By Alexis Cooke, Greg Whitney, Jaron Bernstein, Lieve Hendren, Mariah Hickey and Shay Upadhyay
The world is changing rapidly and it can be a challenge to stay informed and strategize around frequent shifts. We asked our consultants to tell us what they believe are the most pressing trends in philanthropy to keep on the radar and to share their advice on how to stay ahead of the curve.
1. Rising Cybersecurity Threats Targeting Nonprofits
Our take: In their desire to communicate and be transparent to the public, nonprofits expose significant information . From listing entire staff rosters and email addresses to information contained in the 1990’s – cybercriminals are finding their way into nonprofit systems. This can lead to stolen information or ransomware taking over a nonprofit’stechnology – costing thousands of dollars and hours of labor to recover, not to mention stalling the nonprofit’s operations for weeks, if not longer, while the issue is being resolved.
Our advice : Nonprofits should do more to monitor these threats and train staff about what these threats can look like. Regular testing and retraining of employees will keep this top of mind and demonstrate the importance of cyber security.
—Greg Whitney, Vice President
2. Volunteer Leaders Looking for Personalized, Tailored Engagement Opportunities
Our take: Nonprofit volunteers who are recruited for committees, taskforces, advisory councils and other initiative-focused engagements want to spend their time and energy advancing organizational missions while maintaining alignment with their personal goals and desired impact. More and more, Alford Group clients are looking for innovative ways to engage and sustain volunteer leadership, specifically around campaigns or other focused initiatives. Organizations struggle to recruit volunteers for long-term engagements with one-size fits all job roles and responsibilities. As a result, there is a rising eagerness to create committee infrastructures that are less onerous, more concise and that leverage leaders’ interests and affinities.
Our advice: Alford Group specifically recommends engaging volunteers individually in conversations to identify ways they can best contribute their energy and talents based on four key profile types – Connector, Storyteller, Visionary and Closer. Not to mention, bringing the group of ambassadors together 2-3 times a year , rather than 6 or more, allows sufficient time to create community and build consensus.
—Alexis Cooke, Chief Operating Officer
3. Growing Demand for Addressing Organizational Sustainability through Campaigns
Our take: Developing a bold, urgent and distinctive case for support is and has always been a crucial step for launching any fundraising campaign. We are now emerging from a disruptive few years during which nonprofits and other organizations (and indeed donors themselves!) have been forced to pivot and reevaluate priorities. Prospective campaign donors are just as interested in understanding how a campaign effort will help make your organization more resilient, more sustainable and more able to continue to serve your constituents as they are in inspiring, visionary campaign language and imagery.
Our advice: It is becoming even more imperative to ensure that your organization has a strong strategic plan that links to the project you are fundraising for, and that your campaign case for support is thorough and robust before launching. Nonprofits who don’t have a current, completed strategic plan typically delay campaigns in the scramble to ensure that strategy work is done before they launch the campaign effort in their communities.
—Jaron Bernstein, Consultant
4. Expanding Uses of Gifting as an Estate Planning Strategy
Our take: According to the Congressional Budget Office, in 2021, estates faced a 40% tax rate on their value above $11.7 million. The same threshold and tax rate apply to gift taxes. For people who intend to donate a large sum of money to a nonprofit through their estate, scheduling out estate giving can be a wise strategy to intentionally reduce the size of an estate and limit the estate tax that will be owed upon their death.
Our advice: Nonprofits should continue encouraging their donors to consider gift estate planning. By scheduling out donor gifts while they are still alive, people can not only see the value of their gift materialize, but their money will go farther in the long run.
—Shay Upadhyay, Client Service Associate
5. High staff turnover and lengthy position vacancies
Our take: The average tenure of a fundraising professional is 18 to 24 months, and according to Penelope Burke, it takes about two years for a donor to trust a fundraising professional enough to make their most generous gift. A 2021 Chronicle of Philanthropy study reported that 51% of fundraisers plan to leave their organizations, and 30% of fundraisers plan to leave the development field altogether. According to an October 2021 study conducted by the National Council of Nonprofits, 34% of organizations experienced vacancy rates between 10 and 19%, while 42% of organizations experienced vacancy rates of 20% and higher.
Our advice: More than ever, it’s critical to create a succession plan for key executives and staff members. In addition, identify your rising stars and leaders early on and provide them with professional development opportunities to grow their skills. This will support increased staff retention while building your pipeline of knowledgeable and passionate leaders for your organization.
—Mariah Hickey, CFRE, Senior Consultant and Director of Client Service
6. New Innovations in Board Engagement
Our take: Fully engaging board talent and volunteerism for effective governance has always been crucial to a nonprofit’s success. In the aftermath of COVID-19, however, many boards experienced burnout and lackluster engagement. 2023 is an opportune time to re-evaluate the functioning of your board for deeper engagement.
Our advice: Considerdevoting a special session or retreat to generate honest conversation. Use this to identify if there is sufficient diversity of viewpoints, backgrounds and lived experiences on your board.
- Are board members tired of digging through dense financial reports? Streamline reporting through simple data visualizations to assist board members in their fiduciary responsibilities. Clearly communicate the “why” behind your reports.
- Are board members removed from programs and services? You might invite program staff to share on-the-ground impact stories.
- Are board members hesitant to engage in opening networks and fundraising? Offer small, bite-sized training sessions and role-playing exercises so board members can advocate on your behalf with more ease and confidence.
All in all, it’s important to remember that regular periods of honest assessment are crucial to ensure your board remains active and engaged as critical leaders of your community.
—Lieve Hendren, CFRE, Senior Consultant and Director of Strategic Initiatives