Research & Reports

Fundraiser Confidence Mixed Heading Into the Fourth Quarter

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Many Fundraisers Confident About Reaching Goals, But Unsure About Long-Term Environment and Raising More Money in 2020


Fundraisers are generally confident about their fundraising success over the next three months and reaching their year-end goals, but they are less optimistic about raising more funds in 2020 compared to 2019, according to the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ (AFP) first Fundraising Confidence Survey.

The survey, based on responses from more than 650 AFP members across the United States and Canada, asks 11 short questions about how optimistic they are in various aspects of their fundraising work and what they see ahead in terms of trends and challenges. The survey was conducted in late September and early October 2020.

“We have a lot of data about how much organizations raise, what fundraising techniques and trends are becoming most popular, or how much fundraisers earn every year,” said Mike Geiger, MBA, CPA, president and CEO of AFP. “But we don’t have a lot of data about what fundraisers are thinking every day—what are they feeling, what are they optimistic about, and what is challenging them. The Fundraising Confidence Survey aims to establish some benchmarks about fundraiser optimism and concerns so we can see how confidence fluctuates throughout the year and what is keeping them up at night.”

When asked how optimistic they were about reaching their 2020 fundraising goals (on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being "least optimistic" and 10 being "most optimistic”), fundraisers are generally confident, with the average response being 6.52. The same was true when asked about the anticipated success of their fundraising over the next three months (October to December)—an average response of 6.55; and when queried about donor receptivity to fundraising communications, with an average response of 6.75 showing fundraisers believing donors are responding positively.

However, fundraisers were less confident about raising more money in 2020 than 2019, with an optimism score of just 4.89. When asked to look back on fundraising during the three most recent months, July through September 2020, 41% said they had raised less funds over that time period when compared with the same three months in 2019. Just under one-third (32%) reported raising more, 22 percent estimated about the same, and 6% were unsure.

“I think there are a few trends at play,” said Martha Schumacher, CFRE, ACFRE, MInstF, chair of AFP. “Fundraisers are expecting to raise less funds in 2020 than in 2019 because of the pandemic, and they’ve adjusted their fundraising goals accordingly. At the same time, Fundraising Effectiveness Project data (afpfep.org) showed a major uptick in giving during the second quarter, which has led to cautious optimism for the moment. Further, the fourth quarter represents the giving season, a time of year when a majority of supporters are at their most philanthropic. Along those lines, I’m especially pleased to learn that so many donors are still receptive to outreach and solicitations—that’s an important trend to watch.”

Fundraisers are also a bit more reserved about their organization’s capacity to invest in fundraising infrastructure, support, technology and other logistical and administrative needs in the next three months—the average score was 4.74. Eighty-four percent are not planning on hiring fundraising staff over the next three months. Of those that are seeking to hire, they are increasingly confident of hiring someone well qualified over the next three months (6.63), six months (7.34) and 12 months (7.76).

Future Fundraising Priorities

Respondents were also asked to indicate in which areas they were going to increase their fundraising efforts over the next three months, six months and 12 months. Donor retention and stewardship remained the most popular area over all three timeframes, averaging 60%.

Direct mail was the second-most popular choice over the next three months (58%) but was chosen by just 36% percent of respondents as a priority over the next six months, and by just 35% over the next 12 months. Online/email solicitations followed a similar pattern, chosen by 54% as a priority over the next three months, but dropped to 46% over six months and 41% over 12 months.

Conversely, major gifts were chosen as a priority by 48% of respondents over the next three months but became more popular over six months and 12 months (62 percent each time). In-person events were chosen by just 5% of respondents as a priority over three months but became more important when considering the next12 months (24%). 

“It's fascinating to see how fundraising priorities play out over the next 12 months,” said Schumacher. “For now, fundraisers seem to be thinking that over the long term, we will get back to normal, looking at the relative increased interest in in-person special events and major gifts becoming bigger priorities as the economy hopefully recovers. But donor retention must be the most important priority for charities right now, and I think it will continue to be for years to come given the potential long-term impact of the pandemic.”

Impressions on the Current Fundraising Landscape

Participants were asked to provide their own thoughts on the current fundraising environment and what they see ahead. Some of the responses included:

  • I think we will end 2020 in ok shape. 2021 is a huge question as to what we can do and how we do it. Creativity as opposed to pivoting is what should be focused on.
     
  • I work for a basic needs organization which saw a tremendous increase in unrestricted gifts during the spring due to the state lockdown and the impact of COVID-19. However, I anticipate that there was a shift in giving—many of the spring gifts were individuals who normally gave at year-end. It is uncertain whether or not they will give twice this year when they normally just give once.
     
  • Right now, I feel like the big funding focuses are on social justice and COVID-19. If you don't fall within those two categories, it is a challenge to find funding. It is SO important for us right now to have unrestricted giving. We are just trying to keep our doors open, NOT trying to run our typical programs because of health concerns.
     
  • We have lost some key sponsors of our annual events due to the COVID-19 pandemic affecting their businesses. The level of loyalty toward our mission has not changed but the financial wherewithal for some donors has. I am seeking new ways to reach out to prospective donors while engaging with current donors who have lapsed to see how they are doing during this uncertain time.
     
  • We're seeing that corporate giving might be tougher for 2021 as companies are seeing more of the impact of 2020 as they plan for the future.
     
  • I think the current landscape for organizations who have built solid relationships with donors over time is good. The same cannot be said for organizations who have been largely engaged in transactional relationships with donors. I think large special events will have a more diminished role in fund development over the next 12 months which is a good thing. I hope we see a return to fundamentals of individual cultivation, solicitation and stewardship.
     

“These quotes provide a great sample of the thoughts and comments we received in the survey,” said Geiger. “Overall, there’s a sense that many organizations will make it through 2020, but 2021 seems to be a big question mark. I agree with that assessment—this is exactly how I’ve led AFP during this year, knowing that we could get through 2020 but that 2021 would likely be an even more difficult and complicated year. I urge all organizations, if they haven’t already, to take a hard look at their finances and operations and prepare for what could be an even tougher next 12 months. That said, even more important is looking out for your staff and team and ensuring they are feeling supported from a mental and physical health perspective. Without a healthy team, none of the extraordinary impact we make as fundraisers—the impact profession—is possible.”

About the Survey

A total of 654 AFP members in the United States and Canada submitted usable response to the online survey that was available from September 28 through October 9, 2020. The survey was made available to all AFP members.

The next survey will be conducted in late November and early December 2020.

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