triathlon runner demonstrating perseverence

What top nonprofits are doing to maintain momentum in 2021

Last week, we had the privilege of hosting more than a dozen regional and national ministries for a two-day summit. Following are a few themes that emerged from the summit:

2020 was a year of unprecedented generosity for Christian ministries

Every organization at the summit has seen an outpouring of generosity from donors over the past year. And there is no sign of that slowing — through March, we continue to see double-digit growth year over year. This is particularly remarkable because last March ministries were already seeing an uptick in fundraising — so to grow year on top of year is a big deal.

With this outpouring of generosity, what are organizations to do?

Four things to do in 2021 to maintain momentum

1. Expand donor acquisition

With strong results, smart organizations are front-loading their acquisition budgets and expanding acquisition. The thinking goes that if the outpouring of generosity continues, they can always ask for more budget if things are working. If not, you’ll see that and can trim spending.

2. Cultivate donors in the channel acquired

With an influx in new donors, particular attention is being paid to cultivating new donors, attracting second gifts, and inviting them to give recurring gifts — more on that in a moment. But one phenomenon we are seeing is that very few donors who give in one channel convert to giving in the other channel. 

Therefore, it becomes doubly important to cultivate donors well in the channel they gave their first gift. For many organizations who are seeing tremendous gains in their digital acquisition of new donors, this means working hard on the digital cultivation program.

3. Invest in expanding your sustainer program

A few short years ago, there was a relatively small percentage of nonprofits invested in recurring giving beyond a simple name and a checkbox on the website donation page. Today, every smart organization is placing a high priority on building and growing sustained giving.

4. Don’t slow down!

Some organizations that have seen tremendous results are considering scaling back. That would be a mistake. If there are concerns about overfunding programs, that is a program challenge to overcome. Ask yourself and your leadership — are all the homeless taken care of in your city? Has everyone heard the Gospel as many times as they should in their lifetime? Do all the prisoners have Bibles? Whatever your ministry is, the need is undoubtedly greater than what you are currently doing.

COVID-19: a disaster or a paradigm shift?

Many times over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has been compared to a disaster situation in terms of fundraising. Typically, disaster fundraising is marked by a sudden onset and high levels of generosity, followed by a precipitous decline, and it is often difficult to retain the new “disaster” donors. 

As the situation has developed, it’s become clear that the pandemic is not a disaster situation. While there are some similarities, there have been more differences. For one, we are now in month 13 of heightened generosity, which is extremely rare in disaster situations. Secondly, new donors are retaining at the same or better than pre-COVID levels — very UNdisaster-like. 

And third, there is mounting evidence that we’ll look back on COVID-19 from a fundraising perspective and see that much more of a paradigm shift has taken place. Shifts include the adoption of technology, the increasing prevalence of remote work, changes in the way ministries execute their programs, and shortening the budgeting and decision-making cycles to be more responsive to opportunities and challenges in the future.

It will be interesting to look back on this time in the years to come, and there are many reasons for optimism in 2021 and beyond.