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Expanding Our Thinking — Noncash Gifts are Key to Fundraising Growth

As fundraisers, we are trained to focus on cash gifts. After all, they are the easiest type of gift to make, right? I recently heard a presentation providing some very good evidence that from our donors’ perspective, this might not be the case at all. Professor Russell James III, the Director of Graduate Studies in Charitable Financial Planning at Texas Tech University, analyzed over a million tax returns of both individuals and nonprofit organizations in an effort to see why some organizations report what seems like astronomical growth in their fundraising programs, while others report basically flat fundraising attainment over years. The results were eye-opening: nonprofit organizations that accepted noncash gifts, including appreciated securities, grew their fundraising 6 times faster than organizations that only accepted gifts of cash. Importantly, this increase was seen in organizations at every level of fundraising. Professor James research makes it clear that noncash gifts are key to growth in any fundraising program.

If we take a look at the asset portfolios of our wealthy donors, we begin to see why cash gifts may not be the easiest types of gifts for these individuals to make. As net worth increases, the percentage of that net worth held in cash decreases, because more and more of the high net worth donor’s portfolio will be held in appreciated securities and often real estate. In general, cash only comprises 6-8% of the value of assets held by individuals, yet 90% of charitable gifts are made with cash. There’s our opportunity as savvy fundraisers.

Certainly there are challenges in accepting noncash gifts, especially gifts of property other than appreciated marketable securities. Your department, or your outside advisors, needs to understand and be ready to deal with various challenges, including:

  • tax and legal issues
  • environmental concerns for gifts of real estate (take note that environmental problems are extremely rare, especially those that aren’t fairly obvious during the course of a simple initial audit)
  • management of noncash assets until your organization can resell them (this tends to be a concern more about staff work load than any significant financial risk)
  • cumbersome internal gift acceptance processes (if you’re serious about accepting noncash gifts, you’re not going to be able to move fast enough to accept your donor’s offer if you have a board level gift acceptance committee in the way)
  • inaccurate perceptions of risk vs. reward (remember, even if you have to sell an asset at below market value, your organization is still receiving a financial benefit because your cash investment in the asset is likely extremely low)

Here are some practical tips for mitigating risk:

  • Don’t accept gifts of animals or livestock of any kind
  • Don’t accept gifts of anything involved in transportation (cars, boats, motorcycles, snowmobiles, etc.)
  • Don’t accept gifts of timeshares or cemetery plots
  • Have some outside experts readily available to help you with the tax and legal concerns, and to help manage property/assets until sale if your staff is too busy to take this task on

I encourage you to read Professor James research for more information on the amazing opportunities presented by the ability to accept noncash gifts for your organization.

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A Guide to Standing Committees for Nonprofits — The Development Committee

I may be biased, since I’ve been both a professional and volunteer fundraiser at various points in my career, but I think the Development or Fundraising Committee is, next to the Governance Committee, the most important standing committee of a nonprofit board. After all, if nobody is raising money, none of the other committees have anything to do! But while this committee is vitally important to the financial sustainability of your organization, it can also be the most challenging committee to manage and implement.

In developing a strategy to mobilize an effective Development Committee, I suggest we start with two premises or principals. The first premise is that fundraising is the responsibility of the whole board; every member, without exception, should play some role in raising funds for your organization. The second premise is that the primary responsibility of the Development Committee is to create and foster a culture within your organization that allows your full board to feel empowered, confident, and (dare I say) comfortable with their role in the fundraising process.

To me, this means the Development Committee is not created to be the small group of board members who do all of the asking during your various campaigns and initiatives. At the end of the day, they may be those people, but that shouldn’t be the primary reason people are asked to sit on the Development Committee. A structure like this will likely give the impression that the rest of the board isn’t needed in the fundraising process. Rather, consider these primary areas for your Development Committee to assist staff:

  • Create a development plan that is reflective of the goals and needs of your the organization
  • Communicate and cultivate buy in for the organization’s case for support among the full board
  • Create tools and resources for the board to use in their own individual fundraising efforts
  • Allow each board member to identify the specific tasks and roles they will play in the fundraising process
  • Create a sense of accountability for achieving those tasks and roles

Consider this sample description of the Development Committee:

Development Committee

The Development Committee shall: (a) review, approve, and support goals and strategies for, and oversee the progress of, the Corporation’s fundraising initiatives, including the Annual Fund, major and planned gifts, capital, endowment, and comprehensive campaigns, and events, in consultation with the Finance Committee; (b) support and assist the Development Office in its efforts to engage members, donors and supporters in the activities of the Corporation, and to cultivate, solicit, and steward donors; and (c) work with the Governance Committee to ensure that new Directors understand and accept their responsibilities in fundraising and development.

Some things to note:

  • I encourage you to state specifically the relationship between the Development Committee and the Governance Committee, to ensure fundraising is part of the recruitment, training, and board evaluation process.
  • I also encourage you to state specifically the relationship between the Development Committee and the Finance Committee, so that the contributed revenue goals in your budget are well thought out, well supported numbers informed by the needs of the organization and the donor resources available.
  • Remember that solicitation is only one relatively small part of the donor cycle. Encouraging and empowering board members to cultivate and steward donors can increase board involvement in fundraising and open the door to more good opportunities for staff to solicit.