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TechSoup's Fundraising Forecast and Recommendations for 2021

All indications are that much of 2021 will be another lean pandemic year in nonprofit fundraising. NIH director Francis Collins said on the PBS Newshour recently, "let's be prepared for the fact that life is not going to feel like it did in 2019 for another year." The one silver lining is that after all these months of dealing with COVID 19 conditions, there is a pretty clear pandemic fundraising playbook now. Below, we'll summarize what TechSoup discovered this past year about what is in that playbook so that your organization can thrive and prosper in 2021.

drawing of three women sitting on or stacking piles of gold coins

Reports from Around the Sector

The Association of Fundraising Professionals Forecast

The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) did a survey of 850 U.S.-based fundraisers this past summer and found that most respondents report raising less money in 2020 than they did last year and that in 2021, they expect to raise less money than they do in a typical year. Fundraisers are increasing their reliance on distance and virtual activities and increasing their donor retention and stewardship activities. Social media and other online fundraising campaigns are key to the new playbook as well as aggressive email activities.

Ben Miller in his AFP article Charitable Giving in Times of Fear and Uncertainty says that "if we look at what happened during the Great Recession, giving to nonprofits remained steady, with only slight declines over the entire period. He continues: "When the current crisis ends, history will show that the most successful nonprofits continued to ask for donations, although likely in a different way. Those nonprofits who go 'silent' or attempt to give their donors a break will likely see the same results as others before them — and suffer or even go out of business as a result."

Daniel Mansoor's Forecast

Daniel Mansoor's cautionary piece, The End of Fundraising as We've Known It, on Candid, describes what is going on with donors these days. Individual donors are still very important to fundraising. Giving USA finds that 68 percent of U.S. charitable contributions are from individuals. Mansoor describes growing giving fatigue, solicitation fatigue, and attention fatigue. He summarizes recommendations for overcoming these issues. "When we ask people to act generously, we need a new approach. Write so the reader feels they've been told a personal story or that they've been provided with your personal perspective. People seek empathy, they seek fun, and they seek meaning."

Ronen Tal, director of integrated marketing and fundraising at Nature Conservancy of Canada, concurs. A recent Wild Apricot piece featuring him recommends some new techniques for direct mail fundraising, most importantly to share emotionally compelling stories, not statistics.

Michael Stein's Playbook

Michael Stein's great piece on TechSoup, Nonprofit Fundraising in the Age of Uncertainty, has one of the best distillations of the pandemic fundraising playbook. These are his recommendations in a nutshell:

  • Continue to focus on donor cultivation and stewardship
  • Keep strengthening and adapting your case for giving
  • Embrace contact-free fundraising events
  • Empower your supporters to help you
  • Get your digital house in order

In this last point, Michael Stein recommends getting your website as user-friendly and compelling as possible. Mark Phillips of Bluefrog Fundraising in the U.K. amplifies Michael Stein's point: "Donors want their most trusted charitable partners to have their house in order. You need to show how you have planned for the next stage of the pandemic and are ready to deliver services to those in need. Remember that your supporters are counting on you to deliver key services — they don't want to have to worry about you as well!"

Also in Michael Stein's playbook is the critical need for charities to continually test your messaging. He explains how to do basic email and website message testing in his How Nonprofits Can Improve Their Digital Engagement with Testing.

Try Something New

Peer-to-Peer Fundraising

Karen Graham in her post Fundraising Software Trends in 2020 recommends trying peer-to-peer fundraising. "Versatile peer-to-peer fundraising tools are more common. About half the currently available donor management systems either have native peer-to-peer features or integration with a peer-to-peer platform. This method of fundraising, which was already popular for in-person events, might become even more prevalent in its virtual form as we approach the end of 2020. That's because people are becoming more comfortable with asking friends and responding to those requests, and it's a replacement for in-person events." Shay Lessman's Tips for Hosting a Virtual Peer-to-Peer Event provides some practical information on how to host such an event.

The new killer app for peer-to-peer fundraising is GoFundMe Charity. This new charity giving platform requires no upfront costs, contracts, or subscription fees to nonprofits.

In addition, the GoFundMe Donate Button service allows you to put a free donate button on your website or social media posts. The button can be customized with suggested donation amounts, branding, and color to fit your site.

SMS Messaging

Matt Scott of CauseMic and Jacob Talbot of Twilio.org recommend trying out some SMS messaging to your supporters. SMS is short for "short message service," but we all know and rely on them as text messages on our cellphones. Mobile fundraising is still a new frontier for many charities, and using SMS messaging is a very reasonable place to start. This is a form of mobile fundraising. For the larger view of this burgeoning field, see Rahul Varshneya's What Your Nonprofit Needs to Know About Mobile Fundraising for tips on how to get going with SMS outreach and also other important elements of mobile fundraising like offering mobile payments.

Optimizing Your Website for Mobile Devices

If you haven't already done so, optimizing your website so that it works well on small screens will be super useful in developing your multichannel marketing. TechSoup partner Wix offers affordable mobile optimized sites without any technical knowledge.


The latest M+R Benchmark Study finds that Facebook fundraising is on the rise. Facebook giving now accounts for 3.5 percent of all online revenue. For more on how to use Facebook, see Zerreen Kazi's Facebook Fundraising Can Help You Raise Donations in More Ways than One.

Live-Stream Fundraising

Here's another interesting idea courtesy of Lisa Winger of MobileCause, who is doing live-streamed concert fundraising events. So many of us have gotten used to live-streamed music events, and one reason we like them is to support local artists. These virtual benefit fundraisers are well worth considering.

Final Thoughts

We at TechSoup really truly want you to thrive in the coming challenging year. Here are some final thoughts.

Do whatever you can to get your ratings as high as possible on GuideStar and Charity Navigator. These rating services are where many prospective donors go to research your organization's reputation. The more information that you provide to GuideStar, for instance, the better your GuideStar Seal of Transparency will be. It's not difficult to get or gold or silver seal. Also check out Tina Jepson's How to Update Your Nonprofit's Charity Navigator Profile on CauseVox.

To keep your organization lean and efficient, we recommend having a look at veteran philanthropist Mario Morino's Guidance for Nonprofit Leaders on Surviving the Next Year. Here is some of what he advises:

  • Inventory your funding sources
  • Map out a realistic cash-flow projection
  • Contingency plan for shortfalls
  • Accelerate and increase your digital transformation

Of course, keep a close watch for new government relief programs and also government, foundation and corporate grant opportunities. TechSoup partners Fluxx Grantseeker and GrantStation offer affordable grant prospecting services.

May we all live long and prosper.

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