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2024 Philanthropy Outlook: Kristen Weaver

Executive Director, Burrell Foundation

Posted online

Weaver’s 2024 Projection: While the economy has remained somewhat strong and we’ve avoided a backslide, this points to a hopeful year ahead. But uncertainties can still be a derailment. We’re entering an election year, and many nonprofits are phasing out of their COVID relief dollars that helped keep them afloat. However, there’s a promising shift toward getting back to relational fundraising, the responsible use of artificial intelligence and an increasing role of new voices in philanthropic giving.

Given this past year’s economic uncertainty, what strategies do you recommend for nonprofits and foundations in 2024 to maintain or increase donor engagement and giving?
Nonprofits need to keep an eye on trust. Trust is the currency of nonprofits with their stakeholders, and that number fell by 4% nationally [per research by nonprofit advocacy and civic engagement group Independent Sector]. This signals a need to return to relational fundraising and really listen to donors, and I’m excited about that. The idea of being prepared to redefine engagement beyond financial transactions is one of the places I’d like to see nonprofits invest. Nonprofits should also look at creating more points of entry and lower barriers to donating. A lot of donor fatigue comes from an expectation that you have to give at a certain level at a certain time, which can shut out a lot of potential donors and future generations. Messaging that “Hey you know what, $5 matters,” allows people to get involved at a level of entry that makes sense for where they are, even if it’s simply their time or connections. We’re also seeing new opportunities with the wealth-generation transfer, growing particularly amongst women. So that’s bringing new voices into the philanthropy conversation.

How should nonprofits prioritize their budgets and resource allocation in 2024, especially concerning staff recruitment, retention and development?
It’s time to reinvest in what it means to be a successful nonprofit. Infrastructure matters, and we need to reinvest to allow nonprofits to meet community needs and be sustainable. For so long, the sector has been stuck in the mentality of donations could only go to programming, but maybe didn’t support overhead or growth. A nonprofit needs all the pieces to come together so it can deliver. This means looking at developing and investing in leaders. If a nonprofit is constantly dealing with employee turnover, that’s not efficient. With more front-end investment and building a bench of leaders, that allows nonprofits to create a succession plan to ensure the continuity of mission. [According to Independent Sector data,] only 31% of nonprofits reported advocating or lobbying in 2022. Creating strategic alliances to amplify a collective voice for community support will be critical.

How do you foresee the role of technology, particularly artificial intelligence, evolving in the nonprofit sector?
Interestingly, smart technology like AI can allow nonprofits to be more relational and personal. It’ll change our workflow, which is a good thing. I see it freeing up some of our operations and moving human talent to where we can be impactful in innovation, creativity and relationships, as opposed to focusing on repetitive tasks. Going back to resource allocation, allowing for AI training will be important so nonprofits can develop ethically responsible policies around donor privacy and intellectual property, but also to free up staff to do more human-centered work. Nonprofits are at their core human-centered organizations.

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