Fundraisers facing major hurdles
Share with others:
In August 2001, Laura Fredricks interviewed for a fundraising job at Pace University in Lower Manhattan.
When terrorists rammed commercial jets into the World Trade Center a few weeks later in that same New York City neighborhood, she wasn't dissuaded from pursuing the move from Temple University in Philadelphia, where she had worked on a $300 million capital campaign.
"I wanted the job; it was four blocks from Ground Zero," said Ms. Fredricks, who started at Pace in spring 2002. As vice president for philanthropy, she oversaw efforts to raise more than $92 million for the school in six years.
Her new job offered the biggest challenge of her career. She arrived on campus just months after 9/11 and was charged with launching an appeal for money from Pace alumni and others, many of whom were directly impacted by the catastrophe.
Pace lost more than 40 alumni and several students in the attacks. The school's World Trade Institute in the World Trade Center was destroyed, though all staff and participants on-site that morning were safely evacuated.
"We were worried that students would leave [Pace] and that parents would worry about them. But the youth wanted to stay and help and volunteer. It was a miracle," she said. "And we thought staff would leave but they wanted to stay and start the [fund-raising] campaign."
Ms. Fredricks, now a consultant based in New York, will share details next week of how she and her staff at Pace were able to mount a successful fundraising effort in that difficult time. She is scheduled to be a keynote speaker at a conference of the Association of Fundraising Professionals' Western Pennsylvania Chapter and the Pittsburgh Planned Giving Council.
The other keynote will be on planned giving and will be delivered by Debra Ashton, a Quincy, Mass.-based consultant. She has held staff positions at Boston University, Boston College and WGBH, the Boston public television and radio station, and has run her own firm for the last decade.
Because recent economic turmoil has made many people hesitant to give money to nonprofits, both women believe that fundraising professionals should focus on establishing long-term, lasting relationships with potential donors.
Charitable giving was down 2 percent in 2008, the last full year for which statistics were available from the Giving USA Foundation. An informal poll conducted in October by the Association of Fundraising Professionals showed the climate for giving had yet to improve, with 51 percent of respondents reporting lower fundraising totals than the prior year.
But charitable giving during the holiday season generated some optimism for 2010. A December survey by the fundraising association found 34 percent of charities raised more money during the last three months of the year than during the same period in 2008.
Ms. Ashton, author of a guide to planned giving known in fundraising circles as "The Blue Bible," said, "If charities spend more time visiting with donors and involving them, the rest will take care of itself. ... Since lots of people are cutting back on giving, charities with the proper stewardship that plan to keep donors close and involve them emotionally are those that are going to survive."
During the economic recession, she has noticed a shift in donations from "luxury" charities -- such as museums, theaters and other arts organizations -- to nonprofits serving the needy. "Those charities are thriving. People who are out of work need food banks and assistance."
A strategy of stewardship also benefited the $100 million capital campaign at Pace after 9/11, said Ms. Fredricks, who has authored three books; "The Ask: How to Ask for Support for Your Nonprofit Cause, Creative Project, or Business Venture" is her latest.
Before she and her staff at Pace launched the ambitious capital campaign, she said, "We decided, 'Let's just go out and talk to everybody.' We let them know it was no time to do a campaign but we would do it when the country heals.
"So we began it in mid-2003. We went out [to potential donors] to see how they were doing. No doubt everyone was affected [by 9/11], and everyone has a story, and everyone wanted to be heard. They were excited we were going to do gigantic, monumental fund-raising. When it was time to have the conversation for support, they were ready and they knew about it."
The events of 9/11 launched a decade of tragedies that Ms. Fredricks believes have made people more aware and sensitive to the needs of those outside their own circles.
"It's horrible to say, but people are getting used to having a disaster almost every year: 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the tsunamis, now earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. There is no upside, but people became more aware of need."
Besides raising awareness, that series of disasters occurred during an era when technology changed the way people made donations, she noted. "After Katrina, there was a push to do online giving with the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. Now we're giving through text messages to Haiti and Chile."
Next week's conference, "Emerging Philanthropy -- Igniting Passion in Fundraising," is scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday in the Hilton Garden Inn Southpointe in Canonsburg.
Organizers have seen an uptick in registration, said Lisa Sciullo, a co-chair of the event who works in the University of Pittsburgh's Office of Institutional Advancement. She believes that increased interest is a result of the tough issues fundraising professionals face during a sour economy. "Nonprofit organizations really need philanthropy now."
First Published March 18, 2010 12:00 am