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2019 Fundraising Trends—And How to Take Advantage of Them

Small silhouettes of men, women, and children to the left of a large bracket that points to a pile of dollar bills. A silhouette of a man in an office chair using a laptop is underneath the dollar bills.I view January and February as a test run of sorts, before we really embark on a new year and new resolutions. This may feel especially true as we’re still figuring out what happened in 2018. Last year we saw lower year-end fundraising results. We saw a decline in the number of donors who give in the lower to middle end of the giving range. And whether those developments have anything to do with changes to the tax law remains a question.

There are a few guides that offer a myriad of trends to watch. But, in my opinion, these are three key trends that will most affect our work.

1. We’re Becoming More Data-Driven and Technologically Minded

We now have good tools that analyze a donor database to help nonprofits sharpen their approaches. Data analytics can identify those groups of current or inactive donors who are more likely to increase their engagement levels—and hopefully their gift levels. Analytics show us giving trends not just to ascertain likelihood of future gifts but also to recommend gift ask amounts and to flag donors who might be good future legacy donors.

Also watch changes to online giving services. These include the arrival of Give Lively, which offers free online fundraising tools for text-to-give, peer-to-peer, widgets, integration with social media such as Facebook, event fundraising, and more.

Then there’s Alexa, who now helps donors verbally make contributions up to $10,000. While the cohort of participating nonprofits is still small, if we know anything about the Amazon growth model, this is a trend that will stick.

Take advantage of this trend:

  • Ask yourself how well you know your database. If your answer is something like “Well enough, but we just need more donors,” you will benefit from a database assessment to find the hidden potential right under your nose. Use analytics to segment your audience and focus on increasing donors’ interest in you. Opportunities like monthly giving and giving societies are nice ways to invite them into a long-term relationship.

  • Create a series of welcome emails that go out over a four- to eight-week period that celebrates every first-time gift, provides more information about your organization, and asks questions to learn more about your new supporters. Technology can be especially useful in building a strong relationship with new donors from the very start.

2. The Rise of Donor-Advised Funds

As 2017 ended, contributions to donor-advised funds (DAFs) skyrocketed like never before. According to National Philanthropic Trust’s The 2018 DAF Report, in 2017 there were 463,622 individual donor-advised funds across the country. Donors contributed $29.23 billion to these funds and used them to recommend $19.08 billion in grants to qualified charities.

What’s particularly worth noting?

The number of individual donor-advised funds increased by 60 percent in 2017. The spike in growth is almost entirely due to one new program that launched in 2017 for smaller DAFs with an average size of less than $5,000. Guess what caused this spike? Changes to the tax law. Creating a new lower threshold for DAFs attracted those smaller to mid-level donors who found themselves scrambling to minimize tax liabilities in an uncertain set of new tax laws.

DAFs are here to stay. It means we must change how we look at and talk to our donors about their gifts.

Take advantage of this trend:

  • Make sure your donor database can track soft credits. And train your staff to know that a gift from Fidelity or Vanguard, for example, isn’t likely a gift from that company, but rather a donor’s DAF managed by them.

  • If you know the donors who are now giving to you through DAFs, still steward them as you always did. Consider having a conversation with them about how the timing of their gifts might change. Donors who give through DAFs are more likely to bundle their giving, meaning they may not give every year. Their giving will fluctuate and they may bunch their gifts in one year and then pause for the next year or two. It’s important for you to know how they intend to continue to support you, so you don’t mark them as lapsed unnecessarily.

3. Focus on Donor Retention

This is one of my personal soapboxes. And with nonprofits on average losing almost 60 percent of their donors each year, you can understand why I’m so passionate about it.

Maybe 2018 was a wake-up call for the nonprofit sector. Less-than-stellar year-end fundraising results and a slow erosion and disappearance of lower to mid-level donors should be deafening alarms that the way we fundraise must change.

Where does this fit into your fundraising this year? It should be the cornerstone!

Take advantage of this trend:

  • Do you know what your donor retention rate is? If not, run a report from your database to get your starting point.

  • Then, make each donor feel informed, seen, valued, and satisfied that his or her gift is making a difference in your work. As Penelope Burk writes in her book Donor-Centered Fundraising, “Fundraising underperformance is a failure to communicate.”

By understanding 2019 trends and finding practical ways we can respond to them—starting right now, TODAY!—we’ll be nimble in response, ready to make the most of new challenges and opportunities.

Barbara O'ReillyBarbara O’Reilly, CFRE, has 25 years of fundraising experience at major nonprofit organizations including Harvard University, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Oxford University in England, and the American Red Cross. She has experience developing successful relationships between donors and nonprofits through annual funds, capital campaigns, major gifts from high net-worth individuals and corporations, direct mail, and stewardship.

Topics: donor-advised funds Donor Retention Donor Communications Donor Stewardship Donor Research Mid-level Donors