WARNING: Four trends that will shake nonprofits in 2024. Here’s how to pivot…

January 11, 2024

The past five years have seen tremendous change in the world — and in the nonprofit sector.

We faced a global pandemic, resulting in oftentimes disastrous fundraising. Organizations relying on event-driven fundraising suffered. And one of the biggest event-driven fundraising models shuttered their doors.

Then, once nonprofits recovered their wits and resumed asking, fundraising initially rebounded big time. Only to decline again in the uncertainty of 2023.

But what we’ve found is that when you implement what works, your donors will always come through for you. After all, they love you and want to see you succeed.

As we move into 2024, while there will be more bright shiny objects dangled in front of you than ever before, know that relationships matter most. Keeping on top of the basics, and being aware of the following trends will continue to serve you best.

1. Decreasing Giving and Inflation.

The latest numbers from the Fundraising Effectiveness Project (FEP), reveal the number of donors industrywide fell for the ninth straight quarter in Q3 2023. Donors were down 7.6% and new donors were down 16.9%.

Donor retention should factor into your planning for 2024 in a big way.

Make a plan for transitioning new donors into repeat donors. Look to the New Donor Timeline for ideas.

As we see continued signs of inflation impacting giving, make your intention for 2024 donor retention. Focus on letting your donor know that every gift matters — and less on upgrading their giving. And that includes building a strong monthly giving program.

In your donor communications, acknowledge that your supporters may be finding it difficult to give as they have prior. Show them that any gift, no matter the size, makes a difference.

2. Eroding Trust

The loss of trust is now a global problem. And it’s one of the biggest problems nonprofits face. The Edelman Trust Barometer found that trust in nonprofits dropped another 4 points in 2023.

A whopping 48% of Americans don’t trust nonprofits

Interestingly, people trust local organizations far more than large institutions.

The best way to maintain and build trust? Your organization’s donor communications program — consisting of solid Ask+Thank+Report+Repeat systems — utilizes neuroscience, consistency, and proof of impact to deliver trust in a nutshell.

3. Staffing

The National Council of Nonprofits reports that “nonprofits around the country are reporting significant challenges retaining staff and filling vacancies. What was initially considered a challenge has now become a workforce crisis in need of immediate remedy and commitment to overcome longstanding problems exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Crazily enough, as nonprofits seek increased funding for increased services, many are also laying off fundraising staff.

Small to mid-sized nonprofits: rather than hiring your fifth development director in three years, consider outsourcing your creative and/or grants, freeing up your fundraiser’s time for growing relationships. A good consultant can build your Ask+Thank+Report+Repeat systems, allowing your staff the time for stewardship and data.

4. AI and the growth of subpar supporter communications

Nonprofits embraced AI in 2023.

Unfortunately, many welcomed AI as a means of “getting out of writing.” That’s how millions of donors (including yours truly) ended up receiving one email after another exactly like this one (yes, this is an actual word-for-word email I received):

We hope this message finds you well and filled with the same warmth and gratitude that we feel as we reach out to express our deepest thanks for your unwavering support of XYZ.

Your commitment to making a positive impact in our community has been nothing short of inspiring, and we are genuinely grateful for the trust and generosity you continue to show. Your contributions have allowed us to make significant strides in addressing pressing needs, supporting vital programs, and fostering positive change.

Can you say bland, boring, and uninspiring?

It’s also false, robotic, and most definitely not how I would communicate with a friend.

Yet, we know from our work here at Basics & More that when it comes to your nonprofit’s bottom line, nothing quite beats excellent creative, and genuine human communication. In other words: you have to do the work. Donor communications provide the engine behind your fundraising program. You’ll find plenty of excellent copywriting and donor communications trainings out there, as well as copywriting professionals. (Email me for my list of the best of the bunch.)

🔮Prediction: as AI writing apps proliferate, donor communications will become even worse than they already are. And that’s saying a lot.

That said, AI is here. Get ready. Your job is to figure out how to navigate policies for their responsible use, both for internal and external communications.

How your nonprofit will thrive in 2024:

Your Plan and Case for Support

Your fundraising plan and the case for support are more important than ever before. T. Clay Buck said it best in this tweet from 2022.

Your emotional case for support drives all donor communications, from grant proposals to web copy to fundraising appeals.

Better storytelling/more humanity

Whether told face-to-face with a major donor, in a thank you video, or in your fundraising emails, stories are the most powerful tool in your fundraising and marketing arsenal. That’s because human beings are hardwired for nonprofit storytelling.

We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories

– Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal

Stories act like a lock-and-key mechanism to get attention, ignite motivation, and invite action.

Nonprofit storytelling is the foundation of every successful marketing and fundraising campaign. But have you unknowingly rendered your stories ineffective with jargon and too much “insider” information?

Here are 5 big nonprofit storytelling mistakes you’ll want to avoid at all costs.

Impact & stewardship

Make 2024 the year of focusing on the “thank+report” part of your fundraising systems. Consider how you can reach out personally to include your supporters as the partners they are.

Do you publish a regular newsletter? Include a special letter to your monthly supporters, letting them know what their support is accomplishing. Potential major donors? Include a handwritten note highlighting a project they might be interested in. You get the drift.

Direct Mail is essential

Direct mail is essential to nonprofit fundraising for the small to mid-sized primarily community-based nonprofits I work with.

It continues to provide an exceptionally strong ROI — and that’s not even factoring in the long-term *stickiness* that direct mail provides

According to the USPS:

  • 55% of people say they “look forward” to seeing what’s in their mailbox.
  • 56% of people find print-based marketing to be the most trustworthy type of marketing.
  • 70% of people agree that direct mail feels more personal than digital methods.

In the crowded mess that is your donor’s inbox, direct mail has true staying power in nonprofit marketing.

Online Giving

Focus on ease of giving from the donor’s perspective and follow-up. PayPal is never an acceptable nonprofit donation page. Yes, you should offer the option of PayPal; you want to make it as easy as humanly possible for your donor to give. And that means as many payment options as possible.

Master the one tool that enables you to create a direct relationship online: email. Strategy. Subject lines. Engagement and attention.

How will your nonprofit stay abreast of trends? Download your free 2024 Fundraising Calendar for the tools and strategies to see your mission through any crisis!

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