While 2020 demonstrates just how unpredictable life can be, the fundraising community has gained considerable experience over the past year of fundraising in this ‘new normal’. Here we round up sector experts’ predictions for fundraising in 2021.
Returning to our desks this New Year, there seems to be a distinct lull in the air; one that comes from the knowledge that we are far from free of the pandemic that prevailed during 2020.
If anything, despite the start of many national vaccine programmes, the situation seems to have worsened with the emergence of a new more contagious variant of Covid-19, death rates rising once more and strict social distancing measures firmly in place in many European nations.
Undoubtedly, it’s an extremely tough time to be in fundraising, with limitations on income generation and service delivery channels, the shift to manage teams of homeworkers and – in many cases – heavily reduced budgets and team capacity. And yet, the past year has given the nonprofit sector considerable and valuable experience of fundraising in this ‘new normal’.
What does this tell us about what lies in store for fundraising in 2021? We asked seven fundraising experts across Europe for their views and a number of common threads emerged:
Digital will remain centre stage – In a pandemic environment with limited social distance, it’s little surprise that expectations are for digital fundraising to remain centre stage, with growth in online donations, the delivery of virtual events, and better information tracking around supporters’ needs, interests and wants. Nonprofits will need to be agile, continuing to review, adapt and innovate to meet the changing needs of supporters and beneficiaries alike.
But digital cannot replace traditional channels or personal contact – It’s clear that digital channels are not expected to replace offline fundraising and supporter engagement activity. The challenge will be for nonprofits to make the best of both worlds; ensuring that online tools can be used to enhance and complement the personal contact that is so effective in traditional fundraising.
Authentic relationship fundraising is key – Now more than ever, the focus lies with building relationships with supporters and doing so in a way that is authentic to the organisation; in keeping with its values. The public continues to donate generously, despite the fact that many are facing their own financial challenges and fundraisers recognise the need to strengthen donor retention and engagement strategies. And while corporate giving is expected to drop in many markets this year, new ways of working with corporate partners, funders and volunteers are likely to emerge.
Creative fundraising will be all the more valued – Charities demonstrated in 2020 just how inventive and creative they can be, rising to the challenge of engaging supporters and articulating the needs of beneficiaries in a Covid world. It is anticipated that this creativity will continue to be all the more valued by supporters as they face lengthy periods of monotony in lockdown.
Fundraising experts’ viewpoints
Ilja De Coster, senior fundraising & data strategist and vice-president of the Fundraisers Alliance Belgium, questions whether fundraisers will act on and embed learnings from the pandemic in their programmes, bolstering reserves and building donor retention or whether we’ll see a return to old ways.
Predicting the future was never so hard. It can go in two directions. The optimist in me anticipates that fundraisers did learn from the crisis, did fine tune their fundraising techniques, strengthen their financial reserves to cover future crises and will from now on really focus on donor relations and retention. The pessimist in me predicts a return to business as usual, nothing learned and keeping the same old human arrogance of untouchability. Just waiting till the next crisis will hit us again.
My main hope, after this period with a lack of real human interaction, is we will not just simplistically fully embrace online as a surrogate, but will find a clever combo of online and offline, re-emphasising the value of real human contact in fundraising.
Siri Nodland, secretary general of the Norwegian Fundraising Association, anticipates that people will become even more charitable and fundraisers will look to make even better use of digital tools to strengthen supporter relationships, but that corporate giving will suffer.
When the pandemic started, we worried about how the donors would react: Would they have the capacity to care for others than their closest family and friends? Would their personal economic loss prevent them from donating as before?
Fundraising throughout Europe varies, but the signals we have been getting from our colleagues are unanimous; we are all willing to help the most needy during a global pandemic.
Fundraising in 2021 will undoubtably continue on the path we have seen in 2020. People have become more charitable and caring. Fundraisers will use digital tools, and together we will demand that we are given donor data so we can say thank you and follow up with information about how the donation is put to use.
If the economy continues to be affected by the pandemic, we will see a drop in corporate donations and sponsorships. We do however, strongly believe that private donors will engage and even increase their donations.
Foundations will continue their funding of the voluntary sector, but we must engage more closely with them so that their programmes coincide better with our own and our need for funding.
Simona Biancu, vice president of the Italian Fundraising Association (ASSIF) emphasises the importance of continuing the growth of digital fundraising tools, normalising newer forms of giving, and of managing donor relationships ‘authentically.’
2020 saw a significant change in the Italian fundraising industry: the growth of digital fundraising together with a solid increase of spontaneous forms of giving from people both in response to Covid-19 first but also to support further, non-emergency causes.
In light of continued uncertainty in 2021, the opportunity of developing new technologies and normalising digital fundraising tools will be, in our opinion, among the most important trends that will mark the year that has just begun.
Italian nonprofit organisations have increasingly seen that investing in donor care, even through digital vehicles, really can pay off in the long term and is a true strategic and structural tool.
The growth and direction of Italian fundraising will rely on these two elements: investment in digital fundraising as an important, but additional method of fundraising – rather than an alternative to traditional methods and, last but not least, managing donor relationships authentically and with great care, not just at the time of giving.
Fernando Morón, managing director of the Spanish Fundraising Association (AEFr), cites the importance of continued innovation with digital, finding new ways to appeal to supporters and captivate them with the cause.
The fundraising sector in Spain faces various challenges in 2021, beyond knowing what the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic will be.
Spanish organisations know very well the virtues of regular giving, which allow them to achieve economic sustainability in the medium term, but it is a model that grows more slowly each year.
It will be necessary to bet on innovation; to appeal to new supporters interested in our causes and organisations and that means finding new ways of relating to citizens, new models of corporate partnership, new ways for the public to collaborate with nonprofits and new ways of communicating with society, both in terms of channel and messaging.
And in all these challenges, digital channels are going to play an essential role. For this, it is necessary to define clear digital fundraising strategies, to develop standardised success measures, to know not only which tool to use, but how to integrate digitalisation at all levels of the organisation, within and beyond fundraising.
But traditional channels remain hugely important and we have to be aware that digital fundraising will co-exist with offline fundraising for many, many years to come.
Liz Hughes, CEO of Charities Institute Ireland (Cii), also highlights the need for nonprofits to innovate and adapt, offering virtual events and creative campaigns to counteract the confines of lockdown. But she also underlines the importance of not limiting the field to digital, continuing to hone other skillsets to build engagement with supporters, funders and corporate partners.
During such a challenging period of uncertainty, adaptability and agility are key and Irish charities are responding to the current fundraising crisis by diversifying their fundraising strategies and ensuring that they are not overly reliant on one form of fundraising over another.
The significant and necessary shift to digital platforms has had a positive impact on changing donors’ perceptions of giving through this channel. While charities look forward to the safe return of face-to-face events, many charities adapted quickly and indeed successfully to the new online world, a digital presence is central to any future fundraising strategy. We envisage that virtual events will take centre stage during 2021 with donors keen to see creative, interesting and new forms of fundraising to ease the monotony of lockdowns and social distancing.
Members of Cii have also been sharing successes and disappointments through the frequent heads of fundraising huddles during 2020. Charities in Ireland have seen an increased pool of grants available to them so grant writing is a skill that will be in demand now and into the future. Most fundraisers agree that monthly donors are by far the most valuable. Many of our members that do not have an established regular giving programme see 2021 as a good time to start.
While digital fundraising will take centre stage in 2021, charities can take this time to hone other skills such as grant writing, legacy giving, storytelling, virtual volunteering opportunities, developing their brand and engaging with their corporate partners in a more meaningful purpose-driven way.
Pia Tornikoski, secretary general of Finnish fundraising association (VaLa), predicts that nonprofits will find new ways of working with volunteers for fundraising, engaging their support as ambassadors on social media channels.
The COVID period has been hugely challenging for fundraising and that’s likely to remain the case for much of 2021. Many fundraising events are cancelled and nonprofits are seeing heavy losses of admission sales and revenue from raffles in Finland. There’s been major leaps in digital fundraising and during Christmas some of the traditional collections and campaigns have been more successful than previous years.
The growth of digital fundraising is certain to continue throughout 2021, but I’m also expecting to see continued innovation around the way that charities work with volunteers for fundraising.
Without the ability to attend meetings in person, we are having to develop different ways in which volunteers can support income generation, such as serving as the organisation’s ambassadors and messengers on social media. We need to continue to develop new ways of engaging and working with volunteers.
Günther Lutschinger, CEO of Fundraising Verband Austria, expects that face-to-face fundraising will be difficult to carry out in the first half of the year, but that it will return as a vital supporter recruitment channel before too long. Meanwhile, he foresees continued growth in online tools and legacy fundraising, with solidarity at its height.
The need for fundraising in the sector will continue to increase, with cultural and scientific organisations, becoming even more relevant (particularly for major donors).
Public fundraising will remain difficult in the first half of the year, but it will remain an important way of recruiting supporters and in the second half of the year we hope to see it become the norm once more.
Online tools continue to grow strongly and virtual events will become more widely established. They are likely to continue to play a role in the long term, and we expect growth from legacy fundraising. It will be a difficult year for corporate fundraisers as cuts are expected in the economy. Direct mail and telephone remain stable in the market.
The amount donated will continue to increase in 2021, as the need for charities and their work has become all the more clear. Despite the sense of growing dissatisfaction in society, solidarity remains high. And that is good news for fundraisers and charities alike.
Without doubt, 2020 has left a heavy mark on nonprofits. The sector is irrevocably changed, with many charitable organisations not having been able to survive and others in desperate need for funds. 2021 will continue to challenge the sector’s resilience and likely require immense agility and flexibility for fundraising. And yet, it comes with the hindsight and experience of living many months of uncertainty during a global pandemic. It has brought about a renewed sense of unity and commitment across the sector..
Despite the diverse array of nations and cultures in Europe, the sector feels a step closer, more collaborative than in the past. And 2021 brings new hope that both the public’s charitable spirit and the sector’s drive to adapt and survive will not only overcome adversity, but will see creativity and innovation flourish.
Image credit: Photo by Hannah Jacobson on Unsplash
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