Where do we go from here? 6 Current Fundraising Trends

For most of us, 2020 was a tough year personally, socially, and politically. We saw communities and families torn apart by the COVID-19 pandemic, systemic racism, a divisive election, and economic turbulence. It’s made a lot of us think hard about what “normal” really means and where we want to go from here. The ripple effect of 2020 will be felt for decades. I know for a fact that if you’re a nonprofit leader you’ve had a lot on your mind as you try to support your community and staff through this challenging time. Figuring out how you’re going to fundraise for your organization is tricky in the best of times, much less in the midst of a global pandemic.

With vaccines on their way, and herd immunity on the horizon, you’re now faced with bringing everyone back together in real life - while continuing to keep the lights on. To help you strategize, here’s a list of 6 fundraising trends that aren’t going away anytime soon (and how you can put them to good use as you plan the future). Ready? Let’s jump in.

#1 Community-centered fundraising is the future

Over the past year, the concepts of community care, social justice, and mutual aid were front and center. As it turns out, you can’t get through a global pandemic on your own, it takes everyone supporting each other and taking turns caring for one another. The individual becomes less important than the community - and I believe that this idea must also extend to nonprofits if we want to achieve true sustainability and equity within our sector(s). Looking to the future, I urge us all to lead with our values first; I promise that the rest will work itself out. This isn’t a new concept - in fact there’s a national BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color)-led group known as Community Centric Fundraising who do a much better job talking about these ideas than I do. And, guess what(!), we have a Seattle chapter. Check out their amazing work here, and specifically read through the CCF’s 10 Principles to get up to speed. If you’ve been thinking a lot about what you want the new “normal” to look like - I hope you’ll take these ideas to heart.

#2 The next generation of donors is on social media

Over the next two decades we will experience the greatest wealth transfer in history. Trillions of dollars will start to change hands from Baby Boomers to Millennials and Gen Z - the process is already starting. Engaging these new generations of donors will look and feel very different than the philanthropy we’ve all been accustomed to. Controversial opinion - social media will become more important than email.

It’s important to take notice of the fact that the majority of Millennials and Gen Z are avid users of social media: we use social media to shop, communicate, read the news, play games, and so much more. While Facebook is still a good bet (and a recent influx of Boomers means that you’ll get an intergenerational audience) - platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok are the favorites of younger generations. Although some of these platforms might seem like strange new territory, they are where a majority of up-and-coming donors are spending their time and it’s never a bad idea to meet people where they are at. Before we move on - it’s also worth noting that younger generations use social media to talk about and support the issues that matter the most to us. In terms of fundraising, Gen X and Millennials tend to support organizations doing work that supports social justice, climate change, health, education, employment, and civil rights. We still love the arts; but we want art that centers our values.

#3 Virtual fundraising and new technology continues to thrive

In 2020, whether we wanted to or not, all of us working in the nonprofit sector dipped our toes into the world of digital fundraising and virtual events. And, this stuff works. Although there’s nothing like sharing an in-person experience with someone else - there’s also something to be said for skipping traffic, streamlining our approach, and attending a gala in your pajamas. There’s also the fact that virtual fundraising offers greater accessibility options such as live captioning, ASL interpreters featured on your screen, and a lack of physical barriers at the venue itself. It was also clear that options like Text-to-Give (and for that matter using text messaging as a way of reaching your donors in general) were successful. Did you know that 75% of everyday consumers said they felt comfortable receiving texts from a trusted source? Other ideas for maximizing digital fundraising include things like adding a donate button to your Instagram post, AI data tools, Facebook birthday fundraisers, hosting an online silent auction, and so much more.

#4 Diversifying your revenue streams is a smart choice

Another lesson that 2020 re-taught many of us is to not put all your eggs in one basket. Many of us already know this: don’t rely too heavily on just grants, or just donors, or just ticket sales. When you rely too much on any one funding source you’re easily knocked astray. As you think about what’s next for your fundraising, consider how you can build a diverse fundraising portfolio.

One idea is to amp up your corporate partnerships. As consumers become more thoughtful with their spending power and buying from businesses who have values alignment - it is becoming important for corporations large and small to create partnerships in the community that show where their heart is. With corporate responsibility trending, it’s a great time to build relationships with companies that you believe in - host a volunteer day, apply to new sponsorship opportunities that arise, and make sure you take advantage of matching gift opportunities. I also can’t stress this enough - all nonprofits should seek to find an earned revenue income source: earning some of your money will have significant long-term benefits to your growth and sustainability plan. One avenue I think more nonprofits could consider is corporate consulting (yet another way to build relationships in the business sector). You have a wealth of knowledge and talent that is unique to you and your organization: someone wants you to share it! Figuring out the perfect thing will likely require some creativity, but it will be worth it in the long run.

#5 Flexibility is your most important strategy

I almost feel like it’s redundant to say how important flexibility is - after all - we each just survived the year 2020. However, I also think I’d be remiss to leave it off the list. The organizations that thrived in the past year are those organizations who were nimble, adaptable, and willing to try new things.

Although I hope we won’t see another year like 2020 again in our lifetimes, I also think it’s just plain smart to be ready for anything. This brings me to one of my pet peeves about “Strategic Plans” - too often these giant multiyear documents get made and then forgotten somewhere in a Google drive never to be read again. Rather than falling into a rut, how can strategic planning be an ongoing process? How can you and your team remain adaptable? It’s good to have a roadmap, but don’t be afraid of a detour if it will yield great results.

#6 Personal relationships never go out of style

Another big lesson that was reiterated for me in 2020 is that - at the end of the day - we’re all just people. We all have dirty laundry somewhere in our house at this very moment, we all have to figure out what we’re having for dinner tonight, and generally speaking, we’re all doing the best we can at any given time. Being on Zoom with everyone for a year gave me a personal glimpse into people’s homes - their kids popped on screen, their pets made appearances, and at one point I was interviewed by a grant panelist who was sitting in front of her unmade bed.

In the midst of a global pandemic - we got through because of our relationships - not because we were perfect. When it becomes about “donors” and “funders” and less about “people” our fundraising is tracking off course. It is so important to be real with each other and to build honest, personal relationships. I’m ending with this point because it’s the hallmark of fundraising, and it will never go out of style. Being professional is great, but being the kind of person who genuinely makes other people feel seen will take you even further.

Honestly, there’s a lot more I could say about fundraising in 2021 (and aligning your revenue with your values) but I’ve said enough for one blog post. If you want to continue the conversation you can reach me at lily@scandiuzzikrebs.com. Let’s get to know one another better.