Smooth Sailing vs. Choppy Waters: All Nonprofits in Same Boat?

Stanford
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October 17, 2012; Source: Stanford University News

Remember the trope that we’re all in this together? Unfortunately, some of us are more in this, whatever this is, than others. Stanford University had what seems to be a regular event this past year: it had a record year in fundraising, not just in dollars raised, but in the number of donors. For the 2011-2012 fiscal year, the university that produced Andrew Luck and John Elway raised $1.035 billion from nearly 79,000 donors. That’s a 45.9 percent increase in dollars raised over the 2010-2011 fiscal year and even 13.6 percent more than the record $911.2 million in Fiscal Year 2005-2006. Part of the 2011-2012 total is from the last few months of the five-year, $6.2 billion Stanford Challenge fundraising campaign.

These totals don’t include money raised for the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, but if you add up all the “new philanthropic activity to Stanford, which represents new pledges and new gifts received,” the FY 2011-2012 total rises to $1.2 billion. Not half bad numbers for nonprofit fundraising in the midst of a crippling recession, right?

Hat tip to a tweet from Stanford professor Rob Reich for noting that the university’s fundraising amounted to more than $2.8 million a day on the year. For the last couple of years, Giving USA reports have indicated a class difference in nonprofit fundraising, with large nonprofits doing much better, statistically, than smaller nonprofits. So are all nonprofits in the same boat? Or is difference of size difference of kind? Discuss.—Rick Cohen