Fundraising Pro Offers Survival Tips for Tax Law Changes

Nonprofits are concerned that a decision by Congress to increase the standard federal tax deduction will cost them donors. The change was the topic of a recent panel hosted by the Sanford Institute of Philanthropy at Maricopa Community Colleges.

The panel featured Abeja Solutions founder Terri Shoemaker. We sat down with Terri to find out how savvy nonprofits can dig in and turn this new challenge into an opportunity.

How concerned should nonprofits be about the tax law changes?

Nonprofits should be concerned, but not panicked, about the tax law changes. Not all donors itemize. Those who do however, give and give more.

Fundraisers need to pay more (and special) attention to inspiring people to consistently support the causes they care about. Tax law changes don't change how much you want a disease to end, or your conviction that people should have enough food.

But there is likely to be an impact to these tax law changes. No one knows how great an impact, but it all comes down to this: Are you connecting with your donors?

As a long-time fundraiser, how have you prepared for an event like this? 

I'll say this: At least we have some warning about this change and its potential impact. I call this kind of thing an "external pressure," kind of equivalent to a natural disaster, or the crash of 2008.

You can't prevent external pressures – they're always going to happen. So I tend to stick to a favorite aphorism of a former boss of mine: Plan the Work and Work the Plan.

You have your fundraising plan for the year lined up (at least I hope you do). Look at it and hold it up to the light of this new day. Is there anything that needs to change?

I've learned the hard way that it's more likely that you need to STICK to the plan than change it radically or at all. Ask your donors for help. Count on their generosity. Make good on your promises to them.

Make them feel great about the change they are making in the world through their giving. Make their gifts meaningful and the importance of whether or not they receive a tax deduction will fade compared to whether or not they are making a difference – with you by their side.

What steps can fundraisers take right now to counter any donor losses?

Giving decisions are made in the emotional parts of our brain, not the logical ones. If you haven't engaged in great storytelling about the work your organization does, now is the time!

You know that colleague in programs that works a million hours a day getting people help, or art, or saving pets? Help them for a day and see what stories emerge.

Contact a past client and see how they are doing. Then tell your donors about all of it (getting permission to tell the stories first, of course, especially where clients are concerned).

Emotion first fundraising is our friend in uncertain times. Anchor donor support by ensuring they are inspired.

Any final words of wisdom?

Fundraisers are always dealing with the aftermath of changes (both internally and externally), and events we can't control. It's the fundraiser's lot in life.

We may find out that this tax change shifted the giving paradigm in the country. We may find out it had a negligible effect. Point is: we don't know. Stick to your plan, count on the generosity of your donors, and make them feel great about their decision to give regardless of the tax impact.

It’s back to basics, my fellow fundraisers! I know our work always seems to get harder, not easier, but for most fundraisers, this profession chose us. You are up to the task and you can do this. 

I’ll leave you with my take on a well-known motto. Here’s the one you probably know:

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

Post office, right? 

How about this for us:

Neither natural disaster nor tax change nor board or boss who knows better stays these fundraisers from the swift completion of funding their charities and making donors feel fantastic.