Welcome to Fundraising Update. This week, fundraisers reflected on what they learned during a difficult year the annual conference of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Plus, signs that the gender gap in charitable giving is closing.

I’m Nicole Wallace, features editor at the Chronicle of Philanthropy, filling in for our resident fundraising expert Eden Stiffman. If you have ideas, comments, or questions about this newsletter, please write me.

Lessons From a Difficult Year

Flexible work hours, calls for boardroom equity, and examples of fundraising success during the past year’s crises highlighted this week’s annual conference of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, which showcased just how much 2020 transformed the nonprofit world.

My colleague Emily Haynes reports that the conference — coming on the heels of “Giving USA’s” finding that giving increased nearly 4 percent last year — is something of a victory lap for fundraisers, who relied on trial and error to stay connected with their donors and inspire new ones to give during a period when face-to-face conversations were limited.

Josh Selo, executive director of the California social-service nonprofit West Valley Community Services, recalled trying to balance the shifting public-health guidance with accelerating community need. “This is not our expertise,” he said.

Yet Selo and other professionals are emerging from the pandemic knowing how to lead a charity through crisis and effectively communicate new needs to supporters. Demand for the nonprofit’s services increased 140 percent during the pandemic, but the group also expanded its donor rolls 260 percent and completed a capital campaign.

“We just pushed through,” said Kohinoor Chakravarty, the nonprofit’s development director. “We did not stop.”

More than 900 people registered for the Association of Fundraising Professionals virtual conference this week. (Photo by Sarah Willey)

Another topic that was widely discussed was how to demonstrate a commitment to equity. Speakers said they wanted to see a more inclusive and equitable nonprofit world in the future. They also discussed how the spotlight on racial equity has shifted grant makers’ expectations for nonprofits. More and more foundations expect grant applicants to share a strategy to include diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in their mission, says Lauren Steiner, president of the grant-seeking consultancy Grants Plus.

Nonprofits can show their commitment to these principles by reconsidering the language they use in their grant applications, Steiner said. She realized amid the racial-justice protests last summer that “language was something that we control, and language is very powerful.”

Authenticity was another hot topic at the conference. Fundraisers now know that having conversations with gift officers over Zoom didn’t dissuade donors from giving.

Speakers encouraged the audience to continue having authentic interactions with supporters even after the pandemic abates. Donors grew accustomed to Zoom interlopers like kids and pets over the last year and a half; that didn’t discourage giving. Speakers said it proved that fundraisers could bring their own challenges and values to conversations with donors — rather than hiding their humanity under a veneer of strict professionalism.

During a session on how nonprofits and foundations can retain millennials on their staffs, speakers highlighted how the stressors of the pandemic and racial reckoning pushed employers to demonstrate empathy to their employees in the form of flexible work hours and policies.

“That level of empathy is not something that I had always seen in the past, and I want that to be continued moving forward,” said Allison Quintanilla Plattsmier, executive director of the Jordon Thomas Foundation. “We are people first and employees second.”

Read Emily’s full story to get the scoop on this year’s conference.

Hear From You

Did you tune in to AFP’s annual conference? Pick up any great tips or new ideas that you’re eager to try? Drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you.

Need to Know

81%

— Share of affluent men donors who say charitable giving is important to them

The pandemic, racial reckoning, and other crises of the past year may have closed some of the gender gap in giving as men are making philanthropy a higher priority, according to a new study released by Fidelity Charitable.

A commitment to charitable giving grew among both men and women, but men are getting closer to women’s level of commitment, according to the study of donors who had given at least $1,000 in 2019 and 2020.

Before the pandemic, 75 percent of women said charitable giving was an important part of their lives compared with 69 percent of men. Now 81 percent of men say that charitable giving is important to them, bringing their focus on charity closer to that of the 84 percent of women who said giving to charity was important to them.

Men and women reported differing giving motivations, however. Women cited a deep desire to make a difference in the world as their main motivation for giving to charity, while men said they are more motivated to give out of a sense of obligation or personal benefit, such as tax incentives.

Plus:

  • The latest round of economic indicators shows forecasters were right when they predicted that the affluent would rebound far faster than others as the threat of Covid recedes. That means nonprofits that serve low-income Americans continue to see significant demand and that organizations that raise money from the affluent are likely to fare better than those that rely on small-dollar gifts.

    One of the key indicators: A prominent survey of consumers released this month revealed a significant split in economic optimism between higher-income and lower-income households. What’s more, jobless rates continue to be a concern.

Tips & Tools

What We’re Reading

As they divorce, Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates seem set to throw themselves more deeply into causes that each of them has championed outside of their foundation. French Gates recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to talk to White House aides about paid family leave and child care. Also, her Pivotal Ventures, a limited-liability company focusing on gender equality, recently hired a lobbying firm, suggesting a sharper focus on shaping policy. Meanwhile, Bill Gates published a book on climate change this year, and his Breakthrough Energy, an investment firm focused on the issue, raised an additional $1 billion in January by recruiting some new billionaires to the effort. Both vehicles are structured in ways that allow them to support businesses, political activity, and charities, unlike traditional philanthropies, giving them more freedom and less transparency in spending the money. (Bloomberg)

Plus:

  • Reddit Users Crash Children’s Charity Website With ‘Avalanche’ of Donations (Newsweek)
  • Opinion: Giving Colleges Unrestricted Donations Is Noble. It’s Also Risky. (Bloomberg)