By Peter Lannoo • June 10, 2021

    Philanthropic Giving Was Up In 2020. Can You Say The Same For 2021?

    Over a year into a changed world, many organizations have seen a peer go belly-up. Fundraisers watched as their colleagues changed their job status to “unemployed”, and communities have lost their anchors of nonprofits uplifting those that need support.

    Philanthropic Giving Was Up In 2020. Can You Say The Same For 2021?

    Those fortunate to have made it through to this point certainly deserve to step back and admire their work. Despite bleak news and the fatiguing talk track of “nonprofits in trouble”, many leaders find themselves satisfied with being able to make it through to the other side.

    After dusting themselves off and patting themselves on the back, though, the next step becomes turning the page and looking forward. And, like any other endeavor, the playbook for a path forward will not be the same as the last one. But there’s a survivorship bias that stems from a bottleneck, allowing leaders to assume that because they still have a job, they must have done everything right.

    That’s not to say there aren’t lessons to be learned, but many recent success stories have as much to do with chance as they do shrewd decision-making. “Right place, right time” certainly favors organizations that place themselves in the right place more often, but turning blinders to the future because of past results obscures where good procedures can be made even better.

    A key part of constructing the playbook for the next 12 months relies on identifying what worked despite the tumultuous events of the past year and emphasizing that in the coming months. Across the nonprofit industry, organizations that saw success can trace that back to support from donors more than operational success. Major donors increased gifts in order to see an immediate impact, and many on the front lines saw an influx of first-time donors looking to help efforts with whatever they could muster. 

    Instead, a better barometer for positioning in the future is looking at the attention donors received after giving. Was every gift thanked? How many new relationships were made as a result of a gift? Are one-time donors on the way to becoming repeat donors? Simply looking at a balance sheet won’t tell you the whole story of a donor's journey. 

    Unfortunately, by continually focusing personal attention only on small segments of the donor pool, such as top donors, teams aren’t setting themselves up for the future. “Survival mode” is not a long-term strategy, and it’s time to recognize that success in one anomalous year is not an indicator of success in the future. When the dust does settle, the organizations best positioned for the future are the ones that have been cultivating new relationships from the first gift.

    However, according to Blackbaud data, two-thirds of top prospects are not actively being taken action on right now. Why? It’s not for a lack of effort, fundraisers just don’t have the time to reach them. That large segment of prospects represents a huge crack in the donor pyramid, one that organizations can’t ignore when looking to the future. It needs to be addressed now.

    So where can fundraisers find the capacity to close these gaps? With so much time being dedicated to communicating with known donors, achieving deeper portfolio saturation and doing ever-important discovery work can fall to the wayside. Future fundraising success doesn't rely on working longer hours to bolster the giving pipeline, it means making sure your fundraisers are spending their time working on the right things.

    Download our free toolkit "Reprioritizing A Fundraiser's Time" and learn where your fundraisers could be spending their time to produce better results without working longer hours, hiring more staff, or constantly shifting priorities.

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