Looking Forward in Philanthropy: A SWOT Provides Clues for What to Expect in 2022

Here’s what nonprofits can expect after 2 unprecedented years of changes in philanthropy 

From Michael J. Tomlinson, CEO and President, BDI

Read Time: 13 minutes 

As one of America’s most quoted writers, Mark Twain’s wit and humor often stem from his timeless observations that have an uncanny ability to describe a wide range of circumstances.

When my team at BDI suggested that my theme to kick off the new year should be, “What to Expect in 2022,” two sayings percolated. The first, from Mark Twain: “The more you explain it, the more I don’t understand it.”  The second, from my grandfather later in his life: “The more I learn, the less I know.”

These came to mind specifically when trying to assess what we know conclusively about what to expect while raising support for our vital nonprofits and ministries this year, and I’ll tell you why.  

You see, in times of rapid and sustained cultural change, I’m an industrial-sized information vacuum. While my BDI colleagues apply the latest intelligence about what’s happening here and now to our outreach efforts across all communication channels today, I’m off scouring volumes of research, picking the brains of leading social, business, ministry, economic, political and philanthropic experts… in short, trying to read both the lines and what’s between them to gain meaningful insight from current trends and to overlay that with major market conditions.

Normally, this investigatory discipline yields greater clarity, and it would now too if not for one pesky word that unfortunately carries over from the past two years – “unprecedented.”

The unruly party guest that arrived unannounced in 2020 not only has not passed out yet, he and his friends are wasted and they’re trashing the house. As such, we’re not yet into a sober and predictable clean-up mode and the Animal House is still rockin’.

So how do we know what to expect?

The SWOT Analysis for Philanthropy in 2022  

When things are particularly complex, I’ve often found that a quick SWOT analysis, (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) can help us to hear the music over the thrall of elevated voices, hoots and hollers.

Here’s why I’m optimistic and bullish for more Good Times this year, provided we navigate the complex fundraising environment with faith, fortitude and foresight… and avoid the pitfalls along the way.

This quick review highlights key market conditions that we’ll be keeping a close eye on and will impact our approach to releasing more generosity – potentially even outperforming trends in this historic season.

STRENGTHS (or, 3 reasons to rejoice in 2022)  

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” – Mark Twain

Your Work Changes Lives. Boom! Mic drop. Even as we face a season of unpredictability that lacks precedence in modern times, I’m reminded every time I step into one of your ministries – lives are literally being restored, hope instilled and souls saved every single day. Of course, it’s hard work! And that’s why we’re called to it – and why when we communicate the impact of investment, supporters will not disappoint. It’s their calling and ministry too.

There’s Giving Momentum to Life Transformation Ministries. While giving has been feast-or-famine for nonprofit organizations over the last two years, it’s a blessing to be at the right place at the right time. The extended season of pandemic will likely continue to keep your community committed to helping and giving to those who are on the front lines. 

Full Digital World Immersion. Being forced apart has indirectly brought us closer together – sort of.  Mass cultural adoption of streaming video, the use of and engagement on social media platforms, and a dependence on digital communications has pushed these mediums over the tipping point in all demographics, allowing us to strategically lean in fully and present our ministries’ value without concern of missing late(r) adopters. 

We can no longer “wait and see” how emerging technologies will be adopted and adapted by our donors. We must be committed to learning and integrating these digital communications tools into our outreach.

WEAKNESSES (or, 3 areas to watch closely in 2022)  

“Courage is the resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not the absence of fear.” – Mark Twain

• Faithful Giving. The sector dominance of giving to religious affiliated nonprofits continues to shrink, possibly related to the drop-off of church attendance and a decided cultural shift and hostility toward Christianity in America. This means that we can’t primarily rely on a tithe culture to motivate giving. Fortunately, largely speaking, we don’t.

• Social Volatility.  You don’t need me to tell you… it’s rough out there. Social divide, political divide, racial divide… it is making it harder and harder to assume we’re on the same page with anyone. More than ever, the love and compassion that undergirds our commitment to serve others must be outwardly evident and promoted so we don’t inappropriately get caught up in fights that are both distracting and disruptive.

• Extended Pandemic Conditions. The fatigue brought by the ongoing crisis is real. This weariness and a significant depletion of resources will have lasting impact economically and socially, though no one knows conclusively to what extent. For that reason, we must continue to press on aggressively, boldly and courageously.  

OPPORTUNITIES (or, 5 potential building blocks to utilize in 2022)  

“Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.” – Mark Twain

• Convert “Crisis” Donors to Dedicated Supporters. Historically, ongoing support from first-time “crisis” donors is abysmally low. One of the most encouraging statistics coming out of the last 18-months of philanthropic research, conducted by my colleagues at the Giving Institute, is that thriving nonprofits with solid fundraising programs are seeing sustained secondary and tertiary giving. This has also been the case with our BDI partners. What’s still unknown is if these subsequent gifts are also impacted by extended crisis or if donors have converted and will behave like loyal supporters. For this reason, we must assume nothing and fight just as hard for their attention and engagement.

• Keep Their Attention. It seems almost trite to list “tell the story of your stewardship and impact” as a key opportunity, but statistically, we’re already seeing the average number of communications and engagements, particularly via email and on social media, drop among nonprofits. 

Internally, we hear some nonprofit leaders wonder, “Are we asking for help too often?” and “Are supporters tired of hearing from us?” The answer is NO!  In fact, there’s a direct positive correlation between messaging frequency and giving, especially if the content informs, has heart and provides an on-ramp for the audience’s engagement. There’s no reason to tire of your own message!

• Confidently Compete. The competition for donor dollars between organizations who all may do good work can seem unsavory at times, un-Christian even. That’s simply the wrong way to look at it though. Here are the facts: Resources are finite. People’s attention is finite. Not all nonprofit and ministry work is of equal value and impact. We don’t have to adopt a position that we’re robbing others’ opportunity in order to present an invitation to be part of our crusade of compassion. In fact, if we don’t put our very confident and best foot forward with a strong case of support, we’ll lose a share of donors’ philanthropic portfolio.

• Storytelling Tools are Better (and Cheaper). It’s a wonderful time in history to be doing what we do together. There are more ways and places to engage supporters than ever in my three decades in communications marketing. At the same time, I think there’s an over-emphasis on tools and channels and an under-emphasis on effective storytelling that moves the heart.  That’s why my answer to the perennial question about which methodology or platform is best to use is, “All of them.”  

• Encourage and Inspire. In my view, this opportunity may well be the “secret weapon” of 2022’s most effective and tactical fundraising strategy. We can’t forget or under-emphasize that your donors are, in fact, not only stakeholders in your mission, but recipients of and impacted by your ministry.  

In these sometimes dark and anxiety-producing times, when so much is unsteady, and when we don’t know what to expect next, the opportunity to play an active part in what changes the world for good is a HUGE blessing to them. As such, your notes and newsletters, emails and posts, and opportunities to volunteer not only demonstrate need and invite financial participation, but are a POWERFUL encouragement that all is not lost in our communities and with our people.  

THREATS (or, 3 pressure points in 2022)  

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” – Mark Twain 

• Tax Changes (Increases).  This we know – the bill has come due. With new federal legislation, tax increases will impact every American’s capacity to give, to some extent, beginning in 2022. Surely this will dampen some supporter’s ability to be as generous. However, there’s no reason to fret about the things we have no control over. There’s also historical evidence that there will likely be less of a “drop off” of giving as there will be redistribution. So as I said previously, let’s compete!

• Economic Recession. Because +60% of giving to nonprofit organizations and +70% of giving to ministries comes from individuals, extended economic recession is a great threat to philanthropy. And guess what – we’re already in the early days of a recession now, with runaway inflation, rising unemployment (all while there are plenty of available jobs – go figure), and stunted spending because interrupted global supply chains aren’t allowing manufacturers to meet the demands for products. 

The only reason it doesn’t feel a whole lot worse today is there’s still trillions of dollars artificially suspending the system. This won’t be the case forever, of course, and we’ll likely see what happens when the free money ceases to flow in 2022. For that reason, developing and sustaining engaged relationships with your supporters will be crucial in your ministry making the cut as they make their giving decisions. 

• Crisis of Trust. A threat that has culture-wide implications is the growing crisis of trust with organizations, whether it be the church, the state or the corporations that are the very foundation of business in America. This trend puts at risk loyalty to brands and even long-standing relationships. It’s easy to leave (or to cease supporting) an institution. It’s much more difficult to leave behind or to let down people with whom we’re connected.  

Especially for community-based ministries, we must step out from behind the safety and anonymity of the organizational brand and push our key people out into the limelight.  Leadership, directors and advocates need to carry our messages forward person-to-person, meeting eye-to-eye and heart-to-heart, staking our name and reputation on the trustworthiness of the investment appeal.

In Summary: Bullish or Bearish in 2022?   

They say to never end on a down note. But if you’re like me, while it’s nice to know what’s going well and leans in our favor, it’s more important to understand what we’re up against.

And yet, for BDI and in our work with ministries like yours, I’m overwhelmingly confident that we can, together, navigate the known challenges, respond and pivot to unforeseen storms, and leverage our momentum and advantages in 2022.  

Your fundraising development communications work is as nourishing as meals, as safe as shelter, and as INSPIRING as coming to believe in oneself again. The return on our investment (ROI) for these efforts should only partially be measured in dollars raised.  

Viewed this way, we have an unbelievable opportunity in 2022 to vastly expand the reach and impact of ministries. Through every update and appeal, we’re advertising the greatness of our Heavenly Father and we are changing history and restoring America.

And I’m wildly excited for the journey – reaching shared goals and winning means the expansion of life-changing and life-affirming ministry. I love NFL head coach Mike Tomlin, not just because of his awesome name, but for his no-nonsense and patented response for why he anticipates victory, no matter the opponent.

“We expect adversity, but we’re equally confident in our professionals who will take the field. We do not seek comfort in the battle, but instead we will trust our talent’s ability to perform and make the requisite splash plays to win.”

– Mike Tomlin, Head Coach, Pittsburgh Steelers

Ultimately, that’s why I’m most bullish and expect additional GOOD FUNDRAISING TIMES in a challenging and competitive climate this year. Because I believe in you. I believe in us.

And it doesn’t hurt having the best GM in all creation. May the Lord guide and strengthen us as we run on the field once again.

Want more nonprofit inspiration from BDI’s CEO? Check out MT’s recent article, “Donor Advised Funds are Hot! Key Takeaways from Giving USA’s *NEW* Special Report” >>

  • Michael Tomlinson, BDI CEO and President

    Michael J. Tomlinson, CEO and President

    Michael J. Tomlinson, better known as “MT,” is the CEO and President of BDI. With more than 25 years of executive leadership in business development and media, MT’s expertise involves leading organizations like Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk and Dunham+Company in the ideation and execution of successful integrated marketing, broadcast and digital media, and fundraising strategies that fuel growth.

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