Our Predictions: Fundraising Trends for 2021

With a new year comes a hopeful new outlook.  We’re all glad to see 2020 go. 

What a year it has been: we suffered through a terrible pandemic, disruption of our lives, families, workplaces, a volatile political climate, and much more. What’s worse, these issues are not over. They will continue impacting our lives – and fundraising – well into 2021.

Yet there are some silver linings.

We saw immense dedication and dogged commitment on the part of nonprofit leaders and fundraisers. And, we saw creative fundraisers take advantage of new opportunities offered by the virtual environment.

Based on What’s Happened in 2020, Here’s our Forecast for Upcoming Fundraising Trends for 2021:

1. Giving is up.  And all signs are that it will remain up.

Many nonprofits experienced critical revenue shortfalls from reduced service fees, ticket sales, and admissions. As a result, donors responded with record amounts of charitable donations. 

2020 saw a surge in the entire scale of giving – from small gifts to major donors to new estate commitments. More people than ever were giving and at greater amounts than usual.

The Fundraising Effectiveness Project of AFP found that the first 9 months of 2020 saw an impressive increase of 7.6% over 2019.

Big institutional funders and foundations also stepped up to increase giving in 2020. Through September, Fidelity Charitable grant volume increased 30% over the same time period in 2019.

In 2021, we expect that donors will continue to be interested, open to nonprofit messages, and willing to help.

2. Donor fatigue is a myth.

Asks were everywhere, and donors gave.

The successful organizations laid their cases for support out plainly. In addition, they explained their financial situations clearly. Even more, they pulled appropriate emotional triggers – and donors responded.

Again and again and again, donors responded.

Even with the vast amount of political fundraising going on all year, donors continued contributing to their favorite nonprofits – and new ones too. 

Why do fundraisers complain about donor fatigue? It’s because of sloppy fundraising.

Fundraisers keep going to the same donors over and over, exhausting those donors. And fundraisers talk too much about the money, not about the impact.

We predict donors will continue to respond generously in 2021, if they are approached with finesse and skill. 

3. Organizations that continue to invest in fundraising will see solid returns.

Many institutions slashed budgets early in 2020, and furloughed their fundraising staff.

These organizations forgot an important point – their fundraising teams were nurturing generous revenue streams. So what happened when fundraising staff was furloughed? The revenue quickly dried up! 

On the other hand, many forward-thinking nonprofits managed to keep their staff and continue operating their fundraising programs.

These groups were able to stay in front of their donors with solid asks. As a result, they were able to ride the surge in donations and keep essential revenue streams flowing in the door.

And, these nonprofits saw a very nice ROI on their fundraising expenses. 

Organizations that invest in fundraising will see an even greater growth in fundraising revenue. This will be true for 2021, and will never change.

4. New respect for digital strategies in the major gift world. 

The new virtual world threatened to upend major gift fundraising.

But our clients persevered. Surprisingly, we all learned that digital could be a highly effective major donor engagement tool.

What’s more, we discovered that donors were happy to engage with us on the phone or zoom. Even more, going digital meant we could save time while connecting with donors more deeply.

Now, fundraisers could no longer rely on donor parties, lunches and committees as engagement tools. In this new world, we had to personally connect with donors, and talk to them about what mattered.

We predict that major gift fundraising will never be the same. Donor engagement does not have to be face-to-face anymore.  

5. Capital campaigns can absolutely succeed in the digital environment.  

We encouraged our capital campaign clients to keep moving forward and they did, with success.

Feasibility studies went smoothly in 2020. We found that donors were just as happy (some were happier!) to talk to us over zoom or the phone as they were in person.

We helped clients stage virtual campaign events. Even more, we delivered capital campaign training to board members. And we guided major asks  – all virtually, and all successfully. 

In 2021 capital campaigns will now be organized and executed with a combination of virtual and in-person strategies. 

6. Fundraising continues to become more sophisticated.

New advances in knowledge are yielding helpful new advances in fundraising.

For example, artificial intelligence is just beginning to show us its benefits, especially in the area of identifying stronger donor prospects and saving us time.

And behavioral economics is revealing how to nudge donors toward a gift rather than turning them off.

We are all coming to understand donor psychology better: what really warms our donors’ hearts?  And what emotional triggers will encourage them to be generous. 

We predict that these tools will help fundraising become even more successful in 2021 and the coming years. 

7. Giving Days just keep getting stronger and stronger.

2020 saw not one, but two Giving Tuesdays – and both were hugely successful.

In December, 2020’s annual Giving Tuesday yielded a whopping 25% more than the previous year, with 29% more donors participating.

In addition, many organizations and institutions are staging their own proprietary Giving Days with solid success.

Giving Days are successful because they:

  • Add a note of gamification and fun to the fundraising process
  • Reach new donors
  • Provide urgently needed unrestricted gifts

Since Giving Days are still somewhat new, they are gaining more and more visibility. They will continue to grow as important fundraising tools in 2021 and beyond.

8. Virtual events and galas can succeed nicely. 

We continued to be surprised by so many very successful virtual events and galas.

Several organizations in our Major Gift Intensive saw higher totals from virtual events than from previous in-person events.

Many unforeseen benefits occurred when pivoting virtual, including:

  • Event costs were slashed (no more flowers, food, venue, insurance or music)
  • Staff saved vast amounts of time
  • Loyal financial sponsors pulled through
  • Many more people could attend the event on a virtual platform

Thank goodness we may never see galas like before. Virtual events will become a reliable alternative moving into 2021.  

Bottom Line: Our Predictions on Fundraising Trends for 2021

There’s a lot of opportunity hidden within a disrupted environment. Smart institutions will be opportunistic, agile and creative  – and they’ll see tremendous success.

Follow these fundraising trends for 2021, and seize the opportunity!

 

As always, it is a pleasure to share our weekly news and insights with you. 

If you want to build and expand your major and principal gifts programs in 2021, keep an eye on your inbox. Applications will open soon for our 2021 Major Gifts Intensive.

Wishing you a prosperous and positive start to 2021!