The Essential Constant

The Essential Constant

One of the topics I enjoy discussing the most with colleagues, especially those who have been in the profession as long as I’ve been (which is a dwindling club): What has changed the most about fundraising over your career, and what hasn’t changed? Typically, technology is emphasized repeatedly as the biggest change driver. But on the side of constancy, there is a clear and central theme — the overwhelming need to earn the donor’s trust. As my mentor and advertising pioneer Lionel Sosa, likes to say, our job is to get donor prospects to know, like and trust us. How do we get donor prospects to trust us? It starts with the simple building block of consistently doing everything that we say we are going to do. Better yet, exceed expectations. There are so many other valid ways that donors can share gifts of time, talent and treasure — to receive their gifts is a high mark of their commitment to our respective missions. Trust might not come quickly or easily, and that makes sense. We must demonstrate in our words and deeds a long-term alignment with the donor’s values, interests and priorities. We might not earn a gift after the first solicitation. But winning non-profits stick with it and continue to connect, communicate and pay attention to donor prospects. Keep in mind that this can be a slippery slope, and one broken promise, misstep or abuse of the relationship can wipe years of trust away. So building, nurturing and sustaining trust is Job No. 1, no matter how large your organization or what the mission is.

Update on 2024 Webinars

The 2024 Non-Profit Empowerment Webinar Series is off and running. Below is an updated schedule of topics and subject matter experts. We are thrilled to host many of the most respected authorities in their disciplines. Your questions, comments and personal insights are vital to enriching our discussions. Join our learning community of professional and volunteer non-profit leaders and let us know your experiences and viewpoints being discussed. If you know someone who would like to be added to our database to receive free webinar invitations, they can sign up here. This is the wisdom of the whole in action — we learn, grow and move forward together.

WEDNESDAY, February 21 | “De-Stressing Work,” Dr. Julie Wiernik, Owner, Texas Center for Sport Psychology. You can register here.

WEDNESDAY, March 6 | “Making Good Impressions,” Kelli Newman, President, APR, Newman & Newman, Inc.

WEDNESDAY, March 20 | “What Foundations Want,” Cody Knowlton, President & CEO, Baptist Health Foundation of San Antonio

WEDNESDAY, April 3 | “Fundraising Across The Big Pond,” Bernard Ross, Director, =mc consulting

WEDNESDAY, April 17 | “Monthly Means More Money,” Erica Waasdorp, President, A Direct Solution

WEDNESDAY, May 1 | “Winning Grants,” Alex Dunn, Millionaire Grant Lady

WEDNESDAY, May 15 | “Protecting the Earth,” Zak Smith, Senior Attorney and Director of Global Biodiversity, Natural Resources Defense Council

WEDNESDAY, May 29 | “How to Connect in a World Disconnected by Fear,” Marjorie Hope, author, Connectiplomacy

WEDNESDAY, June 5 | “My Sis Knows Computers,” Barbara Eskin, Managing Partner, Barskintech

WEDNESDAY, June 12 | “Ask Laura Anything” Laura Fredricks, Founder, The Expert on the ASK, author, Hard Asks Made Easy (special two-hour edition, with first hour open to first 20 registrants, who e-mail Laura that they have reviewed her book on Amazon).

WEDNESDAY, June 26 | “Keeping Good Employees,” Don Gleason, CEO, Achieve New Heights

Caution Flags

Approaching year-end and a busy giving season, charitable giving trends demonstrated a persistent decline throughout 2023. According to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project’s (FEP) latest quarterly data, declining donors across all sizes and types presents a major hurdle for non-profits. Through Q3 2023, donors decreased moderately, and donor retention continued to slide, driving a slight decrease in fundraising dollars. While long-term repeat donors were the most stable group, a significant drop in new donor participation had a negative impact on overall trends. Key takeaways:

  • Q3 data shows a continued steep decline in donor counts, with a Q3 YOY drop of 7.6% after late data adjustment. This continues a trend that began in 2021, after a large uptick in donations and donors in 2020. New Donors (down 16.9%) and Newly Retained Donors (down 18.7%) were responsible for the majority of this decrease, whereas Repeat Retained Donors, who represent 41.9% of all donors, dropped by 7.4%.
  • Despite this overall decline in donors, dollars saw only a marginal year-over-year decrease of 1.1% in Q3. This decline was largely caused by a decline in Small and Micro Donors (those who donated less than $500), substantial donor groups that accounted for 83.6% of all donors.
  • There is still disparity in organizations’ performance based on their size. Smaller organizations seemed to perform relatively better this year compared to bigger ones.

Other Trends

As the leading strategic consulting partner for non-profits, CCS Fundraising is committed to understanding how organizations like yours can navigate the shifting philanthropic landscape and position themselves for fundraising success. The 2024 CCS Philanthropy Pulse report offers invaluable perspectives on the present and future state of philanthropy, along with key trends in the skills, services, and technology used by effective fundraising teams.

Navigate the year ahead with key findings, including:

  • Fundraising revenue grew across the board in FY22. However, organizations with larger fundraising budgets saw better revenue performance than that of their peers.
  • With donor retention a top challenge, only 48% of organizations reported retaining over half their new donors in the previous 12 months.
  • Only about one-third of organizations increased fundraising staff in 2023, but 68% have increased staff pay.
  • While fundraiser comfort in using data has increased over the past 3 years, most organizations are not yet leveraging AI technology.

Celebrity Corner

Tyson Transformational Technologies Academy’s (Tyson’s TTA) is a Cognia Accredited Micro-School in Arizona serving youth grades 6th to 12th grade. All tuition costs are covered through the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA Scholarship) and internal school scholarships. Mike Tyson has generously given his name, likeness, time and talents to impact the lives of our future generations of youth in the Phoenix area with no compensation. This marks a significant milestone in the world of education and philanthropy as Tyson’s TTA is dedicated to emphasizing the importance and fostering emotional, belief, and physiological intelligence. It is a trailblazer in education that is committed to serving the diverse needs of middle and high school students.

The new educational institution, founded by Mike Tyson, aims to redefine learning by combining innovation, financial literacy, mentorship, and community engagement. This visionary project reflects Tyson’s commitment to providing quality education and opportunities for personal growth to every youth regardless of their academic challenges, ethnicity, or socio-economic status.

Next Gen

Involving the next generation (NextGen) in charitable activities is a priority for private foundations this year, but engagement may be a headwind, according to a new survey from Foundation Source, the nation’s largest provider of cloud-based SaaS solutions and management services for private foundations. The 2024 Client Survey offers a glimpse into how private foundations are approaching charitable giving, the challenges they are up against, and the opportunities they will pursue in the year ahead.

Out of more than 200 foundations with assets between $250,000 and $500 million, most (62%) said they will involve NextGen in charitable activities in 2024, while 35% expect that engaging younger family members — the presumed future leaders of a family-led foundation — will be a challenge. About one in three also said they want to learn new ways to get family members involved and 29% want to learn how to build a legacy.

Go Fund Me

GoFundMe crowdfunding campaigns have generated $30 billion since 2010, and the fundraising platform is becoming more popular as younger generations look beyond institutions to make their donations. Tim Cadogan, GoFundMe’s CEO, said 150 million people have either sent or received money through the platform to date. Gen Z and millennial donors, as well as those who are not married and those who are less religious, are more likely to give through crowdfunding than to traditional non-profits, according to a 2021 report by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.


The Hamas invasion of Israel has spurred a historic level of Jewish philanthropy, with the largest emergency fund set up when the war broke out alone raising nearly $800 million, according to the Jewish Federations of North America. The surge in donations following the Hamas massacre that triggered the war created a huge surge in interest in giving to the Jewish state as it fights the Islamic terrorist group after years of decline in giving. About $350 million of the funds that were raised have been allocated, including about $60 million to the Jewish Agency for Israel, $40 million each to the Federations’ Israel Emergency Loan Fund and to NGOs in frontline communities, $20 million to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, $7 million to Magen David Adom and $6 million to United Hatzalah. The emergency fund’s initial goal of $500 million was surpassed in less than two weeks.

Dancing Dollars

San Francisco Ballet (SF Ballet) has announced a historic $60 million gift — the largest single gift ever given to the company, and what SF Ballet believes to be one of the largest gifts given to an American ballet company — to ensure the organization’s capacity to create new works and acquire masterpieces, and to bolster its vision of revolutionizing ballet.

Of the unprecedented gift, $50 million will go to SF Ballet’s endowment to support the creation and acquisition of new works on an annual basis and in perpetuity, and $10 million will help to secure the financial underpinning of Artistic Director Tamara Rojo’s initial seasons.

On Bookshelf: The Wingmen

It was 1953, the Korean War in full throttle, when two men—already experts in their fields—crossed the fabled 38th Parallel into Communist airspace aboard matching Panther jets. John Glenn was an ambitious operations officer with fifty-nine World War II combat missions under his belt. His wingman was Ted Williams, the two-time American League Triple Crown winner who, at the pinnacle of his career, was inexplicably recalled to active service in the United States Marine Corps. Together, the affable flier and the notoriously tempestuous left fielder soared into North Korea, creating a death-defying bond. Although, over the next half century, their contrasting lives were challenged by exhilarating highs and devastating lows, that bond would endure. Through unpublished letters, unit diaries, declassified military records, manuscripts, and new and illuminating interviews, The Wingmen reveals an epic and intimate portrait of two heroes—larger-than-life and yet ineffably ordinary men who accomplished the extraordinary. At its heart, this was a conflicted friendship that found commonality in mutual respect—throughout the perils of war, sports dominance, scientific innovation, cutthroat national politics, the burden of celebrity, and the meaning of bravery. Now, author Adam Lazarus sheds light on a largely forgotten chapter in these legends’ lives—as singular individuals, inspiring patriots, and eventually, however improbable, profoundly close friends.

Experience the Mission

Non-profits like to use every opportunity possible to reinforce their missions. An inspiring example is the Dining in the Dark annual event hosted by Vibrant Works at the Witte Museum in San Antonio. This is an extraordinary experience that simulates visual impairment through an array of sensory activities under a blindfold. The event features blindfolded wine and bourbon tastings, hor d’oeuvres, and a three-course meal. It also features interactive assistive technology that demonstrates the innovative tools that assist those who are blind or vision impaired. Founded in 1933, Vibrant Words, formerly known as San Antonio Lighthouse, works to empower the lives of people with vision loss. They are one of the largest employers of individuals with vision loss in America.

Quiz: Top Universities

U.S. News evaluated nearly 1,500 U.S. four-year bachelor’s degree-granting institutions on as many as 19 measures for its 39th rankings edition. These statistics only pertain to measures reflecting academic quality and graduate outcomes — factors that are universally important to prospective students. But also important are considerations that vary person-to-person, like campus culture, strength in specific majors and financial aid offered. To account for this, U.S. News supplements its overall rankings with specialized subject and cost-oriented rankings, customizable search tools, education journalism, and a detailed school directory with exclusive academic and nonacademic information. Match the following premier national universities with their respective ranking (No.1 being the best). Answers are shown at the bottom of the page.

1. Duke                      a. No. 1

2. Harvard                b. No. 2

3. MIT                       c. No. 3

4. Princeton             d. No. 5

5. Yale                       e. No. 7

Stratagems is published monthly by Jim Eskin, Founder of Eskin Fundraising Training, LLC. We offer workshops and customized training sessions for board members, staff and volunteers of non-profit organizations of all kinds and sizes. For details about our services and information, or to find out how to schedule a training session for your organization, visit our website. Follow our events on Facebook, and read more articles about philanthropy on our LinkedIn page.

Jim Eskin

Jim Eskin, Founder

Eskin Fundraising Training

Email: [email protected]
Cell: 210.415.3748

ANSWERS TO THIS MONTH’S QUIZ:  1=e, 2=c, 3=b, 4=a, 5=d

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