Rescue mission fundraising priorities in 2021

What are the priorities for leaders of rescue missions and other Christian charities that work with the poor and those experiencing homelessness?

Because of the fundraising and marketing work we do with nonprofits here at Masterworks, we’re blessed to serve at the crossroads of many different Christian ministries. Over the past few weeks, we’ve spent time with leaders from the nation’s leading rescue ministries. Here is what’s on their minds:

Donor acquisition

New donor counts were up by an average of 86% in 2020 for the rescue ministries we serve, making this last year one of the best in decades for new donor acquisition. One ministry leader shared that they saw their donor file grow by nearly 18,000 donors in 2020. For rescue ministries that saw tremendous growth in 2020, investing in acquiring new donors in 2021 is a priority.

For our clients, we are focused on optimizing and strengthening direct mail acquisition and investing heavily in digital new donor acquisition. More on digital new donor acquisition shortly.

Retaining the massive influx of donors from 2020

Following such a tremendous year in terms of new donor acquisition, a key priority in 2021 is the retention and cultivation of the new donors into year number two. In our work with nonprofits, new donor conversion and retention strategies are a top focus in 2021. 

One question has been whether the new donors from this period will resemble disaster donors, who typically give second gifts and retain at much lower rates. We do not see this — in fact, new donors from this past year are giving second gifts at the same rate as new donors from previous years. These high second-gift rates are an encouraging early sign that these new donors are here to stay. 

Digital fundraising growth, building on the past year

For many nonprofits, digital fundraising took a multi-year leap forward over the past year. One leader of a prominent ministry shared that in 2020, for the first time ever, their mission saw a majority of their donation revenue come in online — 54% of total revenue from online channels. And this was even more impressive given that their revenue grew in both traditional offline and online giving channels. The pandemic has caused many more donors to be comfortable with using online tools, including online giving. In fact, for the nonprofits we serve, online giving grew by anywhere from 48 to 172 percent. 

Forecasting revenue for 2021

One challenge facing ministry leaders right now is how optimistic to be with 2021 revenue projections. Will the unprecedented wave of generosity that we’ve seen over the past year continue through 2021? Should a nonprofit conservatively forecast based on 2019 numbers they were seeing before the pandemic?

I can share that, so far in January, we are not seeing any decrease in the heightened level of generosity from donors from 2020. As I write this, we’re seeing returns approximately DOUBLE what we were seeing last January. Our advice at this stage is to expect at least the same level of income of 2020, perhaps slightly less if you want to be conservative. 

Legacy and planned giving

Leaders continue to prioritize their efforts related to legacy and planned giving. They recognize that healthy planned giving programs provide benefits like increased giving from planned gift donors, uncovering estate gifts that they are unaware of, and cultivating conversations that will lead to planned gifts for years to come. 

The first step to building your planned giving efforts is to build a sound lead generation strategy — you can’t drive planned giving unless you have a chance to talk to your donors about it. If you are interested in this, let me know, and we can point you in the right direction.

Capital campaigns

Another priority we are hearing from rescue mission leaders in 2021 is around capital campaigns. Many ministries are either preparing for, starting, or closing out capital campaigns this year. In some cases, they are also looking to hire additional major gift officers.

Staff care and compassion fatigue

Leaders have made staff care a key priority in 2020 and expect that to continue in 2021. 2020 was an exhausting year for leaders and staff working with poor and vulnerable populations. The day-to-day stresses of serving families and individuals were compounded by a pandemic, increasing health risks, and decimating volunteer programs, not to mention racial tension and political unrest. In 2021, leaders are prioritizing staff care.

While compassion fatigue is a real concern for staff care for missions, especially for frontline staff, one thing I can say is we are NOT seeing compassion fatigue from a donor perspective. Donors are giving as generously as they ever have, and there are no signs of that slowing down. 

Technology transformation

The events of 2020 have made clear that it is essential for effectiveness in 2021 to modernize the use of technology throughout the organization. Things like systems for gift processing, cybersecurity, CRM platforms, handling remote work, and the growth of digital fundraising utilizing advanced artificial intelligence, attribution, and targeting technologies. In 2021, leaders are prioritizing the digital transformation of their organizations. 

Conclusion — looking forward to 2021

There you have it — these are the top priorities that we have heard from rescue mission leaders this year. I would love to hear your thoughts — what are your priorities this year? Where are your concerns? Email me at — let’s discuss!

We are boldly optimistic for 2021, and we have seen similar optimism in our conversations with leaders. 2020 was such an unprecedented year in so many ways, not the least of which was a groundswell of generosity towards Christian causes. We’ve seen giving from general donors up anywhere from 17 to 74 percent for the nonprofits we serve. Major donor giving lagged for much of the year but is now up for the vast majority. Online giving is up tremendously, 48-172 percent. We expect that to continue into 2021, and we’ll be watching closely, sharing here as we have updates.