. low economic status in a “controlled environment.”

We’ve seen firsthand that for every challengeinfant mortality, mental health, precision “n. of 1” child healththere are extraordinary people devoting their ideas, their resources, and even their lives to solving them.

The integrated healthcare and medical school system of St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine and the co-localization of our clinical enterprise in close proximity to basic science laboratories is unique internationally as is the longstanding tradition of collaboration between faculty across disciplines at Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis Children’s Hospital, and Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

Philanthropy is a powerful catalyst to help drive future visionary change.

When the stakes are this high, we won’t settle for ordinary. In 2020, we will continue on our path to transforming kids’ health in St. Louis, around the region and around the world. And we will do so by unlocking the potential of our people by uplifting them to work towards something so much bigger than any one person and who are empowered to make improvements every day. Doing so will fuel our ability to create and sustain deep, emotional and loyal connections with everyone we engage, across all touch points and moments-of-truth with the ultimate outcome of a stronger culture of philanthropy and transformed fundraising.

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