The nonprofit sector is ever-changing. Many nonprofit experts anticipated that 2020 would bring changes such as more virtualization and online activity for the sector. However, no one could have predicted the extent to which this would be true.
In light of the global pandemic, nonprofit organizations (like most other businesses) needed to move all activities online very suddenly.
Not surprisingly, many of the current nonprofit trends relate to virtual activities.
Specifically, the trends we’d like to touch on in this article include:
- Moving events online.
- Prioritizing online giving.
- Effectively developing a web presence.
- Emphasizing donor stewardship.
Before diving deeper into these strategies, it’s important that your nonprofit remain focused on your organization’s goals. You probably want to appeal to the supporters already in your donor database, continue fundraising, maintain a philanthropic presence, and keep the doors of your operation open.
Your specific goals, such as fundraising dollars and retention rates, are likely pretty fluid right now. However, the trends that we’ll cover in this guide are designed to help you operate more effectively by taking into account the current shifting environment. Let’s get started!
1. Virtual Events
Many nonprofit organizations center their fundraising calendars around their events, which act as benchmarks for your annual fundraising strategy. Many nonprofits spend all year planning their annual gala, walk-a-thon, or golf tournament, and are able to devote significant time and resources to the one or two large events that they hold each year.
With social distancing guidelines in place, nonprofits have had to reschedule or cancel these events that act as the backbone of their fundraising efforts. Many have chosen to create virtual events and move their major fundraising activity entirely online.
By moving an existing event online, you take advantage of previous publicity and maintain supporter expectations. But how do you take an event that you generally host in-person and move it into the virtual sphere? This virtual fundraising guide from Salsa provides the following suggestions:
- Don’t try to duplicate your original event. Virtual events allow your nonprofit to take a new approach to connect with your audience. Some parts of your original event may translate to online well, such as a keynote address. Others will likely not. Keep an open mind to the benefits of online interactions and what makes them unique. For example, you may not get as much one-on-one time with individual supporters during the event, but can encourage community conversations and incorporate a follow-up call to establish a more personal connection.
- Set expectations for your online events. Just as you shouldn’t try to exactly duplicate your traditional, in-person events, you also need to effectively communicate and set expectations about what your online events will entail. Provide clear explanations of what participants should expect from your virtual event, tying your goals back to your mission whenever possible. This “What to Expect” page from RightsCon is a great example.
- Be mindful of time during online events. Timing your online events can be tricky. You’re much more likely to lose the attention of your supporters during an online event, so make sure your messages are shorter and find ways to continuously engage your audience during the event.
- Test your technology. Be sure to test all technology that you will be using for live portions of your event. As much as possible, use exactly the same setup and equipment so that you can anticipate and resolve issues should they arise. Always have someone responsible for managing tech issues during the event— and decide what to do for each potential situation. For example, if a keynote speaker drops off during their speech, you will want to have someone able to help get them back online while someone else explains to your audience what is going on.
While social distancing has forced organizations to move their event operations online for the time being, we expect to see an increase in virtual events (or virtual elements within in-person events) even after the pandemic has ended. By exploring the benefits of virtual events, we can broaden the potential reach of your event’s impact past a specific geographical area.
2. Online Giving Campaigns
Just as nonprofits have had to move their events to the virtual sphere, they’ve also needed to move their fundraising online. This was also an existing trend before the COVID-19 crisis, but it’s become even more vital given social distancing guidelines.
When it comes to virtual giving, the first thing you need to do is make sure you have the best virtual fundraising solution at your fingertips to create an experience for your supporters. They should be able to navigate to your online fundraising page, contribute, and receive a thank-you letter all within a matter of minutes.
Supporters should be able to give when they feel compelled to do so in a manner that is fast and efficient.
In order to streamline your virtual giving experience, consider the following tips:
- Make it easy to find your online giving page. A navigable website is the first step to boost online giving for your nonprofit. Because your website is the first place your prospects and supporters go to learn more about your mission, it’s important that they’re able to quickly find the “donate” option on your site. Consider incorporating a prominent button above the fold (likely in the header) of your website’s homepage that will lead interested supporters to your giving page.
- Brand the online giving page to your website. Make sure the online giving software you use can be customized to match the rest of your nonprofit’s website— including incorporating your organization’s colors, logo, images, and fonts. If supporters don’t immediately recognize the branding of your online giving page, they may assume they’ve been directed to a third-party or less trustworthy site, which leads to increased donor abandonment.
- Only include the essential elements on the form. Collecting data is a great way to establish the foundation you need to form a connection with supporters. However, collecting too much data on a donation page can slow down the giving process and cause supporters to abandon the form. Limit the number of forms on the giving page to convert supporters faster, then make stewardship plans and develop other opportunities to collect additional data later on.
- Embed a matching gift database tool. Matching gifts can be used to maximize your online fundraising strategy. According to Double the Donation’s matching gift statistics, 84% of donors say they’re more likely to give if they know that gift will be matched by their employer. By embedding a matching gift database on your virtual giving page, you can inform supporters of their eligibility and increase the chances that they’ll contribute.
- Take advantage of planned national and international giving days. Giving days like #GivingTuesday or #GivingTuesdayNow have been shown to be immensely successful in driving supporters to give during a 24-hour period. They create a sense of urgency for supporters to give. Incorporating these days into your campaign schedule can boost fundraising efforts and drive more online donation conversions. Or, create your own annual Giving Day to focus your efforts on and mobilize your audience towards. Here’s an example of an upcoming Giving Day campaign by the Student Conservation Association.
There are many different types of online fundraising campaigns your organization can host. From your online donation page and event registrations to peer-to-peer fundraising and crowdfunding, your organization has a world of opportunities at your fingertips with which to engage your supporters. The best way to capture donations is to streamline the process so as to convert more website visitors quickly before they abandon your online fundraising campaign completely.
3. Effective Web Development
One major trend in the nonprofit world today is the increased reliance on your organization’s website for communication purposes. Your website is the central hub for your nonprofit’s digital efforts, and it’s where you centralize the information about your mission and upcoming opportunities to support that mission.
Therefore, it’s important that your nonprofit organization has access to a CMS that enables frequent updates to your site or a team of UX designers and web developers ready to maintain the site and ensure all information is recent and modern.
According to some studies, it takes only 50 milliseconds (or 0.05 seconds) for a web user to determine if they like and trust your organization’s website. First impressions are, therefore, vital when it comes to website design and making a positive online impression for supporters.
Some of the elements that you’ll want to pay attention to while you’re designing your website include the following:
- Adequate white space. While you may believe that white space is equivalent to wasted space, that’s not the case at all. White space is valuable because it draws your viewer’s attention to the important aspects of your website pages and guides them throughout the content. Include plenty of space in the margins of your website, don’t overload the content with too many images, and make sure to space out your paragraphs so as to not crowd the page.
- Easy-to-understand navigation. A navigation menu on a standard website lives in the header of the site or as a dropdown in the upper left- or right-hand corners. Because this is where individuals usually see the navigation, you should make sure they can find it in one of these locations. If people get confused about where to find information on your website, they’re more likely to give up and abandon the site altogether.
- Mobile responsiveness. Over half of all internet usage occurred on mobile devices as of 2017, which is a trend that has not changed over the last three years. Therefore, make sure your images load quickly and automatically resize properly on mobile. You should also make sure any pop-ups are either disengaged or easily navigable on this smaller screen— the x in the upper corner should be easy to tap no matter the screen size.
As you’re working through your organization’s web design, consider reaching out to your stakeholders to get their opinions on the site. This inclusion of your board members and major contributors will help them feel more connected to the decisions your organization makes. Plus, their insights can help you determine if your site is meeting the UX needs of viewers.
The use of online resources has become ever more important as time passes. While stay-at-home orders have increased the need for an effective online presence, the trend was already in motion before the pandemic occurred. That makes this the perfect time to amp up your nonprofit’s website. Not only will it help you maintain a digital presence now, but it will also help you better communicate with prospects and supporters in the future.
4. Emphasizing Stewardship
At a time like this, one of the most important things that nonprofits can be doing is focusing on their stewardship activities. No matter how effective your online giving campaigns are right now, new donor acquisition is likely to be difficult, to say the least. That’s why, in addition to maximizing your use of those campaigns, you should focus on long-term fundraising goals with donor stewardship.
Your donors, even those who may not be able to give right now due to financial hardships, haven’t forgotten the reason they gave to your organization, to begin with— they truly care about your mission.
Continue to keep donors updated about your organization’s activities and remind them why they support your cause. Even if a donor is unable to give right now, your nonprofit will be at the top of their mind when they can. We recommend using engagement strategies that don’t require financial strain for supporters such as:
- Launching an advocacy campaign. If applicable, an advocacy campaign can help your nonprofit make major strides toward your mission by influencing the decisions of legislators and other community leaders. Plus, your supporters can contribute time to the campaigns rather than funds. With the right advocacy software, you can design and distribute online petitions, launch click-to-call campaigns, and send online messages to decision-makers via email or social media.
- Inviting them to virtual stewardship events. Events designed to thank or inform supporters, rather than fundraise, are a great way to show your supporters you care and appreciate all of their contributions of both time and funds to your organization’s mission. Make sure the event you choose is free for the supporter and not too expensive for the nonprofit. Online education sessions or virtual cocktail parties work well!
- Sending resources via email. Make sure to keep up with communication to your nonprofit’s supporters during this time by sending them educational material, impact stories, and other updates from the organization. You’ll want to make sure these emails are beautifully designed and intriguing to click-through to ensure your supporters see it in their inboxes. Elements like mobile-responsiveness and a creative subject line are integral to craft a well-performing email.
Stewardship strategies are immensely important during the best of times, but during a crisis, they become even more so. Donors need to know that they are a priority for your organization in order to continue contributing into the future.
If you’re worried about incorporating stewardship into your nonprofit’s strategy, you may consider discussing the options with a nonprofit consultant. This resource provides insight into some popular consulting firms that your organization may consider if this sounds like the right option for you.
The nonprofit world is constantly changing, and it’s evolving especially quickly given current events. Be sure your nonprofit is prepared with the knowledge and strategies necessary to adhere to these societal changes and make the most of its fundraising and online presence. Good luck!