Fundraising Lessons From 2020, Plus Fundraising Trends to Watch in 2021

6 Things 2020 Taught Us About Fundraising, Plus 2021 Fundraising Trends to Watch

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We can all agree 2020 was quite a year. We tried a lot of things in our efforts to fundraise and survive the economic rollercoaster. If the year taught us anything, it’s that we can’t really predict the future, but we can rise up, get creative and scrappy, and overcome incredible challenges.

Some of these obstacles and challenges might continue impacting our lives for the foreseeable future. Many fundraising strategies that became popular during the age of social distancing are likely to stick around--or at least influence virtual fundraising going forward.

We rounded up some of the creative and effective fundraising trends and strategies that experts believe will remain popular into 2021.

3 Things We Learned About Donors In 2020

Let’s start with a few things we learned in 2020 about donors and giving trends, particularly when things get a little rocky.

1) We don’t need to fear donor fatigue

Throughout 2020, needs and asks were everywhere and many nonprofits expressed concern about “donor fatigue.”

Nonprofits have expressed concern about “scaring” or pushing donors away by asking too frequently or for too much money for decades. This “donor flight” phenomenon became known as “donor fatigue.”

One thing that stood out in 2020 is that successful nonprofits clearly explained their financial needs and donors rose to the challenge time and again. Rather than being scared or overwhelmed by the reality of the situation, it revealed that donors do want to know the truth and give what they can.

Donor fatigue is real, but the root problem isn’t the financial need. Donor fatigue most often occurs when organizations don’t have good donor care and don’t properly engage their current and potential supporters.

The takeaway: Don’t live in fear of donor fatigue. Instead, be proactive about donor care so you can make bold financial asks with confidence that your donors won’t be scared off.

2) Recurring donations lay a strong fundraising foundation

One-time donations can be helpful (depending on the size), but they often require a lot of work, reducing your return on investment.

In 2020, most nonprofits were grateful for any amount of money that came into the bank account. But it’s not sustainable to survive from one donation to the next. Nonprofits that had an established and healthy recurring giving plan tend to be far more financially stable. Recurring gifts allow you to forecast your financial situation and plan for funding year-round.

2020 revealed that donors who are enrolled in recurring giving plans tend to continue giving much longer than donors who give individual gifts. Many recurring donors actually give more over the long-term (pandemic or not) because they can donate in small, but more frequent, amounts.

The takeaway: Building and maintaining a strong recurring donor base can bring a lot of financial stability to your organization, even if the economic, social, or political climate gets a little uncertain. Recurring giving options also enable your donors to be more generous in the long term.

3) Giving is trending up, and analysts predict it will continue

As nonprofits lost essential revenue from canceled events, reduced service fees, and other challenges in 2020, donors rose to the challenge and gave at record rates. From small donations to estate commitments, the entire nonprofit sector experienced a surge in giving over the last year.

While the sense of urgency might dissipate, many fundraising experts predict that donors will remain interested and willing to give generously going forward. Your nonprofit can build on this “time of need momentum” by incorporating excellent donor-care strategies to continue building those relationships.

The takeaway: Donors want to help, especially in times of crisis. The current economic climate doesn’t always indicate how people will give to nonprofits.

3 Fundraising Strategies and Trends That Will Stick Around

In addition to learning a lot about how people respond to appeals during difficult times, 2020 pushed nonprofits to experiment and try new fundraising strategies. We saw incredible creativity as you found ways to connect with current and potential supporters without in-person events.

Some of these fundraising strategies were so effective, we believe they’ll stick around for the foreseeable future! Here are the top three you should consider keeping in (or adding to) your fundraising calendar long after social-distancing is a thing of the past.

1) Keep at least some of your virtual events

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced most nonprofits to cancel all in-person fundraising events, you got creative and shifted to virtual fundraising activities. Though virtual events themselves weren’t new, the pandemic shined a spotlight on them and made them a far more acceptable--and even desirable--event format as organizations and donors saw the benefits of these types of fundraisers.

Nonprofits realized they could save a lot of money by hosting virtual events. Without major overhead costs like venu rental, more money goes into the coffers for your projects and services.

Donors appreciate the opportunity to attend from the comfort of their own homes, lowering barriers to attending.

Virtual events also expand the guest list! Anyone around the world can attend your virtual fundraisers without traveling long distances, taking time off work, or incurring other costs. By contrast, in-person events tend to have a fairly small geographic distance that people are willing to travel. So, new donors appreciated the opportunity to engage with nonprofits from afar, and the organizations enjoyed a far wider reach--everyone wins!

The takeaway: Keep just a few of your most successful virtual fundraising events going forward. Diversifying your event calendar will help you continue to reach those audiences that virtual events allowed you to connect with. And consider live-streaming at least part of other fundraising events for supporters who just can’t attend in-person.

2) Be as transparent as possible

The nonprofit world has always been crowded with many worthy causes and organizations vying for attention and donations. The way to be seen, heard, and trusted is to really show how your nonprofit is making a difference.

One thing 2020 proved is that organizations that SHOWED the difference they’re making did much better than those who just talked about their impact. And, nonprofits with greater financial transparency tended to fare better in the uncertain economic climate. That’s understandable! Donors want to know they’re making wise investments--both for themselves and in their charitable giving.

Incorporate many different types of content--stories, photos, testimonials, financial data, graphs, etc. into your content for current and potential donors. Different kinds of content helps paint a dynamic picture of exactly how you and your team are changing lives.

Be very clear about how each donation can directly impact your mission and always be transparent about your current financial status, goals, and needs (overall and with each project or fundraising campaign). Take the time to explain where each dollar goes so supporters understand exactly how you’ll put their hard-earned money to work.

3) Donor engagement doesn’t need to be face-to-face

If 2020 taught nonprofits anything it’s that you really can conduct effective fundraising and donor engagement without meeting face-to-face. Over the past 14 months, countless nonprofits learned that most of their donors are happy to connect via Zoom or on the phone instead of only in-person.

This means that fundraising can expand beyond donor desserts, lunches, and other in-person strategies.

Many organizations reported that the need to connect more personally with donors actually strengthened their relationships over the last year. We’re not suggesting you ditch those traditional face-to-face strategies; we’re just proposing that you add in some Zoom time or phone calls with your donors to connect on a more personal level.

Another benefit to this discovery is that your development team can save some time, energy, and resources with this strategy! Skip one or two donor desserts this coming year and spend that time connecting one-on-one with individual supporters!

The takeaway: Digital connections with supporters can be a highly effective donor engagement tool. Now that the vast majority of the population is more comfortable with Zoom and other online meeting platforms, consider adding this to your donor care strategy to build stronger relationships with your donors for years to come.

We know last year was hard on almost everyone. Still, the unrest and turmoil revealed a lot of new opportunities and strategies that really work in nonprofit fundraising! Continue showing off your strengths of being savvy, creative, and agile and incorporate some of these strategies into your long-term fundraising strategy so we can make even greater impacts in 2021 (and many more years).

Here are three more resources to help you lead an effective fundraising campaign for your nonprofit.

  • 10 Essential Ingredients of a Nonprofit Business Plan: Nonprofit business plans are definitely not a thing of the past or something to create for decoration or show. A good business plan can help you attract quality donors, get grants and loans, and even fill your board with excellent leaders. Use this blog to make sure you include all the essentials in your nonprofit’s business plan!
  • 7 Steps to Effective Virtual Event Marketing: There are a lot of marketing options and strategies available to promote your fundraising events. It can feel overwhelming and confusing to know which strategies to choose or how to get the most out of it. The great news is event promotion doesn’t need to be complicated! Head over to this blog for seven easy steps to great virtual marketing for your next event!
  • 3 Ways to Boost Your Current Fundraising Campaign: Fundraising is critical to every nonprofit, and fundraising campaigns are more than just raising money for your cause. It’s about connecting with supporters and the community. And, the increased visibility from the campaigns can lead to more fundraising opportunities. This blog offers some great insight and wisdom from fundraising experts on how to get the most out of your current fundraising campaigns!