Fundraising isn’t easy. There’s a number of worthwhile endeavors seeking our hard-earned dollars and many ways to give. So the people whose job it is to raise money for nonprofits have to wear many hats: cheerleader, organizer, matchmaker, liaison. Raising money is the goal, but building relationships is the means. We sat down with Nicole Pellegrino, president of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Hampton Roads chapter and director of development at Norfolk Collegiate, to discuss philanthropy, giving trends and challenges.
How do you define philanthropy?
Philanthropy is more than just a transaction. It is really a connection to a cause that someone is passionate about and that they feel they are able to be a part of making a significant change through their involvement, whether that be money, time or other treasures and talents.
AFP has existed for 50 years and the local chapter was founded in 2001. What is the role of the fundraising professional and why is the AFP important?
There are a booming number of nonprofits in our area. It’s obviously a strong sector for our economy, for our professionals. Some people don’t think of fundraising as a career, but the professionals need the background, the tools, the resources because we are working with some amazing philanthropists and donors. And our role, when you boil it down, is that we are linking them and allowing them to have a joyful experience with helping in the organization.
Education is probably the big tenet of what AFP Global provides to the members. On a local level, we host monthly luncheons for our membership and nonmembers. We typically bring in local experts from our community who talk on a variety of topics from donor stewardship to direct-mail giving and multi-phase communications. We have a little bit of everything.
What philanthropic trends are you seeing?
The changing landscape of fundraising is women … from all different cultural backgrounds. Women are expected to inherit 70 percent of the inter-generational wealth over the next 50 years. And on average, they’re living six years longer than men. So, when you look at it from that standpoint, they’re the ones who are going to be making longer-term decisions with wealth. And married and single women are more likely to give and give at higher amounts than similarly situated men.
Can only older, wealthy people be philanthropists?
No. We have to be willing to think of philanthropy as young philanthropists, too. Even if they’re giving is smaller, in the future they may have those means to be able to give significantly. People of any means can be involved and be a part of our culture of philanthropy. It doesn’t always have to be about the dollar amount.
What fundraising challenges are unique to our area?
We have a very generous community. There are so many ways that they can be involved, that we have to really reach out and know those donors. Another way that makes Hampton Roads interesting is that we are a military and a transient community. You make these great relationships, but then they have to leave us at some point. And that’s hard. And it’s sad. You see with Norfolk Southern [that] our landscape of corporations in the area are changing. We want to attract people to come and stay in our area and be lifelong philanthropists.
The AFP was instrumental in the creation of the Donor Bill of Rights. Why was that important?
Unfortunately, there have been scandals that take place within nonprofits in the past and they’ll be more. It’s about having clear and transparent ways of doing business. So, the donor as the consumer, so to speak, has rights. And we as the nonprofit organization also have a promise to them to do right by the funds that they’re giving us. It’s also become very important for nonprofits to have gift acceptance policies for similar reasons. Who will you accept a gift from? If they’ve done certain things, what will you do?
What are you optimistic about when it comes to philanthropy?
I think there’s been a lot of uncertainty about the tax laws that we’ve seen changing, but I’m optimistic that people give to things that they care about more so than for a tax break. When you adjust for inflation, we did see a little bit of a decrease in overall giving last year, but we’re still giving at phenomenal levels. And then also, our younger generation. They have the tools at their fingertips to really get behind what they’re passionate about and you’re seeing them start this sort of wave of young activists and I love it.
What worries you?
Nothing’s insurmountable. We have our daily fears, especially as a fundraising professional, about the expectations that are put on us to raise the funds we need because we have seen government funding change. Individuals still give the most, but we rely on them so, so much. Many of us have a small set of donors that are giving large amounts. And what if that changed? A concern as a whole is the retention of our donors, especially in times when we see less and less government funding.
– interview by Victoria Bourne; condensed and edited for clarity and space.