Responding to the Pandemic

The single most affirming and encouraging insight from the past several months for me is this: people really care. They care about their safety, about the health of their loved ones, about the news, about the future and about the hurting people in their communities.

Even though the pandemic caused a shift in the outcomes of philanthropy so far in 2020, we still live in a world of ample resources and abundant generosity. Today I want to share some good news about excellent results on where generosity has shown up big time for BDI clients and other nonprofits this year. And, I’ll cover some key tips to keep the giving train rolling.

To put it simply, donors have been leaning into digital. Earlier this year at the wake of the pandemic, many of our partner ministries were bold and proactive in pivoting their donor communication strategies and expanding the scope of their online and digital platforms outreach. And it really paid off!

  • Partners who optimized their digital platforms experienced significant acceleration in online giving. Overall, they’ve harvested 84% more online revenue.
  • They have benefitted from a rush to mobile sites, a boost to social media engagement and many more email clickthroughs which lifted recurring online donors by 33%.
  • Overall, giving was up virtually across the board with an average increase in one-time online gifts of 20%.

These wins spotlight a vital element of fundraising in today’s world – the importance of remaining nimble and market-responsive in the ever-changing environment in 2020 and beyond.

With people staying indoors during COVID-19, online and digital giving has experienced an almost surreal spike. We call it the pandemic effect. The Blackbaud Institute explains it best in their 2020 Index:

“Overall giving declined in the immediate wake of the pandemic. The general donor population froze with the rest of the social good sector, as businesses shut their doors and individuals stayed home to quarantine… Heading into April, overall giving spiked as philanthropy responded to the pandemic. Wide-scale giving days such as #GivingTuesdayNow shone a spotlight on charitable giving at a time when many were receiving economic impact payments.”

This nearly mirrors our partner ministries’ experience. In fact, the COVID-19 relief campaign, #GivingTuesdayNow, was such an effective online campaign that it generated approximately $2.23 per email for BDI’s participating clients. Now that’s some enviable ROI!

With most people unexpectedly finding themselves safer at home in the early pandemic days, the quickest and easiest option to support heroes on the front lines and the nonprofit organization they love was to “go mobile.” This, combined with the strong giving season of Easter, made for one of the largest giving seasons in recent years.

On a national scale, key findings from Giving USA’s 2020 annual philanthropy report confirm that BDI clients aren’t the only nonprofits who experienced a recent spike in giving. Here are encouraging trends:

  • From 2017-2018 to 2019-2020, giving went up in almost every category of nonprofit organizations.
  • With a total amount of $449.64 billion nationwide, it was the second-highest giving year on record; just slightly below the all-time high in 2017.
  • Giving by individuals surged from the previous year, making up 60% of total giving in 2019-2020. This category has grown in the last four years and has continued to grow in 2020.

Wow! In the midst of an economic downturn and global crisis, individuals continue to prove their generosity by sharing their resources to help the hurting and support one another.

Keep It Going, and Growing!

What does this mean looking forward? Ahead of us lies a plethora of change agents that will likely impact giving in some fashion, if not significantly, such as the presidential election, Year-end fundraising campaigns, further developments in the volatile economy, and unknown additional effects from COVID-19. As we carefully but confidently and boldly move forward, we must be continuously nimble, sensitive, and market-responsive to our changing nation and to the trends in philanthropy.

It is critical to understand and build upon the lessons learned recently that have fueled increased giving. And we should be encouraged by bright spots in this current climate as leading indicators for what lies ahead. Ask yourself how your organization can be even more flexible and proactive in engaging donors on the platforms that they are utilizing to stay connected and engaged. Take this opportunity to continue developing, expanding and growing your digital programs with the intent of maximizing online interaction and connection with your donors.

Finally, here are a few quick-but-important tips that my colleagues at The Giving Institute report are driving factors behind the digital fundraising success of more than 1000 nonprofits across America that we collectively represent:

Be Real

The kiss of death for giving success is being situationally tone deaf or sticking to the script. Nonprofits that did not change communications and appeals to reflect the realities of the world and add context to what this all means for their organization’s challenges and opportunities ahead have paid a heavy price. Those that did have been blessed. It’s as simple as that.

Be There

This unprecedented season has been a cultural sea change for the adoption of streaming video technology as a means to intimately connect. Six months ago, video likely played a limited supporting role in your communications ecosystem. From here forward, we must build plans to bring our supporters with us and into the field, not just telling them about our vital work, but showing them. That will be their expectation.

Be Bold

What an exciting time it is to be privileged with the responsibility to connect opportunity with capacity for great impact! No doubt there are weather systems that, should they stack, could make for a stormy climate ahead. But we’d be foolish not to put our foot on the gas and blast through the storm. You have the tools, the team, the support and the evidence that supporters are committed to being generous despite all the unknowns. Let’s meet their courage and commitment – and rise to this moment!

It is time to adapt and prepare for next week, next month, next year and beyond. Let’s embrace the new normal of giving and anticipate the new new normal that lies ahead!

For more specific strategies on expanding your digital platforms and reaching your online donors, check out these resources from our weekly BDI QuickShot:

4 Tips For Improving Your Nonprofit Website>>

Connect with Donors During Crisis and Beyond. Here’s how.>>

  • 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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