By Mariah Fosnight, CFRE, Consultant
Last year as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe and racial and social inequities were exacerbated and brought into the national spotlight, we nonprofit warriors “pivoted” and navigated “uncharted waters” during “unprecedented” times, while kindly asking our colleagues to “please unmute yourself.”
Although I always jump at the chance to reference Friends – “PIVOT! PIVOT!” – I’m happy to say these overused words and phrases are mostly behind us, mostly. (Plus, there are less cringe-worthy and more productive ways to reference Friends. Read on and you’ll see.)
As we wrap up year-end and look ahead to 2022, you might be asking yourself: Will XYZ campaign strategy continue to prove effective in 2022, or did our efforts only work this year due to the impacts of 2020-2021 and the increased need across sectors and communities? That’s a fair question, and rather than wrack our brains trying to predict how or whether isolated results will hold in future years, below are 5 trends The Alford Group saw in 2021 that can help inform your fundraising campaign strategy in 2022.
1. Campaign leadership structures are taking on a variety of forms.
The pandemic catalyzed our adoption of technology and forced us to think outside the box when it comes to engaging and activating volunteer campaign leadership. In many cases, we have seen virtual committee meetings yield a higher attendance and participation rate; however, in some cases, we have experienced a lull in both due to a series of factors, including Zoom fatigue, too many commitments and at-home distractions.
When experiencing this lull, we witnessed clients effectively and efficiently move away from the traditional steering committee model and activate volunteer leadership in more targeted and strengths-based ways. Examples include:
- Social media ambassadors
- Community partners
- Mission-fulfillment volunteers
- Founding groups
Another new trend is fewer group meetings and more 1-on-1 interactions tailored to an individual’s affinity and engagement interests. Examples of effective subcommittees include foundations, corporations and individuals (sometimes tiered by target gift amount).
Tip: Be flexible and think beyond the typical structures and patterns. Structure your volunteer leadership and engagement activities in a way that is unique to your organization and leverages the strengths and skills of those you want to engage (think: time, talent, treasure and testimony). Ask for feedback along the way and be willing to respond to that feedback.
2. Donors are increasingly comfortable using Zoom and other video meeting technology, even for solicitation meetings.
The 2021 Giving USA Report revealed that total giving from 2019 to 2020 grew by 5.1% (or 3.8% in inflation-adjusted dollars) to $471.44 billion, which sets a record for dollars raised. This would not have been possible had we waited to talk to our donors in-person.
Face-to-face solicitation continues to be the most effective way of communicating with donors and deepening relationships. Although we are itching to return to in-person meetings and events, virtual engagement opportunities provide flexibility for the donor beyond health and safety considerations. Donors tend to be more receptive to scheduling a meeting if they have the option of meeting in-person or virtually.
In your solicitation meetings, it’s increasingly more important to position your campaign asks as “above and beyond current levels of operating support.” Throughout the pandemic, this strategy has proven critical to ensure the campaign strengthens fundraising overall and doesn’t cannibalize operating funds.
Tip: Provide donors with the opportunity to meet in-person or virtually. Don’t wait until you can meet in-person to ask for that six- or seven-figure gift. Remember, the number one reason people give is because they are asked. Chances are if you don’t ask them, they’ll be asked by someone else. They may assume that you’re “on a break” (and many of us know how that turned out for Ross) and give to the organization that takes the chance and asks them on a virtual call.
3. Donors are motivated by a brief and visually strong case statement and other campaign communication materials.
Pre-pandemic, a Microsoft-sponsored study determined people tended to look at websites for only eight seconds, before determining to move on or continue browsing. This spurred an assortment of headlines comparing the attention span of a human to that of a goldfish.
According to Psychology Today, the pandemic hasn’t shortened our attention spans further, but rather, it has impacted our ability to engage with new ideas. One emerging trend is that we are more stressed and overloaded with information, which makes it harder for content to grab our attention. On the other hand, once our attention is grabbed, we’ll have a hard time looking away.
This research, along with donor feedback our clients have been receiving, highlight the ever increasing need to hook the reader from the very beginning with compelling storytelling. What still grabs and holds people are strength-based messaging that centers the community and those who benefit from the organization’s mission and dramatic statistics that exemplify the need your organization fulfills.
The vehicle with which you deliver messaging can also help aid in grabbing attention quickly. Plan ahead so you can consider optimal delivery platforms (mail, email, social media, events, etc.) and test key messages by groups. Examples of effective case formats include:
- Digital display (Adobe Spark, PPT, etc.)
- Brief one-page overviews
Videos can be professionally produced, or simply recorded as a personal message to a donor via ThankView or a built-in feature of your database. The goal is to get our stressed and overloaded pandemic minds to settle long enough to learn about your vision for the future.
Tip: Prioritize brevity, powerful visuals and flexible formatting in your campaign materials. Consider adapting your case to a variety of formats to create broad audience appeal (examples above). Tell compelling stories and mix in powerful visuals and data.
4. First-time and one-time pandemic donors can be successfully re-engaged in the Community/Public Phase of a campaign.
In 2020, many of our clients experienced extraordinary generosity of new donors motivated in large part by the COVID-19 pandemic, the unique needs it created, and the racial and social inequities that were exacerbated and brought into the national spotlight. This influx of new donors prompted The Alford Group to host a webinar to highlight cultivation strategies and tips for retaining COVID-19 donors. These tips remain relevant today.
The Community/Public Phase of your campaign is an important opportunity to expand reach, broaden mission awareness and activate various stakeholder groups who may have decreased engagement throughout the pandemic (including those 2020 first-time donors, lapsed donors and other constituent groups).
For example, sending targeted appeals to each donor group and illustrating the impact of their support during the peak of the pandemic may motivate donors to renew their support. Although this is not new, it’s increasingly important due to the influx of large numbers of new donors in 2020.
Using the Community/Public Phase of a campaign to strategically activate key stakeholders can also increase the number of recaptured donors and generate more excitement and momentum toward achieving or surpassing the campaign goal.
For example, you can collaborate with partner organizations to collectively share key messages that strengthen and promote everyone’s mission fulfilling work. Matching pools continue to be a strong tool for motivating others to give during this phase of the campaign, especially when organizations secure a match specifically for increased or returned/new donors.
Finally, reengage those subcommittees (noted under trend 1) to activate their networks and share their stories and the organization’s work on your behalf. Remember, people give to people.
Tip: Use the Community/Public Phase of your campaign to strategically engage and bring closer stakeholders whose support may have waned after the peak of the pandemic (e.g., volunteers, corporations, community partners).
5. Donors are taking advantage of flexible giving vehicles.
Donors of several different generations are becoming more sophisticated and strategic with their charitable giving, and capital campaigns are no exception. If you add or expand just two vehicles in your shop, we recommend focusing on planned giving and donor-advised funds.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: if you don’t already have a planned giving program, now is the time to start one. Approximately $8.8 trillion dollars is projected to transfer from one generation to the next by 2027, according to recent research by LOCUS Impact Investing. And if you somehow need more convincing, a recent report showed the percentage of adults 55+ years old who have a will decreased from 47.9% in 2020 to 44% in 2021. This data represents untapped opportunity (56%) to encourage donors aged 55 and older to create a will and consider leaving a legacy by incorporating charitable giving.
Donor-Advised Funds (DAFs) are another increasingly popular giving vehicle, and you will want to ensure that your organization is prepared with a partner organization, such as a community foundation, so that you can receive this type of support. According to Giving USA’s 2021 report, $159.83 billion resides in over one million DAF accounts (see an overview of key findings here). In 2020, contributions to DAFs totaled $47.85 billion and grants from DAFs totaled $34.67 billion, representing an increase of 27% from the prior year.
Tip: Provide as many giving vehicle options as your team can manage, partner with philanthropic partner organizations, and make sure your gift acceptance policy reflects what you can and cannot accept.
Whether your current campaign has hit a plateau, or you are launching a new campaign, we hope these tips can help inform your strategy in 2022. Contact me with additional trends you have experienced, or any comments and questions you may have. For more information on campaign management, visit our service page here or email us at email@example.com.