FYI Blog

Avalon Dispatch 04.16.2024

In this week’s @AvalonFYI dispatch, you will find benchmarks, data-driven AI, the problem with nonprofit jargon, leadership fitness, college basketball, and more. Read it here!

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Dear friends,

This month, as Americans filed their taxes, threats to abortion care have been all over the news. Arizona’s Supreme Court ruling, cases underway at SCOTUS, and debate around a national ban are outrageous. For the latest, I recommend Guttmacher Institute’s interactive map of post-Roe policies and access. The juxtaposition of Tax Day and Republican assaults on health and freedom draws a sharp contrast between good and bad government that I hope voters will remember in November.

In industry news, the Fundraising Effectiveness Project released quarterly benchmarks. The new report closes out 2023 and includes late data on year-end. The headline is that both donors and donations continued to decline. However, the negative trend slowed. 2023 donors decreased by -3.4%, which shows improvement over -10.7% in 2022 and -6.3% in 2021. Retention had a similar pattern at -2.5% in 2023, vs. -4.1% in 2022 and -4.3% in 2021. Total donations also declined, dipping by -2.8% in 2023, vs. -1.5% in 2022 and +3.1% in 2021. At Avalon, we see a broad return to pre-pandemic patterns and recommend tracking a 10-year cycle to see the full picture for your nonprofit.

In tech this week, senior data analyst Alexis Krivian attended the Salesforce World Tour in DC, and analytics VP Sarah Birnie joined virtually. They report that AI took center stage this year. Salesforce recently launched a public beta version of Einstein Copilot, which marries conversational AI with each customer’s data. It seems like a powerful tool. Nonprofits will look to leading brands to advance data-driven AI that is balanced with responsible data governance, and Salesforce is no exception.

Alexis stands between Salesforce's Einstein and Astro mascots in a ballroom with a green carpet.Alexis Krivian at the Salesforce World Tour.

Several of us also attended the National Parks Conservation Association’s annual Salute to the Parks. This year’s focus was the preservation and access of public lands, culminating in three awards: Senator Debbie Stabenow (Michigan) received the Centennial Leadership Award, conservationist Juan D. Martinez Pineda received the Robin W. Winks Award, and Sara Capen and the Alliance of National Heritage Areas received the National Park Achievement Award. This is always an inspiring event and an impressive gathering of leaders. To our clients at NPCA, thank you for having us!

Avalon team members with a client posing in from of the NPCA Salute to the Parks photo backdrop and smiling to a photographer at right.Senior graphic designer Tony Nguyen, program manager Isabelle Fazzina, president Allison Porter, NPCA’s Laura Connors, and vice president Rebecca Shapalis at Salute to the Parks.

Also of note, The Chronicle of Philanthropy compiled 10 words and phrases that undermine sector messaging. It’s easy to parrot buzzwords and lean too much on jargon, and sometimes we do need specialized language. But it’s important to remember that we are speaking to an audience of donors, and accessibility is paramount. At the end of the day, a fundraiser’s goal is to include donors and engage them in a shared mission, not to “leave outsiders scratching their heads.”

For leaders, Harvard Business blog outlined 4 dimensions of leadership fitness: balance, strength, flexibility, and endurance. Author Diane Belcher describes these as core strengths for lifelong development, which go deeper than tactical skills. I love that she takes inspiration from Caitlin Clark’s outstanding performance in the NCAA tournament:

Some might say that Clark is just a highly skilled player. But there is much more to it. She has developed a capacity that coaches call “court vision.” She can see plays developing, anticipate the other team’s mistakes before they occur, and make sense of everything happening on the court all at once. This is not a skill; it’s a highly sophisticated capacity that typically is developed across a player’s entire career. Through very intentional work, Clark has developed this capacity at an accelerated rate.

Finally, and speaking of Caitlin Clark, it has been thrilling to see college basketball fans embrace the women’s tournament with such enthusiasm. Avalon held our annual bracket competition, and many of us were following the games closely. Congratulations to VP Dara Igersheim (men’s tournament) and program manager Isabelle Fazzina (women’s tournament) for their winning brackets! This is a favorite Avalon tradition, and I enjoy watching our team have so much fun with it.

Take care,
Allison signature gray

Allison Porter headshot

Allison Porter, President
Avalon Consulting Group