One year into a pandemic, change is here to stay

What we’ve learned and how to move forward

Last March, as the impacts of the coronavirus lockdowns were just beginning to be seen, we wrote here imploring nonprofits to hunker down, stay true to the mission, and keep on fundraising. It’s been a wild ride since then, but as the world starts to open back up, now is a good time to revisit that sentiment — and to craft a strong plan to move forward. 

A year ago, many nonprofits were in panic mode. Assessing staff safety and fearing an economic crisis made for a nerve-wracking few months. Strategy and practices changed on a dime. “Nimble” “Agile” and “Pivot” were the words of the day. Although it certainly hasn’t been easy, most nonprofits have found creative solutions and carried on their essential work. Some have even thrived more in 2020 than in previous years.

In fact, across the board, Michigan’s nonprofits have fared remarkably well. The 2021 Michigan Fundraising Climate Survey, as reported in Crain’s Detroit Business, found that the majority of the state’s nonprofits saw an increase in donors last year. 71% of those surveyed said that the effect of the pandemic on their fundraising was neutral or positive. 

But behind these positive results there is a significant difference in the source of this revenue. For many organizations, larger gifts from their core group of donors were the key to meeting or exceeding fundraising goals: bigger donors stepped up and took up the slack from the smaller individual donors who paused their support. 

In addition to this shift there was a significant increase of donations through online giving. E-commerce adoption has advanced dramatically during the pandemic. During the first 90 days of the pandemic, we vaulted forward 10 years in digital adoption. Most of our clients saw 50% increases in gifts made through their website and social media channels.

Now it’s time to reconnect with those individual donors and solidify the new donor relationships. 53% of nonprofit respondents in the survey reported new donors in 2020. Each new donor presents an opportunity to convert them to consistent supporters. This means now is the time to reimagine your current communications approach and keep your mission front and center in the eyes of your new and lapsed individual donors. 

Although most nonprofits reported increased giving last year, many do fear a slowdown in the coming months. As Jeff Williams, director of the community data and research lab at Grand Valley State University's Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy, told Crain’s Detroit Business: "In the Great Recession we saw the greatest nonprofit attrition three to four years after the event, so we don't know whether we escaped by the skin of our teeth or whether we are in the calm before the storm." So while we’ve weathered the storm of the past year, there may be rough and uncertain times ahead.

We’re looking at challenges in event planning for a few more months yet, as we wait for more vaccine availability and venues start to reopen. The shift from virtual to in-person events and work won’t take place all at once. For a little longer, nonprofits will need to adapt and improvise. 

That’s why now is an important time to step back, survey your organizations evolution of the past year, think outside the box and reassess the best path forward. No matter the changes ahead, though, fundraising and marketing strategies will always prosper if you focus on the needs of your donors and strengthening their relationship with your organization.

Mark M Gaskill
Mark M Gaskill

EVP of Marketing Solutions

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