Development Planning for 2021

Donors have stepped up to help keep the lights on in 2020. Time to think about how to retain them.

Non-profit leaders have had to adjust quickly to a wildly different operating environment than the one planned for at the beginning of the year.  Keeping the lights on, maintaining socially distanced and safe programming, standing up remote operations: these are difficult challenges at the best of times.  One light in the dark has been sustained contribution levels from individuals and institutions.[1] Donors have risen to meet the challenge of the moment, but what happens next?  Behavior may change in the face of sustained economic uncertainty, but how can non-profit leadership boost retention in development programs?

Increasing and improving donor engagement should drive 2021 strategy development for non-profit leaders. CauseMatch found in a recent survey that individual donors are reacting to COVID by giving more to fewer organizations.  As donors make decisions around where to give, the level of personal interaction with staff and the intimacy of relationships matter.[2]  Development staff should use existing communications channels and engagement platforms to ask donors how they plan to give in 2021.  This is particularly critical for recurring donors of all sizes – individuals and institutions alike.  Here are some tactics to support the goal of driving donor intimacy and engagement:

    • Diversify outreach: the most effective outreach campaigns do not rely on a single media or medium for communication. Mail and phone-based engagement tend to drive commitment and follow-through from older donors than do digital marketing and outreach. Make sure you know your donor base and pick the right form of communication to reach your intended audience.

    • Keep your message local: in times of uncertainty such as these, donors want to make an impact in the communities in which they live. Help them understand the impact of their dollars on your organization and your mission.

    • Redeploy volunteers to donor engagement: volunteer hours are down across the sector as social distancing protocols restrict the scope of what can be done in the field. Consider using these groups to scale up outreach from the safety of their homes.

    • Remind donors of the problem they signed up to solve: the size and scale of disruption created by COVID can overwhelm even the most personal of missions for donors. Help remind them of the stakes of your mission as you look forward to 2021 and what the risks of inaction are.

Most of the problems that organizations face today are unlikely to disappear in 2021.  There is no shortage of mission driven organizations competing for charitable dollars, and the pot is, unfortunately, unlikely to grow meaningfully any time soon.  Non-profit leaders should take steps today to set development teams up for success for the next fiscal year.

[1] “COVID-19 and philanthropy: How donor behaviors are shifting amid pandemic” Fidelity Charitable, October 2020
[2] “Fundraising During Coronavirus: Donors Are Staying Close to Home” CauseMatch, July 2020


Jaime Batista

Jaime Batista

Principal, Santa Barbara

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