Fundraisers Urged to Seize Opportunities During Current Crisis

Fundraising will be tough in the current environment with so many people out of work, or fearing they will be soon, but one expert is urging nonprofits to hit the gas nonetheless.

"This is an opportunity to energize people who are attached to nonprofits organizations, who may have reduced or stopped their giving" before the crisis, says Peter Fissinger, CEO of Campbell & Company.

Fissinger was one of three panelists the Chronicle gathered in a virtual forum to help navigate the complex web of benefits available for your charity.

Donors in times of crisis tend to focus on basic human needs, so fundraising messages should be tailored to that reality, Fissinger says.

One of the most important features of the $2 trillion stimulus law, also known as the Cares Act, signed into law last month, is a one-year "universal deduction" that allows taxpayers who don’t itemize to get a deduction for up to $300 in charitable cash giving.

That provision of the law creates a big opportunity for fundraisers, Fissinger says.

"When the economy tightens, philanthropy tends to tighten," he says. However, he added, "high-performing organizations can beat that trend compared with organizations that don’t communicate with their donors as well."

Don’t be afraid to do the math for donors about the true cost of their gifts given the new "universal deduction," Fissinger says. For example, you can tell smaller donors that a gift of $100 may cost them only about $80 after considering the tax benefits. Keep it simple, he urges.

"Most people give because they want to make a difference in the world difference that they care about, so that is the primary way to relate to people," Fissinger said. "But there’s significant evidence that even nonitemizers who make smaller gifts calculate the cost of their gift."

Fissinger also reminded the audience that for donors who itemize, the stimulus law lifts the cap on annual giving from 60 percent of adjusted gross income to 100 percent. While giving at that level might seem highly unusual, Fissinger urged fundraisers to look at their major donors and major-donor prospects, especially those who are past retirement age, to find people who may be earning a paycheck they don’t really need but they continue working for other reasons.

Such people may be in the process of transferring money into a family foundation, but the new tax law makes it attractive for them to give now directly to charities.

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