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John McMillin: Nonprofit fundraising still dependent on the ask

John McMillin • Updated Apr 17, 2016 at 12:00 PM

We support more than 30 local programs that serve local folks. These local clients’ income varies much like the average person you’ll see shopping on any given day. 

Most of our programs are available to anyone at any income.  In other words, if you’re interested in helping people, you can probably find a program through United Way of Wilson County and the Upper Cumberland that will meet your criteria.

Want to feed people? We have a program for that. Want to help put youngsters on a right-track so they are more likely to be a contributing member of society one day? We have a program for that.

Just as we have varied programs, we need a wide range of givers, as well. We do all that we can to keep administration costs low. Our employees, three of us, are tight fisted to put it mildly. Still, we try to increase our fundraising goal every year in hopes of awarding more funds to the local programs that serve you (us) or add new programs to assist local people across a wide array of circumstances. In fact, we estimate our programs will serve one in every three people in Wilson County.

It’s difficult what our total raised for 2015 is because we still have campaigns being turned in and this will continue for some time. The small silver cloud is that the trend in giving isn’t going downward. True, some workplace campaigns are up and some are down, however the willingness to give is still reliable and steady, even if people do have more giving choices. This trend was confirmed in a recent survey from the Nonprofit Research Collaborative. In their 2016 Winter Nonprofit Fundraising Study, they found:  

“A stronger economy and lower unemployment rates helped nonprofit organizations see little change in the amount of charitable gifts received in 2015; however, many are concerned that growth will actually decrease as donors are uneasy over an unstable economy and the political environment leading up to the U.S. Presidential election.”

Interestingly the survey reports that much of the old tried-and-true methods of fundraising showed a decline.  Direct mail campaigns, major gifts and board participation were all down nationally. For our local United Way, we have noticed declines in the old methods as well. To battle this, our United Way is branching out to include more in-house services like job fairs and an upcoming “baby shower” to help young mothers on top of our early learning assistance, prescription drug cards and 211 service for those in need of help or wanting to volunteer.

One thing that hasn’t changed, according to the study, is that if you want someone to give, you need to make the “ask” in person. In today’s multi-tasking world, it’s more difficult than ever to get the opportunity to speak to every employee. Keep in mind that we are thrilled to have the opportunity to explain what our United Way programs do for our communities should your company have a department, safety or other meeting of the masses.  It’s an old-fashioned method but one that still works.

For more information, visit givetouwwc.org.

John McMillin is president of United Way of Wilson County and the Upper Cumberland. Email him at john@givetouwwc.org.

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