LENOX — Have you noticed an especially intense deluge of donation pitches from our very worthy nonprofits here in the Berkshires and elsewhere in the nation?
It started well before Thanksgiving — a daily flood of e-mails and postal mail, especially from the arts sector, public radio and TV, environmental groups and educational institutions.
From the wording of these communiques, one wonders whether the organizations are in dire straits. As the year closed, we were implored to contribute in order to close a gap between fundraising goals and donations actually received.
Here’s one of the exasperating problems: If you donate through an annual membership or a one-time gift, the presumably grateful recipients send you ever more frequent appeals for additional support, along with thanks for the first contribution.
At least, that’s been my experience as a donor of modest amounts to four different public broadcasters, multiple performing arts and educational organizations such as Tanglewood, the Metropolitan Opera and Schenectady’s Empire State Youth Orchestra, and nonprofits such as the Sierra Club and Mass Audubon.
The pitches come in like clockwork from my high school (class of 1963!) and two universities (1967, 1968). And a well-intentioned subscription to a Mayo Clinic newsletter has yielded invitations from at least a half dozen other renowned medical centers offering helpful publications covering a wide variety of other maladies.
Now that Dec. 31 goals have been reached, or narrowly missed, the inbox is only slightly less flooded — the latest appeals are for setting up an estate plan donation.
Obviously, e-mail and physical mail lists are exchanged, or sold, among nonprofits in specific categories. The logic of that approach is hard to fathom — why offer your faithful contributor an opportunity to support your competitor.
One theory offered by a fellow journalist: “We’ll both do better with more people … and these people are the most valuable because they’ve already demonstrated a willingness to give money.”
Although current data from Berkshire nonprofits on their contributions for 2022 isn’t readily available yet, a recent report from the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s website offers a clue to why some pitches convey an unusual sense of urgency.
It turns out that concerns over a potential recession led to a 7 percent decline in the number of supporters during the first half of 2022, compared to the same period in 2021.
The report cites a “collapse” in small-gift donations — contributors donating $100 or less dropped by more than 17 percent, and 8 percent fewer donors made gifts of $101 to $500. The research also indicates wealthy donors curtail their giving in response to the threat of bad economic times.
Weakening support for the nonprofit sector has been a trend for more than a decade, and the total count of individual donors has declined for two and a half years.
Repeat donors are also reluctant — contributors who made a gift in 2021 and again in 2022 declined 4.2 percent after a 7.2 percent drop the previous year..
“The bottom is falling out, and we’re heading for a big problem if we don’t address that,” said researcher Woodrow Rosenbaum, chief data officer for GivingTuesday, a co-sponsor of the study.
He offered pointers that may explain the intensity of the recent fundraising blast. Rosenbaum acknowledged a bright spot — “recaptured donors” who did not give to the organization the previous year but had donated before increased by 6 percent.
He proposed that organizations could use the last months of the year to double down on engagement and “broad stewardship of everyday donors — there’s lots of room to move and lots of opportunity to turn things around.”
“Organizations could reap considerable benefits by ensuring they stay relevant for this group through consistent solicitation and outreach activities,” said Lori Gusdorf, executive vice president of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Foundation.
Of course, we all want to see our deserving nonprofits weather the decline caused by the cost of living surge and the uncertainty about the economy’s strength during the new year.
I’d be more inclined to support organizations that keep their solicitations and fund drives to a reasonable minimum. But spare me the constant drumbeat of pitches after I’ve just contributed.
As for emails offering “thanks” for donations I never even made: To those solicitors I say, “thanks but no thanks.”