New edition of Achieving Excellence in Fundraising puts philanthropy in context

by Shari Finnell, editor/writer, Not-for-profit News

As editors prepared to assemble the fifth edition of Achieving Excellence in Fundraising, they shared a sense of unease, recalls Genevieve G. Shaker, lead editor and associate professor of philanthropic studies at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI.

Shaker, who had been involved with the textbook previously in its 30-year history, led a team of more than 50 authors — all with ties to the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy — during one of the most transformative periods in the history of philanthropy. The work on the edition started in 2019 but the team paused as the global COVID-19 outbreak upended the nonprofit sector, philanthropy. The publication was released this spring and was co-edited by Eugene R. Tempel, Sarah K. Nathan, and Bill Stanczykiewicz.

“There was so much happening with fundraising as a result of that period of time,” Shaker said, recalling the uncertainty around the deadly pandemic, heightened awareness about DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) following social justice protests, economic upheaval, and the rush to virtual engagement.

Several questions emerged during that time, she said, including: “How might this be changing things?” “What are the tried-and-true principles we believe still hold?”

“New editions come out about every five years,” Shaker said. “We wanted to make sure those principles were sustained. How can we make a book, attending to the changes this moment, that also will speak to people several years from now?”

In the end, the team decided to move forward, with the understanding that it may take some time to unearth how the events of 2020-2021 will continue to change fundraising and giving. “We couldn’t wait another two to three years to see what happens longer-term. It’s so important that people have a new book, so we went ahead — even with some uncertainties about the ultimate impact of this period.”

Preparing for what’s next in fundraising

One of the editor’s key takeaways is that principles and strategies of effective fundraising will continue to evolve but many of the foundational principles outlined by the late fundraising expert and The Fund Raising School founder Henry A. Rosso remain relevant, according to Shaker.

The revised book introduces new material and research related to fundraising ethics, virtual engagement and online giving, engaging diverse donors, crisis fundraising, planned giving, and crafting appeals. “The digital revolution has been enormous and it’s continuing through innovations like crowdfunding and artificial intelligence,” Shaker said. “Platforms are still emerging and broadening the ways we can communicate with people. That’s a huge change that we’ve seen over these past 20 years.”

Another development is heightened awareness about engaging diverse donors, Shaker said. “We are always seeking to learn more about different communities of donors, to provide more recognition for their philanthropic approaches, and to be intentionally welcoming and supportive of them as donors,” she said. “This change has been happening prior to the last few years, but it’s more at the forefront of all of our minds as we work to create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive nonprofit sector.”

Adapting to change

According to Shaker, recent events served as a reminder of the importance of constantly evaluating the effectiveness of current fundraising strategies. 

“We cannot do the same things year after year and expect the same result,” she said. “We must be evaluating outcomes. If, for example, a mailing is getting half the response than previous years, you must be open to changing your approach.”

Shaker noted that Tempel, lead editor of three previous editions and founding dean emeritus of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, often stressed that nonprofit organizations can’t afford to operate as closed systems. “Leaders need to approach their nonprofits as open systems — gathering information, listening, and paying attention to what’s happening in the world, in their community, and in fundraising — and adapting all the time,” she said. “COVID, in a way, was a reset for some organizations. It required them to change and they’re not going back.”

Without the pandemic, some nonprofits still would be entrenched in practices that may not necessarily have been working for them, Shaker added.

Guiding principles of fundraising

While the pandemic accelerated the adoption of online giving and virtual engagement, research also revealed that some of the original principles advised by Rosso more than 30 years ago remain unshakeable, Shaker said.

“It has proven some of the things that we believe about fundraising, including the importance of having strong relationships with donors and finding different ways to engage with donors at all capacities,” she said. “Those principles were reinforced during COVID. The pandemic stressed the importance of knowing your donors as people and considering their circumstances, while continuing to communicate with them about your nonprofit’s work, needs, and the circumstances of those you serve.”

The textbook also addresses perceptions about fundraising, many that stem from some cultural and societal beliefs about openly talking about money, Shaker said.

“Fundraising can be misunderstood, even within our own organizations. There are some misunderstandings about what fundraising is and how it takes place,” she said. “We are often battling those misconceptions and educating others about philanthropy and fundraising. At a personal level, many of us are raised in households where talking about money can be taboo. This is an additional challenge, which can take reflection and practice to overcome so it doesn’t impact the way we interact with donors.”

Shaker said that the pandemic also reinforced people’s enormous capacity for generosity through donations and volunteerism.

“It was a reminder that philanthropy is for everyone,” she said. “It reinvigorated and reminded us of the power of human generosity. And that a more inclusive definition of philanthropy includes thinking about all the things that people are doing in addition to giving financially.”

More information about the fifth edition of Achieving Excellence in Fundraising is available at

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