The Future of Nonprofit Fundraising and Engagement
Why did we conduct this survey?
Nonprofits have witnessed and responded to a long list of events and opportunities over the past couple of years. Sometimes, it's seemed like the only constant has been change. Our community has learned a lot of lessons, and because of those lessons learned, we know many nonprofits are now re-evaluating their strategic plans and priorities for the future.
We wanted to learn more.
For a limited time, we surveyed Digital and Development professionals from select nonprofits to better understand their fundraising and engagement priorities over the next several years and better meet their needs.
What we found was that over the next several years, most respondents:
Reported their top priority for increasing engagement is list growth and supporter acquisition
Would prioritize hiring more staff if given additional budget
Predict the most supporter growth in their social channels
Plan to invest in automation to increase efficiency and raise more
Read on to dig into these findings.
Organizations We Surveyed
We hypothesized that organizations' needs would vary by size. Respondents fall into these 3 categories.
Over the next 3–5 years, our nonprofit's top priority for fundraising and digital supporter engagement is:
A. Converting one-time supporters into sustainers/repeat supporters
B. Growing our list/acquiring new supporters
C. Increasing the value of existing supporters
D. Retaining our current supporters
Overall, most organizations report that their top priority is growing their supporter lists. However, the second most popular priority is converting one-time support into repeat support, indicating the desire to build on existing achievements and create deeper connections with supporters.
As organizations grow, we see a trend of decreasing prioritization of supporter acquisition while increasing prioritization of supporter retention.
Small organizations are, understandably, the segment most focused on growth—nearly 70 percent of small organization respondents indicated their top priority over the next several years will be supporter acquisition. The remaining approximately 30 percent of responses pertained to optimization strategies, like converting one-time supporters into repeat supporters, increasing the value of existing supporters, and retaining current supporters.
Next steps: Ready to add new channels do your marketing and comms plan? It's important to start by ensuring that all of your data will make it back to one centralized location, either through integrations or through a unified CRM.
Medium and large organizations are balancing a focus on growth with a desire to optimize the work they are already doing. Over 50 percent of responses from medium and large organizations indicated that their top priority was either converting one-time supporters into repeat supporters, increasing the value of existing supporters, or retaining current supporters—which makes sense, since strong strategies for retention and optimization often work hand-in-hand.
Next steps: Optimizing relationships with existing supporters requires effective personalization and targeting. Powering your segmentation with predictive analytics helps ensure that you can efficiently and effectively target the right supporters with the right campaigns for retention, renewal, and upgrades.
If our organization received the ability to increase our budget, and could only choose one way to spend it, we would allocate it to:
A. Consultants, agencies, and other forms of external expertise
B. Hiring more staff
Organizations across segments report overwhelmingly that their top priority for spare budget is hiring more staff—70 percent of respondents in each segment chose this as their top priority. However, the second most popular priority across all segments is allocating extra budget to technology. This makes sense, given that hiring more staff and making investments in technology are two strategies to help organizations reach the same goal: taking on more work. As organizations grow, we see a trend of increased focus on technology as a second choice.
Small organizations responded that they'd like to hire more staff, but the second most popular response was actually a tie between technology and hiring external expertise. We could interpret this tie as two different pathways to achieve greater efficiency: consultants and technology function differently, but both can help small organizations accomplish more work, with fewer staff hours invested.
Medium and large organizations are, like small organizations, primarily interested in allocating extra budget to hiring more staff. However, unlike small organizations, their responses formed clear second and third choices, especially when it comes to medium organizations, who were more than twice as likely to choose technology over external expertise. The gap between second and third choices actually shrank for large organizations, possibly because they have the staff and technology bandwidth to hire consultants for strategic purposes.
Next steps: We’d all like more hands on deck! While you’re waiting for that extra budget to be allocated, take some time to set up some simple automations in your CRM to maximize the time your current staff has for focused work.
Over the next 3–5 years, our nonprofit is looking to enhance our fundraising and engagement results by:
A. Expanding into new channels and campaign types
B. Making supporter engagement more relevant
C. Making work more efficient so we have more time
D. Optimizing existing channels and campaigns
Organizations across segments reported that their top strategy for enhancing their fundraising and engagement results over the next 3 to 5 years is optimizing existing channels and campaigns. Nearly 40 percent of organizations chose this option.
The second most popular choice for respondents was making supporter engagement more relevant, which garnered 25 percent of responses.
These top two choices add up to over 60 percent of responses, and these choices have something in common: they both share a focus on the outcome of increased efficiency in communicating with supporters. Interestingly, very few respondents across segments chose option C, "making work efficient so we have more time."
Small organizations' responses mirrored the responses of the group on average, but with a more significant gap between the two top responses: over 50 percent of respondents reported a desire to optimize existing channels and campaigns, and 21 percent stated they wanted to make engagement more relevant. Small organizations' responses to this question demonstrates their unique path: although they demonstrate a consistent focus on overall growth when it comes to supporter acquisition and staffing increases, responses to this question indicate the balance these smaller organizations must strike between growth and bandwidth limitations.
Next steps: How can your small organization optimize your existing programs and make engagement more relevant? By leveling up your messaging and content with targeting and personalization across channels.
Medium organizations show a contrast with small organizations: their top choice was expanding into new campaign types and channels, followed by optimizing existing channels and campaigns. This ranking makes sense, given that medium sized organizations typically have greater bandwidth and can take on this expansion more easily than small organizations.
Next steps: Your medium organization can meet your list growth goals and successfully expand into new campaign types and channels by investing in automation to help you acquire more of the right supporters, using the right messages at the right time.
Large organizations' top choice was an even split: a third of respondents said they plan to focus on making supporter engagement more relevant, and another third reported they plan over the next 3 to 5 years to optimize existing channels and campaigns. These two choices work well in tandem, and they speak to the donor retention challenge and the generational wealth transfer happening right now that experienced nonprofit practitioners have been reporting on for some time. Large nonprofits' responses may tell us they're gearing up to take advantage of these opportunities.
Next steps: as your larger organization works to grow your list with more relevant supporter engagement through optimized campaigns and channels, predictive analytics can give you the boost you need to focus on the right donors, with the right messages, at the right time.
Over the next 3–5 years, our nonprofit predicts the channel in which we will see the greatest donor and supporter growth is:
A. Direct Mail
C. Other (please specify)
Across segments, most respondents predicted that the channel where they would see the greatest donor and supporter growth over the next 3–5 years was in social media (nearly 40 percent of responses) and email (nearly 30 percent).
These top two choices add up to approximately 70 percent of responses, and these results demonstrate that nonprofits predict digital engagement will be important for the future.
Across segments, the least popular choices were phone (2 percent) and direct mail (4 percent). We already know that "door mat donors," or direct mail only donors, are increasingly living their lives across channels—and that's a phenomenon that predates the wave of relocations we saw due to the pandemic.
Interestingly, only 6 percent of organizations as a whole predicted they'd see the most growth in SMS as a channel. We can see that these results vary by organization size, but we know SMS is on the rise, generally speaking, because of its immediacy and generally high open rates.
Small organizations' most popular choice was social, and their second most popular response was open-ended. We know small organizations often use creative solutions to meet their needs, and some of their ideas included focusing on high net worth donor relationships, video, events, and even breaking into TikTok! In contrast, one option small organizations didn't choose was SMS, which could be a result of limited staff bandwidth. Ultimately, small organizations know it's all about reaching the right audience, with the right message, at the right time.
Medium organizations' top 2 choices mirrored the group as a whole: the most popular option was social, and the second most popular choice was email. However, 12 percent gave open-ended responses, and those included peer-to-peer fundraising and one-on-one fundraising both virtually and in person. This personalized approach reflects the renewed focus on connection that many of us are feeling as we move into end-of-year 2021, and reinforces the need to see all your supporter data in one place to track your donors' journeys accurately and efficiently.
Large organizations' top two choices, like other segments, were social and email—these choices made up over 50 percent of responses. However, large organizations distinguished themselves as a segment by the 24 percent who chose open-ended responses and the 12 percent who chose SMS. Most large organizations' open-ended responses referenced events, whether in person, virtual, or hybrid. This segment may have the staff bandwidth to build an SMS program, or take on another initiative like events, and use that data well thanks to support from a unified or highly-integrated platform.
Next steps: organizations of all sizes who are focused on list growth and who predict seeing the most growth in social media will need strategies for nurturing the supporters they acquire in that channel — a CRM with integrated social media capabilities and multi-channel automation can offer an efficient way to make sure those supporters receive the right stewarding messages, in the right channels, at the right time.
Over the next 3–5 years, our nonprofit will invest in _____ to raise more and/or boost supporter engagement:
A. AI/Machine Learning
C. Other (please specify)
D. Predictive Analytics
Across segments, over 40 percent of respondents stated that over the next 3–5 years, they plan to invest in automation for raising and boosting engagement. This was the clear top choice, but the second and third most popular choices were a near tie between open-ended responses and predictive analytics.
These results demonstrate that as a whole, nonprofits are eager to invest in strategies that help them execute more work to do more good, in more efficient ways.
The least popular choice across segments was AI/machine learning. To us, this means many nonprofits may be focused on other priorities and are in the early stages of incorporating these tactics into their work.
Small organizations were most likely to give an open-ended response, once again demonstrating their creativity. 45 percent of small organizations chose this response, and they shared ideas like a combination of AI and data analytics; TikTok; investing in training for nonprofit participants; community events; and peer-to-peer strategies. However over 30 percent of small organizations chose automation, making it their second most popular choice and aligning with the overall findings.
Next steps: no matter where your small organization plans to invest in the near future, using automation to support engagement across channels will help you successfully reach your growth goals with creativity and efficiency.
Medium and large organizations gave similar responses: for both segments, their top choice was automation, and their second most popular choice was predictive analytics. This could demonstrate a desire for boosting engagement and efficiency at the same time. Some of the open-ended responses medium and large organizations gave included personal engagement, investing in marketing staff, and building a monthly giving program, and interestingly, organizations of these sizes were most interested in strategies like those rather than AI or machine learning.
Next steps: medium and large organizations intending to invest in automation and predictive analytics can unite these two tactics to better target new and existing audiences to meet their growth goals.