I recently read an article about giving trends in Giving USA stating that 2018 donations fell by an inflation-adjusted 1.7% over 2017. Without a doubt, $427.71 billion is still a whole lot of money for charity. However, no one wants to see backsliding in our levels of charitable donations. So, what’s up with this?

Generally, I try not to overreact to disappointing data without first looking at the trends and the reasons behind the change. Some things, like our external environment, are simply beyond our direct control. In these cases, we must accept the changes and adapt accordingly. If this trend were to continue, I’d be concerned. But at this point, we have room to breathe.

With increased division and animosity between the left and right political sides, 2017 was a rocky year. The day-by-day drumbeat of the left vs right in addition to the resulting gyrations in the stock market were enough to shake many people and send them into a “hunkering down” mode. 

Some of us were raised by parents who endured the pain of The Great Depression, resulting in extensive teachings about conservation, saving, and the importance of preparing for tough times. We are reverting back to our parents habits to simply “play it safe.” It’s hard to break a habit that was instilled in you as a child. I think this particular fact explains some of the net decline in giving. 

On top of this came the new tax rules which limited the deductibility of charitable donations. Some feel that this limitation put a dampening on our charitable hearts. I do agree that this played a strong role in the decline. There’s always a little bit of a “what’s in it for me?” attitude, and when that reward, so to speak, is taken away, people pull back. 

And yet, judging by the record holiday sales this past weekend and Cyber Monday, I think people are feeling pretty flush with cash so I think 2019 will end up just fine. Some early results from #GivingTuesday are also showing positively.

Regardless, if we are going to rejoice about the plentiful days of fundraising, we have to accept the tough times when the cycle turns on us. We simply have to improve our development skills to weather the storm effectively. 

Tough times call for tough people! They also spawn new, creative, ingenious ideas. You may want to take a new approach in 2020 and challenge your development team to come up with some entirely new ideas to encourage giving and bring new donors to the table. Next year should offer a variety of new ideas and new stories to tell. Tell your story to gain support for your agency! 

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