The Future of Fundraising: Predictions for 2021

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2020 has been a year of curveballs and adaptations, many of which will no doubt carry into 2021. After serving more than 50 nonprofits through this year’s challenges, here are our predictions for fundraising in 2021.

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While we expect a return to some level of normalcy in the latter half of 2021, virtual major gift solicitations are here to stay. We have seen our clients successfully adapt to engaging key stakeholders by video, adjusting based on what works best for their constituents. “By incorporating visual guides for the solicitor to speak to and by drawing out questions for discussion, online solicitations can be engaging and successful,” says Anne Smith, Vice President of TW&B. Once we can meet safely with donors again, organizations will need to find the balance of virtual and in-person solicitations that works best for them. “Tools such as Zoom will continue to be important,” says Marilyn Foster Kirk, Executive Vice President of TW&B. “Not to replace in-person activities as has been essential during Covid-19, but to complement.”

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Organizations were forced to transition in-person events to the virtual space in 2020. Even when we can gather safely again, we expect to see fundraising events continue to incorporate a virtual component to increase accessibility and broaden audiences.

Still, we suspect that for many people, the novelty of participating in virtual events is wearing thin. Virtual events may not perform as well year over year, and organizations that want to pursue virtual events will need to put in the extra work to create an experience that donors will enjoy, not just endure for the sake of loyalty to the organization.

The organizations that learn how to really connect with their audiences, be their authentic selves, relax and have a little fun will continue to be successful with virtual events--as long as they aren't overdone over time,” says Anne Summers, Vice President of TW&B. “But those who continue to try to ‘shove a cocktail party dress into a zoom meeting’ are going to lose people.”

We expect the major gift fundraising for virtual events to be coordinated well in advance of the virtual event, rather than relying on the impulse participation that typically occurs during a traditional fundraising event.

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With increased need comes increased competition for funding. Many foundations will likely require additional proof of an organization’s good work. In return, we expect to see new attention on multi-year general operating support.

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In years ahead, we expect to see more blended gifts that combine outright gifts of cash with planned gift vehicles. “Blended gifts are donor centric, focus on retention and share of donor as opposed to acquisition, and are a way to overcome things like changes in tax laws and changes in the donor’s life, which often hamstring fundraising efforts,” says Ray Crosland, Adjunct Counsel for TW&B. We anticipate more fundraisers having creative discussions with their donors to help them make the impact they hope to achieve.

Additionally, if, as economists project, the market continues to increase, we can expect to see an explosion of stock gifts from major donors and a focus on identifying support from donors who give through donor-advised funds

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After the first wave of pandemic layoffs, and then to an even greater degree after George Floyd’s murder, we saw a wave of peer-to-peer gifts in 2020. Many were made outside the formal nonprofit structure, and even outside the newer crowd funding process. Instead, monetary gifts were made online to individuals via Venmo, Cashapp, Zelle and other online services to provide targeted support to individuals and families with urgent needs. Mutual aid groups sprang into being across the country to help families get groceries, do laundry, and fix bikes and cars needed to get to work; donations were sent to BIPOC content creators and educators who were spending time, expertise, and emotional labor helping white people understand the underlying issues behind George Floyd’s death.

“I expect to see these kinds of direct gifts continuing alongside more traditional nonprofit donations,” says Rebekah Silverman, Vice President of TW&B. “To me, it shows that donors are engaged, committed, and focused on impact.”

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The anti-racism protests that exploded this summer will continue to cause reverberations into the years to come. Strong cross-racial, cross-sector alliances have been forged in the non-profit world that are pushing staff, boards, and donors to examine how the "best practices" of fundraising and philanthropy can harm BIPOC communities. We expect to see more organizations making deliberate moves toward a more equitable future of the sector. Continued self-examination, collaboration, and anti-racism education are sure to be fixtures of 2021.

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When we reach whatever version of normalcy exists in a post-COVID world, donors will be reviewing their giving priorities. “Nonprofits who focus on meeting basic needs will have an opportunity to promote their respective missions and encourage new donors to support their causes,” says Dean Rein, Senior Counsel for TW&B.

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Nonprofits have been forced to pivot in innumerable ways this year, and the most successful of them will realize the successful pivots should become lasting strategies in their long-term fundraising efforts. “Organizations that thrive will realize we're not going back to 2019 again,” says Amy Funk, Senior Vice President of TW&B. “The best parts of 2020's fundraising, like creative donor cultivation and use of social media to reach your stakeholders, will need to continue.”

What are your predictions for 2021? Tell us in the comments below. 

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