Into the Unknown

For those with small children, or those who just love Disney, you may have heard Idina Menzel’s voice belting out a chorus from Frozen 2. It’s the current soundtrack of our home as a mini Elsa dances around the living room, and its near-constant refrain has stuck out to me. The last line has been especially poignant in this season:

“How do I follow you into the unknown?”

Elsa is asking the question of a voice that has been calling her. Hmm, that sounds familiar — anyone else see where I’m going here? As Christ followers, we are often called by a Voice in the unknown. And these days, everything seems unknown. We’ve lived through a global pandemic. And we are now faced with daily realities of rising costs, war, political division — not to mention our own unique challenges from our families, health, work, faith walk, and more. 

The world feels a whole lot less secure than it was just under three years ago. And yet, I was comforted in a recent conversation by this idea: nothing is more certain today than it was pre-COVID, pre-inflation, pre-whatever. What a beautiful idea. The only thing that was certain then was God. The only thing certain today is God. We can walk into the unknown because of His faithfulness to us — yesterday, today, and tomorrow. 

And that’s where I find myself in thinking about the ministries we at Masterworks are blessed to partner with. The last two years for most organizations have been years of abundance. In contrast, the last few months may have started to feel more like those lean years in Genesis. They feel a bit more unknown. The future seems less clear. 

When things seem uncertain, we may be tempted to pull back, to stay where we are. But I don’t believe that’s what the Lord has called us to — in our lives or with the ministries we serve. So what are we to do? Steward the resources we have been given, being careful not to sacrifice the future for the present.

Don’t cut back in your fundraising efforts. Yes, costs are rising. That doesn’t mean you should stop cultivating your donors. Yes, revenue might be slowing. That doesn’t mean you should stop investing in new donor acquisition. Because costs will (eventually) stabilize. And if you’ve continued to invest in growth, your revenue will also start to grow again. 

Stick to the fundamentals: strong appeals, matching gifts, and other proven strategies. Maintain a normal frequency and create a plan to sustain giving to your organization — being prepared to pivot as things change throughout the year.

While we may be experiencing revenue declines from the past two years, remember that this was anticipated. Not everything is unknown. We didn’t expect the “COVID Highs” to last forever. In fact, we’re seeing largely what we expected: a decline in revenue from 2021, but still ahead of pre-COVID 2019 revenue. 

Looking at Masterworks’ client revenue growth in aggregate, we see that 2018 and 2019 were very similar — donors behaved as they had before (this also mirrors industry trends reported by Blackbaud of 1% growth in overall giving in 2019). 

Then comes 2020 (the yellow line below). It’s tracking nicely with prior years until a burst of generosity in late March & early April that continued throughout all of 2020 and kept going through 2021 — the COVID surge. During this time, the combined giving to Masterworks’ clients increased 34% (compared with Blackbaud’s reported increase of 19% between 2019 and the end of 2021).

Incredible generosity. Donors of all kinds — new, current and lapsed, large and small — gave to organizations they cared about and supported the good work being done. 

And now we find ourselves in 2022. Revenue has declined from the two prior years yet continues to exceed the “pre-COVID” times. This was something we forecasted in plans for our client partners. 

Masterworks clients were in the right place (digital ads and mailboxes) at the right time (Always On), and that paid off throughout the COVID emergency. But as the emergency waned, people got back to their normal behaviors, and for most organizations, fundraising budgets did not increase (which could have allowed for greater new donor acquisition and other retention increasing efforts). We knew that we would see fewer new donors in 2022 as a result and were able to forecast the shift in revenue that would occur based on anticipated new donor counts and retention. 

While we’ve hit the anticipated decline in revenue from 2021, let us not forget that donors still believe in the work you are doing and want to partner with you in achieving your mission. Continue to give them the opportunity to do just that. Keep investing and looking for ways to optimize your fundraising efforts.

Masterworks is doing just that, using language AI to improve offers, hosting creative summits, continuing to drive new approaches to digital fundraising through our ad network and media buying, increasing recurring giving through data modeling, and, of course, partnering with amazing organizations in this Kingdom work.

Don’t stop or shrink back. Keep moving forward — into the unknown — with the confidence that the Lord has sustained your ministry, and you, in the past. And none of this is a surprise to Him. 

Want to talk about the latest trends and how we might be able to help your organization accelerate in the current climate? I’d love to chat .

Reach out to Kate : kwilliams@masterworks.agency