Community engagement, Creative and brand strategy, Data science and analytics, Digital strategy, Fundraising

The State of Nonprofit Fundraising: Insights from MissionWired’s Nonprofit Advisory Board

The insights below were shared during conversations between members of our Nonprofit Advisory Board – leaders from eight organizations including CARE USA, Make-A-Wish America, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), The Nature Conservancy, Project HOPE, Save the Children, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – in meetings that convened in October 2022. These discussions were designed to create space for a cohort of leaders to outline solutions to the challenges faced by the nonprofit world. You can learn more about our Nonprofit Advisory Board here.

For many leaders in the nonprofit fundraising world, the months and weeks leading up to Giving Tuesday and the kickoff to the end-of-year season are rich with reflection: looking back on what the calendar year has taught us about our donors and audiences so far, and looking ahead to make predictions about what to expect in the busiest season of the nonprofit fundraising year.

A few weeks ago, in the midst of this time of transition, we were thrilled to have the chance to convene our Nonprofit Advisory Board for a series of roundtable discussions. In these conversations, they shared their insights into the state of nonprofit fundraising today – from the challenges their organizations are facing in an unusual year, to the innovative strategies and solutions they’re testing to maximize their potential for growth at year end.

Takeaway: The challenge of locating benchmarks and trends is more difficult than ever before due to three years of back-to-back and ongoing emergencies 

From the COVID-19 pandemic, to emergencies in Ukraine, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, to hurricanes in Haiti, Puerto Rico, and Florida, the past few years have been a perpetual series of rapid-response moments for those organizations with missions to offer aid in times of crisis. Donors have rallied to support relief efforts, helping these organizations raise higher-than-expected revenue. Now, looking ahead to year-end, drawing a trend line through another year spiked with critical moments is proving a challenge: With fewer campaigns using evergreen content in the moments between emergencies, it’s harder to find a baseline that helps nonprofits understand what to expect in December – and with an unusual digital environment to look back on in 2021, predictions become all the more difficult to make.

Discussing the aftermath of rapid-response moments, several members of our Nonprofit Advisory Board agreed that retention of one-time emergency donors for second gifts or sustainer giving has proven to be a particular challenge. For a few members, even with targeted, multi-channel programs to drive repeat gifts from donors who gave to support relief work in Ukraine, these donors have shown low rates of retention. As nonprofit fundraisers look ahead to year-end, this is one challenge many across organizations are looking for innovative solutions to overcome.  

Takeaway: Setting year-end expectations

The slowdown in results that many organizations are seeing across channels can be attributed to a number of factors – not least of which is the influence of inflation and the near-daily conversations we’re having about impending recession. As the nonprofit leaders on our advisory board think about setting expectations for year-end, they discussed how, while the goals they’re striving for within their organization will remain the same, their expectations may be softer in light of the difficult year. 

To help their teams reach fundraising goals in innovative ways, their strategies are shifting: They’re leaning more heavily on proven, successful tactics, and they’re testing new approaches and channels to maximize their results in the final months of the year and gain critical insights going into 2023.

Takeaway: Tried-and-true strategies to shore up for year-end success

When we asked our Nonprofit Advisory Board to share strategies from their current, successful campaigns that they’ll be relying on in the months to come, they offered the following advice:

  • Convert one-time donors to sustainers as fast as possible through lightbox asks, upsells within surveys and quizzes, and donation pages that default to sustainer asks.
  • Keep a close eye on paid search. Last year this channel surprised many nonprofits, proving to be a leading channel for conversion. While trends seem to be shifting in a similar direction, we may see a lighter impact here than in 2021, when people spent more time at home in front of computers.
  • Consider shifting spend to grow SMS programs. For organizations still building up their programs in this growing channel, tools like Grassroots Analytics and Peerly can help you build your peer-to-peer programs, and The Digital Co-Op offers SMS rental opportunities for broadcast, driving quick growth and net revenue – especially around big moments like year-end.
  • Try tangible giving asks on Cyber Monday and Black Friday. Reminding supporters as they’re shopping for their loved ones that they can take this moment to make a tangible gift puts their donation into concrete terms and reaches donors from an e-commerce angle on the days outside of Giving Tuesday.

Takeaway: Innovation, new strategies, and tests this end-of-year can help organizations reach giving season goals

Members of our advisory board also shared their plans to use any additional momentum and funding from the year’s higher-than-expected results to go as big as possible in the final weeks of the year. For so long, organizations have leaned heavily on Facebook ads, a platform that won’t be sustainable forever, and they stressed the importance of looking for solutions now, before the need for them becomes urgent and immediate.

Leaders from our Nonprofit Advisory Board are dedicating any budget they can spare to test a variety of new approaches. By striving to be early adopters of innovative strategies, they hope to stay one step ahead of the ever-shifting nonprofit landscape. One member plans to test CTV ads: Relying on their audience’s increasing comfort with QR codes since the pandemic and the 2022 Super Bowl made their use more prevalent, they plan to include QR codes on CTV ads to drive new supporters to their website and donation pages. Others are testing audio streaming on Spotify, and bringing their holiday programs to TikTok and Twitch, using influencers’ involvement to draw in a younger audience. And another nonprofit member described an experiential, in-person campaign using a food truck that offers, rather than food, a menu of donations new supporters can make to fight hunger.

While the question of what to expect at the end of an unconventional year in fundraising is still driving a wide variety of possible answers, one thing remained clear throughout this conversation: Organizations are dedicated to maximizing their potential fundraising opportunities in the weeks and months to come, paying close attention to the insights that will steer any potential last-minute decision-making heading into the new year.

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