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While the needs of fundraising organizations have grown and diversified, the techniques of fundraisers have grown stale instead of evolving. Many organizations continue to use the same strategies to secure gifts as they have for years, despite growing evidence of the need for change.
Unfortunately, because of rare but highly public unethical practices in political and politics-adjacent industries, nonprofit fundraisers today deal with a lot of issues with stigma, skepticism and mistrust. Recently, the Department of Justice began cracking down on certain matching contributions claims, as an example of the way certain ‘gimmicks’ leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.
Because of ongoing challenges, with donor trust, organizations looking to fundraise in 2021 and beyond will not be able to meet new challenges with old habits. Leaders and fundraisers need to be aware of the latest trends in the space to maximize their funding and, by extension, their impact.
Here are a few of the most important trends happening in fundraising right now and what you should do about them.
1. Retain your donors
So many fundraising initiatives focus on acquiring new donors, while not enough attention goes toward the people who have already proven their interest. Retaining your donors is one of the most effective ways to increase funding without overspending on acquisition costs of new donors.
Leaders in fundraising including Dan Pallotta, Mallory Erickson and Kivi Leroux Miller agree on the importance of retaining existing donors. Erickson makes the point that donors stick around when organizations focus on finding “Power Partners” and identifying win-win opportunities for them.
If aligned correctly from the beginning, your existing pool of donors indicate that there is something they like about your organization: your mission, your leadership, your messaging, etc. Find out what makes your donors tick by asking directly. Call, send surveys or post on community messaging boards. Find out why your best donors connect to your organization, then lean into that alignment to keep them engaged.
2. Demonstrate transparency and grace
Fundraising is rarely straightforward. Not only will you struggle to complete many of your goals, but you will likely make mistakes along the way. Be transparent about issues when they arise, but don’t fall flat over every small misstep. Instead, be graceful, accept the lesson and communicate what you will do differently next time.
The pandemic provided plenty of examples of what to do and what not to do on this subject. Take the CDC, for example. At the end of last year, the organization printed, then retracted, then removed a statement about how Covid-19 spreads through airborne transmission. The organization did not change its stance, but it was a bad look in an already tense conversation.
Stay focused on the mission throughout any communication on a faux pas. Clearly illustrate what went wrong and why, reiterate your commitment to the cause and explain what will happen next. The best part of transparency is accountability, and for fundraising purposes, remaining accountable is a must.
3. Step back to see what works
You cannot build a smart fundraising strategy if you never step back to evaluate the effectiveness of your actions. Schedule time each quarter, and preferably each month, to review specific messaging campaigns, events and other initiatives to see what landed and what did not.
Donor Search recommends tracking all the basics, like donation volume, size and retention rates, but also focuses smartly on digital engagement. In a world where fundraising can happen any time online, leaders of fundraising organizations must be digitally savvy.
Lead-tracking can be a great way to identify the best sources of new donors. Ask simple questions of event attendees in follow-up email campaigns and surveys. Invite them to download content about your organization or register for your next event. Try different ways to funnel different donor leads toward single large gifts, smaller recurring gifts or whichever arrangement you find has the highest conversion rate.
4. Ditch the perfectionism
No one gets everything right the first time. This isn’t about transparency, though. While it is important to own your mistakes, it’s also important to act decisively when you have enough information instead of waiting until it’s too late.
Have a potential lead on a big donor but your contact fell through? Do your own research and reach out directly. Want to try a new messaging strategy but not sure if the budget is worth it? Try a small test audience and see how it goes. Some of your moves will fail, but you can’t let that stop you from trying. Perfectionism will only slow you down.
Fundraising in 2021 happens in bursts of opportunity. The right moment is only a moment away, and fortune favors those who take action before stopping to work out all the details.
These trends in fundraising have arisen because new tools, new strategies and new social pressures demanded change. The older, more passive ways of fundraising will not be as effective in the months and years to come. Embrace these changes and use these tips to secure the funding your mission needs to move forward.