Coming off a trend-busting 2020, charitable giving behavior reverted somewhat to pre-pandemic trends in 2021, according to Franklin-based advisory firm Lighthouse Counsel’s annual Giving USA report produced in conjunction with The Giving Institute.
Lighthouse Counsel held a briefing last week to discuss the results with researchers Una Osili and Anna Pruitt, followed by a discussion with HCA Healthcare Foundation President Joanne Pulles, Boys & Girls Clubs of Middle Tennessee CEO Eric Higgs, Blackbaud Vice President of Global Social Responsibility Rachel Hutchisson, Woodward Academy President Stuart Gulley and University of South Carolina Upstate Chancellor Bennie Harris.
The report showed giving levels increased in 2020 before declining in 2021. Still, giving in some sectors increased in 2021 and, while online giving fell behind the record levels from 2020, last year was the second-highest online giving year on record.
During the discussion, Pulles advised nonprofit fundraisers to begin the donor cultivation process early, create opportunities for collaboration, speak with suppliers about environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) and pay attention to who is leading a company that may donate.
“When you go to a corporation, [ask them] what are your goals around ESG?” Pulles said. “What are your goals around environmental, social and particularly governance, because what is fueling this is the discussions at our corporate board meetings and the increased stakeholder and shareholder activity.”
Hutchisson advised organizations seeking corporate support to learn as much as possible about a potential donor company’s interests.
“A materiality assessment gives you a really good idea of whether you have an intersection,” Hutchisson said. “For us, there's a lot on sustainability and racial equity. We made a three-year major donation to Project Drawdown, which is a climate organization and it's a philanthropic gift, but it's absolutely in line with ESG.”
Hutchisson concluded with a phrase all panelists agreed with: “Not all giving, or investment is charitable giving.”
Gulley said he thinks learning about donors and then inviting them to invest is an important factor in succeeding.
“It's relationships, finding creative and meaningful ways to engage your donor base, to tell them the story of what your organization is about and not just to assume that, because you exist, you therefore deserve to receive financial support,” he said.
Harris added that the Giving USA report “helps us to establish how we advanced many new emerging opportunities and how we become extremely aspirational.”