LEADERSHIP | 4 Things You Can Do Right Now to Buck Downward Fundraising Trends

publication date: May 22, 2024
author/source: Liz Attfield

April is an exciting time for fundraisers, because we know it’s when industry reports come out showcasing trends and results from the prior calendar year. We either celebrate or commiserate.

So far, I’ve seen several reports focusing on fundraising trends. Canada Helps, The Giving Report 2024 is one of my favourites. This report provides insights on donation behaviour as well as information gathered from their survey. The big takeaways are:

  • The number of Canadians making charitable donations continues to decline. The good news is, in spite of this decrease, more dollars were donated.
  • Service usage is at an all-time high, meaning people are relying on nonprofits more than ever. In fact, one in five Canadians are turning to charities to meet basic needs. Nonprofits are struggling to keep up with the demand.
  • There’s a gap between what Canadians say is important to them and the action they are taking. It is harder for people to see the role they have in making change. The report notes climate change as an example where many people report having anxiety about the climate, but the proportion of giving does not reflect the level of anxiety reported.
  • Society continues to become more disconnected, isolated and lonely, which has an impact on fundraising:
    o disconnected citizens are less likely to give money and time
    o people need to feel hope to be motivated to support causes
  • Digital giving has plateaued; however, it is still nearly double what it was in 2019 (it spiked upwards during the pandemic and is now normalizing).

We are also seeing these trends in the United States. The AFP’s recent Fundraising Effectiveness Project suggested a modest decline across three KPIs: donor counts, dollars raised and retention.

In short, we’re seeing a continued downward trend—however before we jump to the conclusion that fundraising is trending down because of the lack of will of donors to give, it’s essential to understand the broader context surrounding fundraising efforts over the past several years.

A reason for optimism

While we can’t control environmental variables like inflation and living costs, there are things that our clients’ organizations are choosing to do (including budgetary decisions to discontinue donor acquisition programs, or to reduce the number of appeals for example) that have a direct and negative impact on donor acquisition and retention strategies. Are we creating a self-fulfilling prophecy by de-investing in these key areas, thus shrinking the overall donor pool? Or, perhaps it’s our emphasis on monthly or recurring giving, not one-time-gift ask approaches that are causing the reduction (i.e. donors give more to fewer causes). If that’s the case, then the problem isn’t as bad as it might seem since monthly donors are proven to give 7 times more than one-time givers.

Opportunity is the mother of innovation

While the findings of the Giving Report 2024 may be cause for concern, it’s important to recognize that challenges give us the opportunity to review our methodologies and can often breed innovation. I recommend the following four tactics as a starting point:

1. Instill hope: it is our job to provide people with hope for a brighter future, to reinforce that every little bit of help matters, and that support can come in many forms. Digital is a great tool for connecting with supporters quickly and for amplifying this messaging with emotional impact. Demonstrate that when people come together for a purpose, great things can and have been achieved.

2. Create connections: Review how your nonprofit is connecting with donors and supporters on an ongoing basis. Is it frequent and purposeful? Do you have a welcome series (and are people receiving your welcome communications as you expect them to)? How are you fostering a sense of community for donors and supporters? Consider a donor journey mapping exercise, or use video, webinars, SMS updates, or telemarketing to foster a sense of community and demonstrate your effort to help combat the sense of isolation that many are experiencing.

3. Don’t shrink, grow! This is no time to take a “wait and see” approach. Those who stay ahead of the curve will be those that innovate, test, learn, explore new options. And don’t forget about retention – know where your donor bucket is leaking and fill those leaks!

4. Use all the tools in your toolbox: While the decline in donors presents a significant hurdle, the continued growth in donation revenue demonstrates that opportunities for impact still exist. As the landscape of philanthropy evolves, so must our strategies across all segments of donors and supporters. Remind yourself of best practice fundraising techniques that are proven to work and explore new technologies that can have real impact with the click of a button.

By embracing creativity, leveraging technology, and fostering deeper emotional connections with donors, you have the power to turn the tide and navigate these rough waters with resilience and purpose. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these ideas.

Liz Attfield is a long-time fundraiser with more than 20 years of experience in key areas such as strategic planning, database analytics, integrated account management, and mid-level and legacy marketing. As the fundraising specialist on ST’s (Stephen Thomas Ltd) Strategic Solutions team, Liz provides clients with strategic insight that will engage donors, connect them to the cause, and drive revenue. Contact her, liza@stephenthomas.ca

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