Are we heading for a post-COVID fundraising slump?

It’s a reasonable question: after two years of unprecedented fundraising success (assuming you’ve stayed in touch with donors), when will things stop being this way? When will the extraordinary pandemic response end, leaving us in the lurch?

It’s not an unreasonable fear. After all, disaster donors are notoriously fickle. The large majority of donors who give for the first time in response to disasters never give again. Clearly, they are motivated by the disaster, and have no intention of starting a long-term relationship with the organizations they give to.

(Retention of first-time disaster donors is typically around 10%, as compared to 20% of new donors industry-wide and 30% or better for fundraisers doing everything well.)

That’s just a fact of life, one you are familiar with if you work in a sector that deals with occasional disasters.

So here’s the question: Are all those new (and upgraded) COVID donors going to behave like “normal” disaster donors? Are many of them going to disappear once things get back to normal — the way disaster donors do?

My prediction

I believe we will see a “softening” of fundraising results this year, but not a “crash.” Mostly because COVID-motivated donors will stay with us at higher rates than typical disaster donors.

Here’s why: This disaster keeps going. “Normal” disasters flash through the media, and then drop out of the news after a few days or weeks. For everyone except those who live through the disaster, it comes to an end.

This disaster has hung around. And it’s not over yet.

That means donors who might otherwise have been one-and-done disaster donors have had many more occasions to respond. Many of them made subsequent donations — and each gift after that first one improves the chance that a donor is going to stick with you.

In my corner of the fundraising world, revenue grew at unprecedented rates in 2020. Then grew again in 2021 — at rates that would have been record-breaking in pre-COVID times, but were often disappointing by comparison.

I think 2022 will be similar: A good year. Just not as good as before.

Silly boards and other leaders may see this as some kind of failure. It’s not. The real failures will be those organizations that decide for their donors that they are “fatigued” and no longer want to be part of changing the world and stop fundraising.

What should you do in these times?

Do what you always should do:

  • Keep connecting with donors and would-be donors.
  • Keep telling them the truth about the world and how it can be better with their help.
  • Put meaningful action in their hands.
  • Pay attention to what works.
  • Keep your eyes open for changes in tech, media use, and the overall giving climate.

    If my prediction (which is just a guess) is right or wrong, this is the strategy that will work best for you. This year and beyond.


Comments

4 responses to “Are we heading for a post-COVID fundraising slump?”

  1. Jeff, your 3rd paragraph leaves me dangling in suspense…. 🙂
    In 2020 and 2021 we witnessed significant increase in monthly donors joining and increased giving as well. Part of this success is hiring a half time fundraiser in Aug 2019. We’ve been one of those Canadian charities who had the capacity and the heart to stay connected with donors through the pandemic.
    I read (almost) every email you send. Keep saying the basics things over and over again – I am slowly hearing it, and converting….

  2. Jeff, your 3rd paragraph leaves me dangling in suspense…. 🙂
    In 2020 and 2021 we witnessed significant increase in monthly donors joining and increased giving as well. Part of this success is hiring a half time fundraiser in Aug 2019. We’ve been one of those Canadian charities who had the capacity and the heart to stay connected with donors through the pandemic.
    I read (almost) every email you send. Keep saying the basics things over and over again – I am slowly hearing it, and converting….

  3. Not sure what happened to the rest of that sentence. Fixed now! Good for you keeping up the work when things have been so uncertain!

  4. Not sure what happened to the rest of that sentence. Fixed now! Good for you keeping up the work when things have been so uncertain!

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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