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Planning for Fundraising in 2021

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A colleague’s word of advice during a recent planning meeting provides perfect framing for preparing to fundraise in 2021. Nonprofits, she said, have a choice: View the COVID-19 pandemic as an event or as the start of a new era. If we plan for a new era and we’re wrong, we simply can revert to previous practices when the pandemic ends. However, if we view COVID as an event and we’re wrong, we will enter the future unprepared.

Here are some suggestions for preparing for a new era, starting with your fundraising planning for 2021:

First – Technology never goes backwards, and the same will be true for fundraising. Zoom (and the rest) are here to stay.

When the pandemic ends, some donors will yearn for in-person fundraising meetings and events, but others will not. This especially could be true for special events. Many donors will be glad to enjoy the special event from the comfort of their home, not having to race from work or worry if the babysitter has the kids in bed on time. COVID has allowed us to see the future, and the future of fundraising likely will be a hybrid of in-person and online meetings and special events.

Second – We need to understand the complexities of the current and post-pandemic economy or, more precisely, economies. As you hear the latest economic news, especially news about financial downturn and hardship, remember that the economy is not one-size-fits-all.

In fact, there are at least two economies. One includes people who are still working full-time and have stable incomes. The other includes people who have lost their jobs or had their pay reduced and who might not return to the full-time labor market for years.

Therefore, examine your donor database. People who remain employed can still be in a strong position to continue donating, while those hit hard by the COVID economy obviously are not. Plan your fundraising accordingly. 

Third – Where does the S&P 500 close on Dec. 31, and is that number higher or lower than 3230.78 (where the market closed on Dec. 31, 2019)? If higher, research indicates that charitable giving likely will be higher in 2021. If lower, well, the correlation unfortunately is the same.

Fourth – Continue modeling the racial diversity that the rest of society can emulate. Remain intentional about diversifying your nonprofit’s board, management, staff and donor database. Along with being the right thing to do, increased diversity increases your circle of relationships, which ultimately can increase your fundraising.

Fifth – If you do not have 100% board giving, now is the time. Fewer than half of nonprofit boards are fully engaged with fundraising, even though boards are entrusted with legal responsibility over the nonprofit. Why should others donate when board members do not lead by example?

Research reveals that communicating fundraising expectations to board members significantly increases the likelihood that they will be engaged with fundraising. One hundred percent board giving can be a wonderful New Year’s Resolution for your nonprofit.

Sixth – Stewardship of all of your donors, including those who made first-time gifts to help during the pandemic, is critical. Maintaining communication and engagement in various ways that do not always involve asking for another gift treats donors with the dignity that they deserve, while increasing the likelihood that their charitable giving will continue.

Seventh – Finally, fundraise with confidence. If your case for support was strong before the pandemic, your case for support can remain strong now and in the new era as you invite donors to join you in making the world a better place.

billBill Stanczykiewicz. Ed.D., serves as assistant dean for external relations at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, where he also directs The Fund Raising School. Bill is a member of AFP-Indiana.

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