Incorporating Last Year’s Lessons into 2021 End-of-Year Fundraising Plans

Whenever fall approaches, the professional fundraiser in me starts a long running list that will last precisely until January 1st: end of year fundraising is here. In the past I have been guilty of launching into end of year fundraising without reflecting upon the previous year.  As we enter the season of fundraising known as “end of year,” I’d like to take a moment to capture some of what 2020’s [unprecedented, unusual, unique] end of year fundraising taught me.  Here are a few of the lessons learned in 2020 that have stuck with me in 2021, hopefully they can help you as throughout the last quarter of 2021.  

What we know, or think we know, still matters

While 2020 brought many new lessons, it also reminded us that what we already know still matters. First and foremost, individuals still make up the lion’s share of donations to charity. We know that people give to people, donors are inspired when they believe they can make an impact. –  Last year, individuals’ donations represented the largest portion of donations, “Giving in Unprecedented Times, GivingTuesday, 2020.”   

It is true, the way individuals gave last year was a different, with online giving growing by 21% year over year (2020 Charitable Giving Report, Blackbaud). And 2020 saw an increase in giving directly to individuals through informal means and through crowdfuding. But people who gave directly to others also gave to charity (“Giving in Unprecedented Times, GivingTuesday, 2020″). The increase in giving directly to individuals, contrary to what some believe, is not a sign that nonprofits have lost trust –it’s an unknown.   

What we know is this: gifts from individuals, no matter how they are directed, are driven by a sense of generosity. My first recommendation is to enter your end of year giving with a mindset of abundance. When you hear of a donor supporting an individual – celebrate their generosity. When a donor gives to your campaign – celebrate their generosity. Asha Curran, was recently quoted in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, “Giving begets giving. Generosity begets generosity. It is a value, not a commodity.” (“What Drives Direct Giving and Why it Matters to Nonprofits” Chronicle of Philanthropy.) 

Crowdfunding (in all its forms) is here to stay

According to GivingTuesday’s survey of 2020 donors one in three people gave directly to a person in need rather than a charity (“Giving in Unprecedented Times, GivingTuesday, 2020″).  That same survey found those in the Millennial and Z generation were likely to see crowdfunding for individuals, political donations, and charitable giving as the same. And, of those who donated to crowdfunding (of any type) in 2020, when surveyed they indicated they planned to give to crowdfunding again 2021 and will likely increase their donation amount.   

This is powerful information because it is actionable, and it can inform your end of year strategy for 2021. Donors are no longer happy with a simple reply envelope, or a one-way online donation form. The last quarter of 2020 showed us, supporters want to engage in your mission beyond the donation, they want to be personally involved. If you are not crowdfunding, there is no better time to start. 

If you are already crowdfunding, start with last year’s donors. Ask them to be the among the first to donate and increase the suggested donation amount. An example letter might say, “Good news! We’ve launched our efforts early this year and we want you to be the first to know! Our records show you supported these efforts last year- thank you! Will you help make this year a success by donating early? We suggest a gift of <last years gift x2> to help us reach the goal. Your donation will ______”  

Your donor should and will look different

Another thing that encouraged me about 2020’s end of year fundraising is that the “typical donor” is beginning to look different. For instance, in past Pew Studies, Millennials were not donating at a similar rate as other generations and there was a fear that this was an indicator of the generation’s attitude toward charity. This group showed positive attitudes toward charity in 2020 and the average Millennial household increased their donations in the last quarter of the year (“Giving in Unprecedented Times, GivingTuesday, 2020″). Millennials are only just now coming into disposable income to donate. Your donor to this year’s end of year campaign will look different.  

Age of the donor is only one factor in the ways the donor pool is starting to change. It is no secret that the organizations that weathered the last 18+ months are those with diverse and inclusive donor bases. To grow and sustain a diverse donor pool ensure your solicitation channels are varied and inclusive. When and where you can, find ways to tell your organization’s story in diverse ways. Diversity can include religion, social economic status, ways of thinking, forms of story- telling, etc. For segmentation, an easy way to start is by age (or graduation year) and ask those segments in their late 20s and 30s to be part of this year’s success. Try a s simple, straightforward ask “give more than you did last year.” 

Celebrate the non-financial gifts

One thing from 2020 that has stayed with me is that generosity comes in countless forms: donations of food to a community table, piles of pet food for those who are facing financial difficulty, signs of encouragement made by children, timed serenades of gratitude, sharing of personal stories/testimony, the list of non-financial gifts made in 2020 is endless. (And most likely outnumber the number of donations received in 2020.) Philanthropy should not be limited to those in a privileged socio-economic class.  

As part of your end of year fundraising, let me encourage you to be intentional about the ways you structure the invitation to support your mission. How will you invite participants to give in ways beyond the financial? Is your organization prepared to graciously accept what supporters can give? The gifts of time, talent, treasure, testimony is not to be underestimated. (To think of personal stories as a gift is powerful!) It could be as complex as a story sharing event or as simple as an additional line on your reply slip where someone can sign up to volunteer.  

As we enter yet another nose-to-the-wall, can’t-look-up, end-of-year-busy-season, let us remember every community has something to give and our jobs as fundraisers is to celebrate all gifts from all people in all their forms.