Written by Alex Comfort, CFRE
When COVID crashed upon us, I shut down earlier and longer than most people. I wrote and taught remotely, taking advantage of the time to finish a book about how to be a good fundraiser.
During that time, I monitored the non-profit sector, listened to national experts and observed the situation here in western North Carolina. After months I can point to some trends in fundraising that affect all nonprofits, regardless of their mission.
1. Grants are vital
Agencies are now even more grant dependent. I have done tons of presentations to boards over the last 13 years. Board members frequently want to learn how to become less dependent on grants. Nonprofit leaders fear grants will run out, making the agency dependent on private donations that can’t sustain the mission over the long term. I’ve never really worried about grants running out. Since COVID, I believe there are more grants than ever. Remember, grant writing is more about finding likely grant prospects than it is about cleverly written applications.
2. Fundraisers are different
Fundraisers are doing their jobs differently. They’re spending more time behind the computer rather than out in the community seeking out and meeting donors. I am more convinced than ever that this trend is a killer. FUNDRAISING IS STILL A MATTER OF TRUST, AND TRUST IS EARNED BY CLOSE, PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS WITH DONORS.
3. Donors are different
Donors have pulled back physically. COVID restrictions got donors out of the habit of visiting with the agencies they support. Donors prefer to meet over lunch or coffee instead of more intimate meetings at a home. And, fewer business leaders want fundraisers to visit them at their offices.
4. Charities are closing
Churches and charities are quietly closing or merging. It’s a bit of a scary time for everybody. Certainly, charities are still being founded, but a lot of non-profits are in trouble. Private fundraising is still extremely important.
5. Planned giving has decreased
Planned giving promotion has actually decreased as charities scramble for funding right now instead of in the future. This trend is exceptionally troubling because the Baby Boomer generation is twice the size of GenX. If we don’t succeed in getting the Baby Boomers to leave money in their wills or estate plans, the bottom will fall out of our annual giving in 15 years.
6. Social media is prominent
Fundraisers are spending more and more time using social media to find new, younger donors. While this is not a bad thing, the fact remains that 80% of your fundraising budget is made up of people over 60. They have discretionary income. As such, they should still be getting the lion’s share of a fundraiser’s time and effort.
7. Staffing difficulties
It is getting harder and harder to find major gift experienced fundraisers to fill positions. Part of my consulting is spent on “executive search,” helping charities find new fundraisers. It has become really hard to find good people who are go-getters and able to bring in major gifts. Anyone skilled in this area will find a great career!
8. Remote work
More and more national charities are allowing their fundraising team to work on a remote basis. Similarly, many charities’ fundraisers come into the office only one or two days a week. It’s not just my opinion; surveys show this trend is occurring. I think this is a fine trend as long as fundraisers are doing their best to get out and meet with their major donors.
9. Board service
Fewer major donors are serving on nonprofit boards of directors. People with larger means are just not taking ownership of charities like they used to do.
10. Tax law changes
Before the tax laws on deductibility were changed, 70% of Americans gave a gift of record each year. Now, that is down to 56%. But the individual amounts are growing. Therefore, people who do give, give more.
The message behind all these trends is that giving is still unbelievably good in the U.S., and the fundraising basics haven’t changed. But we fundraisers must keep emphasizing major gift fundraising. And major gift fundraising includes grant fundraising. Find a grant writing expert to support your efforts, and feel free to reach out to me with questions.
Alex Comfort, CFRE, is president of Mountain Non-Profit Solutions, a full-service fundraising consultant offering capital campaign management, agency and development audits, board of directors training, and unique planned giving experiences.