In January I wrote our most read blog post to date: 8 FUNDRAISING TRENDS FOR 2020. Now we’re collecting results and reviewing the trends. Here’s what we’re seeing:

1. Storytelling will grow in importance. Storytelling has been a fad, a popular word in the past few years in nonprofits. This year, storytelling will become more mainstream. We all know how important it is to provide donors and prospects with a compelling case for support. Nothing could be more compelling than an intimate personal story of a beneficiary of the work of your nonprofit. Collect stories from your board members and volunteers and from those you serve. Share those stories in print, online, on the phone and in person. Donors with an emotional connection to your organization will dig deeper and stay longer in support of the great work you do.

Still true. Make sure you show how your nonprofit is responding to COVID 19 and update your stories accordingly. Think about how you are contacting your donors. My husband and I support a myriad of nonprofit organizations. We have received a lot of emails and texts. I can count on one hand the number of organizations that have called us to see how we are doing. I am seeing an uptick in direct mail. I am going to monitor that to see if it is becoming a trend to replace personal solicitation.

Effective storytelling goes beyond the tale of an individual who has been positively impacted by a nonprofit.  It needs to have a focus on creating a relationship between the nonprofit and the donor.  It does not have to be a written relationship either.  In Atlanta nonprofit, The Lighthouse’s recent “Virtual Happy Hours,” two of their brightest and most enthusiastic front-line employees talk about how to pick glasses that are right for you.  The viewers and donors really bonded with the two of them.  Do not overlook the value of creating a connection between the nonprofit’s front line and the donor.

2. Development turnover will continue to escalate. The average nonprofit development officer has a 14-month tenure. That is not healthy for the organization or the individual’s career. One of the services we provide at Our Fundraising Search is assisting organizations with the search process for development officers. Whereas this process, from the posting of the position to the signed contract with the new hire, used to take 6-8 weeks, the process is now taking twice as long. There are just not enough qualified development candidates to go around to all the nonprofits desperately needing this type leadership. Plan ahead for staffing at your nonprofit. Have succession plans in place, provide professional development opportunities to your current employees, and budget to pay salaries appropriate for the level of expertise required. As we counsel our search clients, hire the most qualified development candidates you can afford, and then be nice to them.

Sad, but still true. No one could have predicted the layoffs and furloughs and unemployment we are now seeing. Nonprofits must try to balance their budgets, but we recommend keeping development officers on the job, remotely of course, during this critical time.

Resumes are flowing in well above the usual mark. We have an average of 1200 resumes on any given day-not all of them are qualified. For instance, we received our first applicant for Director of Development this week whose prior job was as a hairstylist. 

Large organizations have instituted hiring freezes, furloughs, or layoffs in their development teams. Small to medium-sized organizations, many of our clients, have small development staffs. We are still hiring. Organizations still need someone to execute the development efforts.

Turnover in the field will likely get worse. Smart organizations do not let good revenue producers go. Weathering these turbulent waters also requires strong leadership in both the executive ranks and the board. 

3. More nonprofits will migrate toward an emphasis on major gifts. While all of us must remember the fundraising basics of annual giving, successful nonprofits will place more emphasis on major gifts in 2020. It is the fastest way to raise more money. And keep in mind that major gift prospects each deserve their own strategy. Define a value for a major gift for your institution and set a goal for dollars raised and number of major donors. Major gifts should be a focus of the CEO and the top development officers and most skilled volunteers. Choose prospects wisely, provide training to all solicitors, and make them accountable for best results.  Evaluate your progress and repeat. That is the recipe for major gifting.

True. Your annual fund may suffer in 2020, your focus for fundraising should be on retaining your major donors. Stewardship is the key. Keep your top donors up to date on your nonprofit activities. Be honest and do not forget to ask.

4. Accurate donor research will be even more critical to nonprofits in 2020. If you intend to launch or advance your nonprofit major gifts program in 2020, you will need access to high quality donor data at your fingertips. This is the same public information that I used to have to troop down to the courthouse to look up individually and the process should be nonthreatening to your organization leaders. If you do not already subscribe to an online service, check out DonorSearch. Our Fundraising Search offers clients a significant discount from the normal subscription rate. Imagine unlimited access to reliable information on your donors and prospects. Happy prospecting!

Still true. Luckily, this type of work can definitely be done remotely.

5. Nonprofits will appear more political – whether they intend to or not. 2020 is an election year. Our conversations public and private are filled with comments and opinions on candidates and issues. Be wary of saying anything too controversial to your constituents that may be considered taking a position on one side or the other. Double up your efforts to fulfill the mission and goals of your organization being careful not to take any political stance that might offend your donors and prospects and thwart your fundraising efforts. Your goal is to be still operating after the election, no matter which side wins the election in November.

True. The only topics being covered in the news these days: pandemic and/or politics. Stay focused on your mission.

6. Volunteering will be up, giving may not be. Nonprofits should continue to be creative in finding more ways for corporations and individuals to be involved in the organization. Donating hours of time is much easier to do and especially appealing to young people. So, do not forget to collect volunteer information, thank them for their time and then ASK at the appropriate time. We are constantly looking to identify the right person to ask the right prospect for the right gift for the right project at just the right time. This is the development cycle. If we do not ask, we are less likely to receive future gifts. The volunteers will move along with their friends to the next volunteer opportunity. Offer gratitude for gifts of time and treasure. Steward your volunteers into donors.

Here is the one trend where we diverge. None of us could have foreseen this. But volunteering is and will continue to decline until it is safe for people to venture out in groups. Stay in touch with your volunteers. Strategize how you might engage them remotely for your organization. Ask for their financial support. Your focus should be on individuals as corporate giving will definitely drop into the foreseeable future. 

But here is the good news about giving!

Fidelity Charitable recently worked with Artemis Strategy Group to survey over 1,800 adults in the U.S. who donated at least $1,000 to charity in 2019. The results are pleasantly surprising:

Twenty-five percent of respondents expected their financial giving to increase in 2020. The primary reasons given for the increase in funding were the increased need and the desire to assist in times of trouble.

A majority of respondents (54%) reported that COVID-19 will have no impact on their philanthropic giving.

That is better than I had hoped for, but we at Our Fundraising Search will continue to monitor those stats.

7. Partnering is a great strategy for 2020. I am of the opinion that there may be too many nonprofits. Some will and should go out of business if they are not providing quality resources for the community or if there is redundancy in services. When someone I meet wants to start a new nonprofit, I usually try to discourage them and instead help them identify other organizations with whom they might partner to meet their mutual goals. You do not have to limit your partnerships with like or competing organizations. Think outside the box. Can a school partner with a museum? Can a faith-based organization partner with a health-care organization? Funders love this model. There are 1.2 million nonprofits in the U.S. Which organizations and individuals can you partner with this year?

Unfortunately, this year there will be a number of nonprofits go out of business. The ones that survive will be the ones that had a strong financial base, a financial reserve, and/or an endowment. They will be the ones that have an extra compelling case for support, equally strong leadership, and a vibrant fundraising plan. 

Weathering these turbulent times also requires strong, smart leadership in both the executive ranks and the board. Well-endowed organizations can still be forced to close by doing nothing, or worse, doing the wrong things. Organizations that are in denial or believe that things are going to go back to the “old normal” are in trouble, no matter how sound their finances might be.

Partnering is still an option for consideration. Let’s be creative for all our sakes.

8. A cross-cultural perspective will be in high demand in the corporate world as well as in nonprofits. The world is changing. Your nonprofit supporters want to see board members and staff members who look like themselves. Your organizational leadership should be aware of, adapt to, and make a conscious effort to provide that diversity. At least some of your team members should be able to speak another language and understand donor motivations of varying cultures. Make your compelling case for funding but express it in different ways. Offer training to staff and volunteers, nurture, and mentor. Some cultures do not understand professional compensation, the relevance of prospect research and planned giving may not be a focus. Know your audience. Be specific about who you are trying to reach. They want to be involved, they want to be asked, they want to be informed and engaged. They want to be thanked and recognized appropriately. Relationship building is key. You might try focus groups and listening sessions. Offer travel opportunities, study the history and culture of other places as it relates to your nonprofit mission and goals and your target audience. We have to transform ourselves first. Our granters will request it and our donors will require it.

True. Diversity is still an important consideration for your nonprofit in terms of donors, volunteers, staffing and programming. So, we may not offer travel opportunities for a while. Do not let your diversity efforts flag now.

Eight may not be the luckiest number in any culture this year. We at Our Fundraising Search are still grateful to our clients and friends and for our health. We are fortunate to be able to continue to offer our services remotely. We have perfected the remote search and are no longer limiting our services to the Atlanta area. How can your organization pivot and improve and creatively reach your mission and goals? We hope you will remain positive and keep pushing. We are all in this together. We will persevere.