Year-End Giving 2021 Outlook
What fundraisers need to know as they plan their charitable year-end giving campaigns
It’s difficult to make projections about what the 2021 year-end giving season will bring. Many of the factors that made 2020 a roller coaster have continued, and nonprofit organizations have had to embrace the “new normal” while adapting to persistent effects of the pandemic and other global events.
But there are some constants in the nonprofit landscape—the continued rise and importance of digital fundraising, the increased adoption of timely new channels, and the steadfast compassion of donors to name just a few. These trends point to strategies and tools that fundraisers can use to position themselves for success in their 2021 year-end giving campaigns.
We spoke with three experts on the Wiland nonprofit team—SVP of Nonprofit Digital Jennifer Ingram, VP of Client Success Olivia Smith, and VP of Client Success Angela Newsom—to get their perspectives on the months ahead and what nonprofits can still do to make a big year-end impact.
How have you seen the fundraising landscape evolve throughout 2021?
Angela: “I think that the biggest surprise in general has been that the pandemic has remained a heavy influence. We’ve seen a true ‘new normal’ come into effect, in which donors have continued to rise to the occasion and nonprofits have continued to adjust to donor behaviors.”
Jennifer: “Many nonprofits were pleasantly surprised at the continued growth they saw in digital giving this year. Digital has grown exponentially, continuing the trend of the 21% growth in online giving in 2020 compared to 2019₁. With many people continuing to spend a lot of time in their homes, connected TV has also emerged as an increasingly important digital channel.”
Olivia: “2020 saw many charities experience a ‘pandemic bump,’ and it was speculated that 2021 would see the end of that trend. However, the beginning of 2021 proved otherwise. But the landscape this fall and winter is a bit of an unknown. Will pandemic fatigue win out? Will the impacts of new variants cause new surges that inspire more giving? Either way, signs point to a second consecutive year of very strong giving for the nonprofit sector.”
Have you seen trends in the types of charities that have been more successful than others have this year?
Angela: “The overall nonprofit sector has continued to do well. We have begun to see the rates of revenue growth level off, with May 2021 showing softness for many organizations. But many saw upticks again in the latter part of the summer. It has been difficult for organizations to sustain the amount of growth that many experienced at the beginning of the pandemic.”
Jennifer: “Nonprofits in the Human Services category continued to see large increases in revenue. But other sectors saw strong results as well, such as Animal Welfare, Healthcare, and Veterans Support. In general, donors who had the ability to give gave more to the causes they were most passionate about.”
Olivia: “Several of our clients across categories are optimistic and are working to leverage the momentum of increased giving that has continued throughout this year. Many have increased their investments in acquisition campaigns and are using the additional dollars they raised in 2020 to fund program expansions.”
How are you seeing nonprofits plan their 2021 year-end fundraising strategies?
Olivia: “We’ve seen many clients increase the scope of their year-end acquisition campaigns and pair them with more digital touches, both with digital/direct mail co-targeting and via Facebook. Some have added additional campaigns to the calendar, while others have moved up mail dates to minimize the impact of postal increases. We’ve also seen clients tap into their lapsed donor pools more deeply and frequently, which we expect to see continue as we head into year-end.”
Jennifer: “There is more of an emphasis on multichannel strategies for year-end campaigns. Nonprofits are expanding their channel portfolios to reach donors where they are—shifting their focus to reaching people through multiple channels at once.”
Angela: “I agree. Most clients are planning broad multichannel campaigns that include social media, email, peer-to-peer texting, and more, all in addition to traditional direct mail.”
What are some ways that fundraisers are working with Wiland to prepare for year-end?
Jennifer: “Many clients are turning to us to help them reach the donors from their direct mail campaigns through digital co-targeting. By co-targeting mail files through programmatic and/or social media advertising, we are helping clients fundraise in multiple channels by reaching their donors and prospects online and off simultaneously.”
Olivia: “Many organizations are trying to lessen the impact of the recent increases in both postage rates and paper costs. As a result, interest in our Marketing Budget Optimization™ product is off the charts. We have many clients working with us to optimize their campaigns—ranking their net mail file from best to worst in terms of likelihood to give and then strategically replacing the low-performing names with better performers from their best Wiland models.”
What else can fundraisers be doing now to successfully navigate year-end planning?
Jennifer: “Test digital strategies now. By trying different things with digital before year-end, they will have a clearer roadmap of how to maximize their digital budget for the most donations and revenue.”
Angela: “Yes, there’s still plenty of time to reach donors through immediate channels, such as display advertising or peer-to-peer texting.”
Any closing advice you would give to nonprofits on how they can achieve success this year-end giving season and heading into 2022?
Angela: “Be sure that you have a strong digital program to accompany your direct mail efforts!”
Olivia: “Don’t take your foot off the gas pedal yet. The needs are still great and much of the donating public remains able to give. Plans for year-end campaigns should continue to be strong but remain flexible. Keep a close eye on results to identify if and when to shift strategies.”
Jennifer: “Be nimble. The truth is that year-end 2021 remains a bit of a mystery for all of us as we continue to navigate through the pandemic. By utilizing more digital channels, nonprofits will be able to shift their budgets quickly and maximize donations no matter what the future holds.”
₁ ”Overall Giving Ticked Up Slightly in 2020, but Online Giving Exploded, Report Says,” by Michael Theis, 2021, The Chronicle of Philanthropy