4 Ways COVID-19 Changed Fundraising for the Better

And what that may mean for 2021 and beyond

Posted January 20, 2021

For our latest Coffee Talk, we sat down with the heads of fundraising at an array of human service organizations to discuss how COVID has impacted philanthropy in significant—and perhaps lasting—ways. 

1. The pandemic mandated all events become virtual. With vaccinations on the horizon, there will undoubtedly be a return to in-person events – but likely not as we remember them.

All of our participants are looking forward to the day when they can meet and gather with volunteers and donors in-person once again. And all are hopeful that will happen in 2021.  However, they don’t anticipate abandoning the virtual event format entirely. Virtual events offered some unexpected benefits: they drew attendance from donors and friends who shied away from in-person events in the past, they allowed for a much larger number of attendees, and they were more cost effective.

So, what will the events of the future look like? For most of our participants, they will be hybrid—a mix of in-person and virtual—to better accommodate constituents and attract as many attendees as possible. One participant shared an example of what that might look like. Their organization will livestream their annual breakfast, which always features one or two key speakers. Invitees can RSVP to attend the breakfast in person or watch along online. The organization also plans to edit and package the recorded event to send out after the program. That way, people who aren’t free at the time of the breakfast can experience it in their own timeframe. They expect that by offering a variety of ways to enjoy the event, they will encourage strong participation from a wide array of constituents.

Our participants also agreed that they don’t foresee many 500+ person galas being planned in the next year, if ever again. Not only would such large events likely cause health concerns, they also don’t offer what so many donors are missing most: the chance to deeply connect with an organization’s mission and to see and feel the impact of their support firsthand.

2. Online giving has been growing for years, but its importance and popularity increased significantly due to COVID.

The need to go fully virtual naturally caused concerns. Organizations strategized about how to make solicitations on platforms like Zoom and wondered whether donors would still give at the same levels they had previously. Fortunately, all of our participants reported significant success and that digital channels—whether it be large Zoom events, social media, or e-newsletters—were well-received by their community. Not only are people giving online, they are making significant commitments, some as large as $25,000+. Now, as organizations plan for the new year (and beyond), prioritizing and investing in online giving is critical. Even with the anticipated return to in-person meetings, events, and volunteering, an organization’s ability to encourage and solicit gifts online will be key to its fundraising growth – especially among donors from younger generations.

3. With an influx of new donors and record-breaking gifts, nonprofits’ ability to manage and analyze data is more critical than ever.

Data has long been an important component to understanding prospects’ giving potential and strategizing appropriately. However, for some of our participants, the COVID crisis revealed unforeknown gaps in their data; on numerous occasions, individual and institutional donors provided support well beyond what the organization had understood their capacity to be. If anything, this has underscored the importance of deep and comprehensive research, as well as greater reliance on clean and accurate data. Such an approach will prove beneficial in myriad ways, including informing decisions around setting priorities and goals, prospect modelling, and team (re)structuring and staffing.

4. In the face of COVID and its immense challenges, foundations provided flexibility to grantees – a trend that nonprofits hope is here to stay.

In recognition of the vast need that COVID created, many foundations loosened their grantee requirements – whether that meant making the initial application process easier or no longer requiring current grantees to submit lengthy, written reports, etc. We saw this trend on a large scale when MacKenzie Scott donated $4.2 billion in unrestricted gifts to more than 380 organizations in only a few months, signifying donors and foundations’ increased willingness to conduct their own research – and place full trust in the organizations they choose to support.

It has been a welcome change for organizations nationwide. After all, less time spent on paperwork means more time directly helping those in need. But will foundations continue to provide this kind of adaptive support? And is there anything nonprofits can do to help ensure they do? In addition to continuing to demonstrate your organization’s value to the community and its thoughtful stewardship of donations, large and small, our participants offered a few other more direct ideas. One said she expressed gratitude to her organization’s foundation partners for streamlining applications and reporting in every conversation.  Another participant echoed this, saying that all of her organization’s foundation reports now include language that underscores how foundations’ change in protocols directly impacts their service delivery and success.

Learn more about how nonprofits are partnering with foundations in our recent blog post.

All of us here at Development Guild recognize the critical role our friends and clients are playing in supporting the most vulnerable among us during this crisis. As we face these uncertain times together, it is our top priority to support you. Visit our COVID-19 Resources page for useful information and insights.


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