Key Takeaways from the 2021 ANA Nonprofit Federation Winter Conference

Environmental Impacts on Fundraising in 2020

One thing that we can all agree on is that 2020 was “unprecedented” (yes, I said it) in so many ways. Now that it’s behind us, we can reflect on how the nonprofit landscape reacted to the challenging and dynamic environment we were faced with as well as what trends are emerging as we press forward.

Two weeks ago, I attended my first virtual conference of the year — the 2021 ANA Nonprofit Federation Winter Conference. As you can imagine, a virtual conference is quite different from being live — no large exhibit halls, no in-person networking, no picking which sessions to attend, and only remote opportunities to catch up with colleagues and partners. Despite the change in format, which was done quite well, I was able to take away some great insights that seemed to echo across many of the sessions.

Maintain the Course During Times of Uncertainty

Despite everything displayed in the above graphic, the nonprofit industry reports positive movement. More people at home led to a larger captive audience, with more mail opened and more eyes on digital channels. According to the Q2 2020 results of the Blackbaud donorCentrics Index of Direct Marketing Fundraising report:

  • New donors increased 17% by the end of Q3 2020.
  • Online fundraising increased for large nonprofits 7.2% by the end of Q3 2020.
  • Revenue increased 8.5% by the end of Q3 2020.

These stats drive home the importance of maintaining fundraising efforts throughout uncertain times. Our first impulse may be to stop asking for donations and to wait until things calm down, but it is key to stay calm and press forward. Yes, pull back some while evaluating and making necessary pivots, but DON’T STOP. Focus on continuity while remaining sincere and authentic.

  • Communicate the important work your organization is still doing to serve the community and that donor support is still needed.
  • If the designation of funds will be adjusted to address a need brought about by the crisis being faced, it is important to communicate that fundraising efforts are changing while remaining true to your mission. For example:
    • A cancer institute might communicate that a portion of donations will go toward COVID-19 research, which poses a threat to high-risk populations such as those facing cancer.
    • A public health organization may be increasing efforts to address racial disparities in healthcare and outcomes.
  • Maintain stewardship efforts. It is important to stay top-of-mind with constituents as they may be making difficult choices on where to donate during a period of high unemployment and uncertainty.
    • Increase appreciation and affirmation messaging across all segments, including mid-level, new donors, multiyear, and multi-givers.
    • Create opportunities for constituents to engage other than donating and volunteering.
    • If fundraising is down, focus efforts on lower-cost channels, such as emails, digital media, and even telephone calls.

Maintain Momentum with Grateful Patient Audiences and COVID-19 Donors

Now is a great time to evaluate your grateful patient efforts and ramp up where possible. Over the next couple of years, it is expected that these programs will see marked growth as grateful patient donors and prospects will not forget the impacts of the pandemic and the selfless sacrifices of healthcare heroes for quite some time.

Another key audience to focus on is first-time COVID-19 donors. It is important not to assume that these donors will not continue to give. Multiple organizations are reporting that this segment gave big and reflects a larger percentage of the population than past disaster donors.

Entering planning for the next fiscal year and/or fall, it is recommended that these audiences are included in your acquisition, stewardship and multi-conversion efforts. Due to the substantial increases in new donor quantities, make sure you take the important step to model or segment the file to optimize ROI, and adjust for higher budgets, not just looking at historical quantities. Where there are budget constraints, consider maximizing digital channels, which leads into our final takeaway.

Increase Multichannel Digital Efforts

Use the spring and summer to test into the feasibility of increasing your organization’s digital focus. These tests will enable your organization to gain learnings that can be used to optimize digital strategy, ensuring a maximum overall return on investment (ROI).

Not surprisingly, over the past year, we saw younger, more diverse donors engage with organizations through digital channels. Surprisingly, there was a big increase in digital donations from the largest donor group, 65+ donors. While they are usually averse to online giving, this behavior changed dramatically in 2020 due to the pandemic driving most businesses online. It remains to be seen if this forced behavior change will shift a large percentage of the 65+ age group to primarily digital donors.

“… the crisis compressed the rate of adoption in digital behaviors … which had already been evolving, from years to weeks.”

McKinsey & Co.

It is recommended to test into increasing reach and budget within digital channels to continue to increase organization awareness and conversions, meeting donors where they are currently — online. These digital tests will provide the ability to learn where specific audience segments will continue to engage and convert as the environment begins to stabilize.

When looking at digital performance, a lot of organizations fail to consider that donors are multi-device and multi-network users who respond more favorably to a campaign with exposure to several touchpoints. Remember that it is key to look at not only direct click-thru conversions, but also at view-thru conversion and even digital matchbacks to determine where the inclusion of digital touchpoints provided a lift in overall conversion.

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