Thursday Thoughts | Giving USA Report for 2021
Welcome to another installment of Thursday Thoughts, a dedicated space for our friends in nonprofit sector leadership to reflect on reports, statistics, and other trends—because when our community shares knowledge, we can all do more good. Check out last month’s post here!
This year’s Giving USA report initial numbers were recently released, and these findings can help nonprofits respond to trends and shape their strategy for the coming year in order to raise more money, engage more donors, and do even more to move their mission forward. What’s one finding that catches your eye from the initial findings for the year 2021? What are some strategies you’d recommend nonprofits use to respond? Here’s what our partners Rootstock Philanthropy, Commvey, and MissionWired said.
The 2021 Giving USA report provides several initial findings that nonprofit leaders should examine as they plan ahead. Overall, the results reflect an uneven story about philanthropy today. Charitable giving remains largely resilient despite sustained and widespread uncertainties, but there are still unsettling signs regarding donor confidence.
One notable example is the surprising drop in bequest giving, which fell by 7.3 percent from 2020 (or 11.4 percent when adjusted for inflation). Although this decline represents one year only, consider it alongside a recent Gallup poll showing Americans’ faith in U.S. institutions has reached an all-time low. Taken together, these two studies should signal an alarm for nonprofit leaders. In many ways, bequest giving represents the ultimate expression of a donor’s belief: it is likely the largest commitment someone will make, often involves a personal or family legacy, and/or may not be received until after the donor has passed away.
So, what should nonprofits do? At Rootstock Philanthropy, we’re recommending three strategies to our clients:
- Revisit your planned giving program and ensure there are necessary resources to steward your legacy donors with excellence;
- Showcase compelling examples in all your donor communications that demonstrate integrity in how philanthropy is managed; and
- Prioritize the topic of trust as an organizational core value in meetings with executive management and Boards so leaders understand why and how they can grow a culture of donor confidence.
Increasing skepticism in the U.S. is a serious issue, which is precisely why nonprofits must rededicate themselves to assuring donors they are serving their missions better now more than ever.
Rootstock Philanthropy is a virtual-based consulting firm providing time-efficient and practical advancement guidance, talent management, and fundraising strategy to mission-driven organizations around the world.
The latest numbers from Giving USA show that individual giving still accounts for the largest source of giving (as opposed to foundations, bequests, or corporations.) That said, when adjusted for inflation, individual giving stayed flat year over year. As a result, nonprofits planning for the busy fall and year-end fundraising season should consider three key aspects of their audience engagement strategy:
- Identifying the right mix of channels to use when communicating with different donor audiences should be a priority for nonprofits. For example, given current capacity questions, how can fundraisers effectively use direct mail as a channel? Are supporters demonstrating interest in SMS as a communications or fundraising channel? Email is traditionally an important channel, but how can nonprofits measure the success of their campaigns given the way Apple’s Mail Privacy update has affected open rates? These questions can help shape an organization’s fundraising strategy.
- Done right, strong donor messaging will resonate with supporters and compel them to financially support a nonprofit’s mission. Now might be the time to experiment with different visual mediums like video when communicating with donors, or invest in creative to capture supporters’ attention.
- Lastly, targeting is extremely important as different people are moved by different calls to action. Nonprofits will need to consider how they’re communicating with different donor segments, and ensure they’re sending each person an ask that makes sense given their donation history with the organization.
Commvey is a marketing, communications, public relations, organizational, and DEI strategies firm working with the intention of fostering positive connections with organizations nationwide, always with the goal to collaborate on projects with meaning and impact.
In the end-of-year giving period between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, our nonprofit partners achieved, across the board, a 213 percent year-over-year increase in the number of small donor contributions. Additionally, 30 percent of partners’ end-of-year contributions came from first-time donors. All of this is at odds with Giving USA’s report that found individual giving flat (when adjusted for inflation) and grassroots donor segments shrinking.
So, what did those nonprofits do to buck the trend? What can organizations do in the coming months to ensure they see growth, not stagnation, this end-of-year giving season?
Firstly, we worked with these partners to implement high-quality, robust acquisition strategies well ahead of end-of-year. Our strategies focused on diverse investments across social media and fixed-cost channels, including our own platform, The Digital Co-Op. The co-op uses a powerful AI model to uncover which of over 100 million prospective supporters are most likely to engage with and donate to a given nonprofit. The more time nonprofits build in advance, and the more robust strategies that are put in place for acquiring the best supporters, the better position organizations will find themselves in at the most critical fundraising period of a year—and the months and years to come.
But—secondly—it’s not enough to simply acquire new supporters and immediately count on them to donate. Our nonprofit partners achieve and sustain growth because in their messaging cadences with audiences, their creative strategies carefully balance engagement and educational content with direct fundraising appeals. This helps build deeper affinity and connections with supporters that make all the difference in converting first-time donors and earning repeat gifts from existing donors. As just one example, check out this custom “Track a Shipment” experience we built for our friends at Americares, which supporters were invited to engage with from an email. We recommend nonprofits identify opportunities to create engaging moments such as this, as they are ideal pathways for cultivating your audience while raising revenue in the moment.