THINK's fundraising predictions for 2021

At this time of year, it’s a THINK tradition to share our predictions about what the new year will hold for the sector. Given the events of 2020, any future gazing carries caveats; but we do hope that the musings of our global team give you food for thought in the closing weeks of this extraordinary year. 

Continued uncertainty
Michelle C :  2021 will be played out against a backdrop of continued uncertainty. The ongoing economic impact of this year, and the upcoming huge undertaking of a vaccination program for all Canadians will mean a bumpy ride for at least the first six months of 2021. Charities will need to be nimble, reactive and operate with a range of envisaged scenarios, working with a scale of metrics which enables quick, accurate, data driven decisions on appropriate courses of action. Leaders and managers must balance the need to get back to “normal”, with the ability to change direction and communicate quickly.

Pressure on high value giving streams
Simon:  2020 has seen big donors step-up. Many foundations have created new COVID-19 ‘emergency’ or ‘resilience’ funds and they have demonstrated a desire to support existing partners wherever possible. However, stepping up now has consequences for the future. Most foundations give grants from investment returns and with interest rates at historical lows and volatility in global equity markets as a result of the pandemic, income may be less than previous years. If this is the case, replenishment will be limited and foundations may have less to give in 2021. The focus may also remain on ‘nearest and dearest’. Building the pipeline and cultivating new donors may be hard work.

Corporate support to charities will hold up, with a new drive for collaboration 
Michelle S:   Whilst the commercial sector will be under pressure in 2021, their response during 2020 to COVID-19 showed how much companies were willing to step up, with many entering new social purpose spaces and those established actors really amplifying their voice and actions in their support of different causes. We expect to see increased activity between the commercial and nonprofit sector in 2021 but with greater emphasis on non-financial activities.
As companies seek to deliver greater impact and help drive some of the key agendas, we expect to see more companies bringing together consortiums of charities to handle those agendas, as companies recognize the strengths of different organizations both large and small. 

Use of digital channels mainstreamed
Matt:  Expect to see live-streamed fundraising (predominantly via Facebook Live and Tiltify) to go from strength-to-strength. Charities will find increasingly creative ways to blend the physical with the virtual; and improved ROIs, alongside the impact of the digital re-education of the British public at large, will see a move from in-person to livestreamed and virtual events.Circular journeys on Facebook, where organizations keep supporters on the platform through engaging ads sending audiences to join a Facebook group and take action will continue to drive engagement with new audiences and provide an excellent return on investment. Although this will create some ongoing data and stewardship headaches for organizations to solve.Major giving and special events will continue to embrace technology. More high-end events will be hosted online and a new role for celebrity ambassadors (that of online host and guide) will take shape. With more savvy and digitally-engaged older audiences, we can expect more creative and interactive high-value content to be produced.

Beccy:  Virtual forms of supporter and volunteer engagement will undoubtedly continue, as a lasting legacy of the pandemic, which demonstrated that digital face-to-face can be more accessible, inclusive and ultimately successful than physical executions. Examples include webinar supporter conferences, virtual service tours, and online training sessions to upskill fundraising group volunteers to maximize their own virtual events and digital fundraising.

Digital tools enhance traditional fundraising delivery
Jindy: I expect to see more of the sector adapting some of what’s become ‘norm’ in our everyday lives into more traditional direct marketing approaches - for example, QR codes in a direct mail pack to take a donor to a personalized payment page. For those of us - who love innovation but have really started to feel our age this year, and still loves the touch and feel of a newspaper and a mailing - this will be amazing.We’ll see continued advancement and adoption of payment and near-field communication technologies, whether for direct dialogue or events fundraising and, most excitingly, innovative market leaders testing augmented reality to bring their mission to life for their donors.

Brilliant basics win the day
Michelle C: If the pandemic has taught as one thing as fundraisers, it’s that demonstrating clear and immediate need to a receptive and financial capable audience results in good, and sometimes amazing, levels of support. Keeping an eye to the basics of fundraising - such as a relevant case for support and propositions, strong supporter care, clear and universally-adopted procedures - and coupling these with supporter insights and a test, learn, fail/roll out, repeat approach, will be fundamental to success in the choppy waters of 2021.

Supporter stewardship and experience critical against a turbulent economic backdrop
Arani:   2021 is going to witness ever-increasing competition for the consumer wallet. With unemployment at high, next year is also going to see the upsurge in caring capitalism, with brands promoting their ability and intent to do good. It is therefore more important than ever to understand existing supporter bases to ensure they are not ‘lost’ in this increasingly competitive market. Ensuring excellent stewardship of existing donors is going to play a more important role than ever before. So listening (really listening!) to them about what they want in return for their support will be critical.

Matt:  Subscription boxes and other content-driven engagement, such as podcasts, regular livestreamed Q&As and exclusive merchandise, will show that donors – particularly those who fall into Generations Y and Z - want more in return for their gifts than the usual stewardship. 2021 will continue to demonstrate that supporters want a tangible experience, alongside the digital. Charities should look to increases in membership programs and support for local social enterprises.

A new focus on relationship fundraising
Lisa:  I think that 2021 will see a move away from such a heavy focus on products and accompanying targets and towards a product neutral environment where the emphasis is relationships - i.e., fundraisers becoming, or at least being seen as, Relationship Managers. This would mean a revamping of traditional income targets with front line Relationship Managers focused more on the behaviours and types of conversations they need to be having. Targets would therefore be focused on the type (not just number) of engagements required to convert to the number (and type) of donors needed to achieve financial targets.

Human connection valued more than ever
Michelle C :  Following the prolonged period of separation from families, friends and wider networks, there is a yearning amongst all parts of the population to be together again. With a vaccinated population, this will manifest in significant levels of social engagement and a huge interest in those areas of fundraising - community and physical events - which were stopped in their tracks by the pandemic. Charities need to prepare for this big return and plan how to steward these fundraisers, particularly in light of the reduction in size of community and events teams in response to current financial pressures.

Green substantiation for all causes
Marie:  Charities will need to consider their green credentials and those of their partners carefully, as consumers become more aware of the sustainability and positive environmental impact of the products they buy. It will not be long before supporters are expecting charities to articulate their own green credentials, as well as those of their partners. Environmental charities are already at the forefront of this but this is likely to become a necessity for all cause areas. Green claims are also likely to come under increased scrutiny by regulators as well as investors/supporters across all sectors, and the charity sector will therefore need to be prepared to not just articulate their green credentials, but also have evidence to substantiate these.

Simon:  The state of environment has become an even more important issue, especially for younger donors. Post-COVID recovery has the green economy at its heart and there is a drive (forgive the pun) for hybrid and electric cars, sustainable energy and carbon reduction. Whether it is plans for becoming carbon neutral themselves or initiatives that promote sustainability, charities will need to consider how they respond directly or via partnerships. Those that are not making a positive contribution may be seen as standing in the way and that is social media fodder. 

A re-evaluation of charitable purpose
Julie:  For many charities and non-profit organizations, I see that 2021 is going to bring some fundamental examinations of organizational purpose. Restructures, mergers and changing needs and awareness will all put missions and mandates up for debate. Fundraisers have a vital role to play in these re-thinks, including bringing the voice of supporters into these conversations.

Communications become deliberately less formal
Sam:  I think it’s likely we will see a host of communications from charities that are less polished and corporate than they were. Everyone has got used to holding video meetings in living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens, while getting interrupted by children, pets or online orders arriving
Working from home has begun to break down barriers; and with that, the formality of communications - not just with peers, but also with supporters – have begun to break down too. People are happy to see things that are less polished and encounter real experiences. We feel that we’ll see the sector turn to less formal and corporate visual communications throughout 2021 as we continue to work under the restrictions and challenges of the current environment. 

A focus on workforce wellbeing and composition
Jindy:  I want to see fundraisers being given the space and support to innovate and thrive; but I also would love leaders to recognize that during 2020, comrades have been under so much pressure to continue to succeed – often with limited capacity and sometimes close to burn out. This mustn’t happen and we need to continue to support one another as best we can.

Sue: A focus on wellbeing and development will be key in 2021 for organizations to support staff as we move through the next stages of the pandemic and into recovery. With vastly differing personal and professional experiences, and a much-changed external environment, fundraisers need time and support to recalibrate and adapt. Investment in learning and development will be a critical element for recovery and growth.

Lisa:  I think we’ll see a greater focus on people, culture and diversity, with organizations placing greater emphasis on audience engagement to progress their objectives. Organizations will be working to ensure that their services as reaching more diverse audiences as well as attracting a more diverse work force.   

A different way of working
Sue:   In 2021, we have a unique opportunity to embed some new norms in working practices for the long-term, taking the best practice out of the upended working lives we have experienced. Rather than drifting back to old routines, we will enter an era where flexible and blended models of office and remote working could be standard practice; and for those who embrace this effectively, there will be benefits of positive wellbeing, enhanced retention, cost efficiencies and higher performance.