December 2011; Source: GuideStarGuideStar’s latest survey of nonprofits—875 respondents—on their fundraising performance for 2011 and their plans for 2012 has the strength of a reasonably large number of survey respondents but with no specific sampling of a population and no guarantee that the respondents to the 2011 survey match up with those in 2010. That’s the nature of most nonprofit “how are you doing with your fundraising” surveys: they capture whoever responds, making firm generalizations about a population of nonprofits a little dubious. With that caveat—and keeping in mind that GuideStar doesn’t make any claim of statistical representativeness in the survey—the survey results might provoke thinking and discussion in the field. For example:

  • A little over one-fourth of respondents reported declining foundation support in 2011, and just under another third said that their foundation support in 2011 has been “flat”;
  • Just about one-third of “smaller” charities (defined as expenditures below $3 million) reported declines in fundraising in 2011 compared to 2010, roughly twice the proportion of large nonprofits;
  • Smaller nonprofits showed more signs of fundraising and overall fiscal distress, including greater likelihood of losing new or renewing donors, low cash reserves, and overreliance on a very limited number of funders;
  • One-fifth of the smallest groups in the survey (expenditures below $250,000) said they were at risk of closing in 2012 compared to only 5 percent of respondents with larger expenditures;
  • Over half of respondents with government funding suffered from government cutbacks while only 16 percent reported that their government funding increased.


There is interesting data in the survey on respondents’ different fundraising practices and their efficacy. The Guidestar surveys, along with surveys of the members of state nonprofit associations and various United Way “pulse” surveys (do they still do these?), add up to an ongoing picture of the nonprofit sector’s travails in a prolonged, difficult economy. —Rick Cohen