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An interview with Anna Barber, owner of Barber & Associates LLC and former frontline fundraiser at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC).

How did you manage to raise more than $40M for the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC)?

My advice to any fundraiser is to have passion for the projects they choose to fundraise for. Passion is fundamental to success. The creation of the National Museum of African American History and Culture was a passion project for me because I believed it was an essential and overdue addition to the Smithsonian Institution and the United States of America.

Some of the techniques I used for raising the $40 million were to

1) intimately understand and articulate Director Lonnie Bunch’s brilliantly crafted vision for the Museum,

2) create a personal fundraising strategic plan, inclusive of high fundraising goals, and then methodically following it, while being flexible to accommodate the unexpected,

3) build a network of high net-worth individuals who were also passionate about the project and consistently solicit them for significant philanthropic support and referrals,

4) fully utilize institutional resources to maximize productivity, i.e. researchers, writers, consultants, database managers and event planners, and

5) never give up on prospects unless they explicitly told me “no”.

What can philanthropy leaders do to improve their charitable giving? 

Foremost, I would encourage non-profit leaders to learn about and use fundraising best practices. CASE, AFP and the Chronicle of Philanthropy are excellent resources. Secondly, non-profit leaders must clearly articulate their organization’s vision, mission and goals. Once this foundation is set, they should work with their development staff to determine strategic fundraising priorities. Collateral material, such as case statements that clearly articulate the organization’s needs and the projected impact of their work once those needs are funded, should be created. Additionally, recognition and benefit structures are important in each stage of the donor continuum.

Lastly, non-profit leaders should ensure they are building safe, collegial and supportive environments for their development teams. All team members input and contributions are valuable and should be encouraged and supported. Although seldom practiced, non-profit leaders should set up direct lines of communication with its frontline fundraisers, as they are the face of an organization to its donor base. Communicating only with their directors of development can limit their understanding of their donor audience.

Where is philanthropy and charitable giving headed in the future? What trends should we watch out for?

There are lots of emerging trends in charitable giving, but below are my top three big picture predictions:

Issue Based: With the current US political climate, I predict we will continue to see a rise in philanthropy to organizations focused on social justice, immigration policy, climate change, health care protections, independent media and education reform, issues that the Trump Administration appear to be moving away from. Expect to see mega gifts being allocated to these types of organizations.

Bigger Gifts:  According to a new Federal Reserve Report, America’s top 1% now control 38.6% of the nation’s wealth, a historic high. As wealth accumulation grows, I predict we will continue to see the size of gifts grow.  For instance, in 2016, individual donors made 194 mega-gifts, gifts of 8 or 9 figures In the next several years, I anticipate the $1 billion threshold gift becoming more common. While this trend can be perceived as positive, it threatens the stability of many organizations because of their dependence on a small number of donors.

A More Diverse Philanthropic Market: While fundraising has traditionally been focused on white men, I predict we will see significant growth of new philanthropists within communities of color and women. Beyond the US, I predict that we will see a huge surge in philanthropy globally, with China leading the way. Emerging markets in parts of Africa and South America will also enter the philanthropic community at record numbers.


* Photo Credit: Alan Karchmer