Holiday Q&A Series:
Charitable Year-End Giving


How Nonprofits Can Successfully Navigate the 2020 Year-End Giving Season


In 2020, nonprofit organizations faced a roller coaster ride of both surprising highs and challenging lows. So how does this unique year affect the upcoming year-end giving season?

The good news is that nonprofits are implementing several strategies to successfully navigate the coming months and beyond.

We spoke with three experts on the Wiland nonprofit team—EVP of Solutions & Innovations Roger Hiyama, VP of Client Services Olivia Smith, and VP of Client Services Angela Newsom—to get their perspectives on the 2020 giving season and what fundraisers can still do to make a big year-end impact.


How have you seen the fundraising landscape evolve throughout 2020?

Roger: “It’s been a year of significant changes. Fundraising was generally on the rise before shutdowns began occurring in mid-March, but the abrupt halt to in-person events and face-to-face fundraising drastically affected many organizations. On the media side, due to reduced TV advertising rates and the surge in connected TV platforms, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in DRTV fundraising by charities to acquire monthly donors. Overall, it’s also been an uneven environment, with some categories of charities prospering as they addressed COVID-19 relief needs while some in less immediately timely categories have struggled.”

Olivia: “We certainly saw an immediate contraction, as many organizations paused to see how long the impacts of the pandemic would affect our daily lives. While the majority of our nonprofit clients stayed the course, some became even more aggressive in their fundraising while others canceled campaigns altogether—all decisions with long-term impacts.”

Angela: “Agreed. I think many fundraisers paused to assess in mid-March and then quickly mobilized as soon as it became apparent that the landscape was not going to quickly return to what it was before.”

Have you seen trends in the types of charities that have been more successful this year?

Angela: “Not surprisingly, charities that center around human services are doing exceptionally well through the pandemic. I think the events of 2020 have left many of us feeling a loss of control, and helping those in need is something that brings things back into focus.”

Roger: “Yes, in times of great need, the public always helps meet food and shelter needs in particular.”

Olivia: “Charities that either stayed the course or became more aggressive with their fundraising have seen more success than those that chose to cancel campaigns. While it’s been a difficult environment for many, I can’t stress enough the importance of continuing to fundraise, as the revenue lost from a canceled acquisition campaign is exceedingly difficult to make up.”

How do you expect the 2020 year-end giving season will be different for most nonprofits?

Roger: “There is a great deal of uncertainty in the market driven by the big issues that have dominated the news—the pandemic, the presidential election, the calls for diversity, equity, and inclusion amid protests and civil unrest—and how those things will impact the economy, the markets, and unemployment rates.”

Angela: “I don’t believe that nonprofits’ year-end bottom lines will be too drastically different than in previous years, but I also expect that organizations will see younger donors stepping up—people who are motivated by current events as never before.”

Olivia: “We have seen data that suggests that more mid-level and major donors are planning on giving more in 2020. We’ll also undoubtedly see more online giving. The enormous rise of e-commerce has been a big part of the story in retail and, while online giving has historically been under 10% of all year-end giving across the country, we should see a bigger bump in that number in 2020.”

How are you seeing nonprofits adapting their fundraising strategies?

Olivia: “Trends in the nonprofit space often lag behind those in commercial. So if commercial is faltering, nonprofit often stays strong for longer—and in 2020 actually surged in many categories. But it does eventually catch up. We’re seeing many forward-thinking nonprofits ramping up their year-end acquisition strategies, especially if in-person events were a significant revenue source for them before the pandemic. Many are deciding to be more aggressive now since it’s difficult to predict what 2021 will bring.”

Angela: “Most nonprofits that are able to are pushing through with their fundraising efforts and are finding that donor activity is as strong as ever—and in some cases, even more so.”

Roger: “For nonprofits very dependent on the results of this year’s elections, many had multiple contingency plans in place depending on the outcomes. For those less dependent on the election results, many have been proceeding with their direct marketing efforts.”

What else can fundraisers be doing now to successfully navigate year-end giving?

Angela: “For the most part, direct mail plans are set for the end of the year. But there’s still time to reach donors through other more immediate channels, including digital display and P2P texting.”

Olivia: “Pair your offline marketing with co-targeted display ads. We have found great synergy between these two channels, as donors today are spending more time online. Digital not only provides a great channel for donors to engage with your organization and become multichannel donors, but it’s also a powerful branding tool.”

Roger: “Fundraisers must continue to actively cultivate their existing donor files with specific emphasis on mid-level and major donors. The best donors will continue to give to organizations that they believe in—the key is that they have to be asked and cultivated.”

What are some ways that fundraisers are working with Wiland specifically to prepare for year-end?

Angela: “Many of the nonprofit organizations we work with are really stepping up their digital fundraising efforts to prepare for year-end giving.”

Roger: “At this late stage, fundraisers are working with us to add programmatic digital display advertising to their year-end efforts, targeting their fundraising messages to high-response prospects as well as current and lapsed donors. We’re also helping nonprofits co-target those who have received direct mail fundraising with digital display ads, which boosts both digital donations as well as offline giving. Finally, we’re helping our nonprofit clients identify prospective mid-level and major donors in their own housefiles, helping them reach donors with the capacity and propensity to make significantly larger gifts and impact year-end revenue.”

Olivia: “I’m seeing our nonprofit clients aggressively test new models and a deeper depth of control models to meet the surge in giving that’s occurring. While many organizations were hesitant to test at the onset of the pandemic—thinking the results wouldn’t accurately reflect ‘normal’ times—life during the pandemic has become our ‘next normal,’ and so these clients are working with us to identify the donors who are still giving during the pandemic.”

Any closing advice you’d give to nonprofits on how they can continue to adapt to achieve success this year-end giving season?

Roger: “I’d give nonprofits the same advice as I did during the Great Recession—don’t stop your donor acquisition plans! Stay the course, as putting a hold on your prospect fundraising can create an acquisition hole that can take years to recover from.”

Angela: “Get your message in front of donors repeatedly and find them where they are through multichannel fundraising campaigns focused on both acquisition and retention. We’ve all been largely homebound since March and, as a result, we have become more captive audiences.”

Olivia: “It’s not too late to take digital steps to give your year-end fundraising a boost. Consider co-targeting with digital display or Facebook ads. Consider appending emails to your housefile and deploying a more multichannel messaging strategy. Consider P2P for new donor acquisition. These are all strategies that Wiland can help you implement to improve your year-end if you act fast.”

Headshot of Roger Hiyama

Roger Hiyama

EVP of Solutions & Innovations
Headshot of Olivia Smith

Olivia Smith

VP of Client Services
Headshot of Angela Newsom

Angela Newsom

VP of Client Services

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