Fundraising in 2021: 5 Trends That Will Stick Around

As we move into the era of mass vaccination and the economy is opening up more and more, it’s time to reflect on the old adage: “Every cloud has a silver lining.”

What will be the silver lining of the COVID-19 storm that kept nonprofits from hosting in-person events, that disrupted traditional fundraising efforts and that estranged donors from some of their favorite charities?

There are definitely some benefits that will stick around long after COVID-19 is gone, and ironically, these benefits would not exist if COVID-19 had been less disruptive or shorter in duration.

It was the scope of the disruption and the length of time that we had to deal with it that sparked the changes in behavior that are likely to be with us forever.

Here are five trends that will stick around.

1. The Continued Viability of Virtual Galas

While it’s clear that it’s harder to create fun and engagement in a virtual event, it’s also clear that virtual events DO work; donors DO tune in; they DO learn about the mission and the need; they DO contribute, and nonprofits DO raise critical funds.

If you had tried to do a virtual gala pre-COVID, you would have hit the brick wall of a population that was not used to tuning in to watch live programs online, and was probably unwilling to learn.

But COVID-19 changed that.

Now the vast majority of the US donor population is familiar with and comfortable with getting on Zoom (or some equivalent) to watch a show. That broad Zoom education will keep the virtual door open.

2. The Expansion of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising

At first blush, it might sound ridiculous to suggest that COVID-19 “expanded” peer-to-peer fundraising, when anyone in an organization that relies on peer-to-peer events knows that COVID-19 devastated this type of effort.

While it is true that COVID-19 hurt traditional peer-to-peer fundraising, but peer groups were an unexpected boon for traditional fundraising galas.

Typically, a gala held in a ballroom engages only the people who are in that ballroom.

But with the emergence of virtual galas, we saw grandparents, aunts, uncles and other extended family members tune in and contribute from distant places — this was particularly evident for private school fundraisers.

It seems likely that any organizations that got a boost from those peer contributions will look to stay hybrid in the future, and give those relatives a chance to participate.

3. Lowered Costs, Similar Revenue

Most of the nonprofits that we worked with were pleasantly surprised to discover that their virtual gala raised between 75% to 125% of the revenue that their in-person gala typically raised.

But the virtual event did it at a fraction of the cost — no ballroom, no catering, no decorations, no valet — so the net number to the organization was higher than they’d ever experienced.

That reality is going to remain attractive and viable for many small to medium nonprofits. If they can engage with their donors virtually and still raise the money they need, why spend all the time, effort and money putting on a traditional in-person event?

4. Big Players Jumping In, but the Benefits Live On

In the Spring of 2020, the movement toward virtual galas was just a trickle. It started to pick up steam in Summer 2020, and then became a torrent in the Fall of 2020.

We saw some of the biggest mobile bidding companies, production companies, and other providers develop virtual solutions, which then allowed large nonprofits to step into the virtual world.

The virtual galas we did in Spring 2020 were amateurish and simple. By the Fall of 2020, they were polished, professional events.

Now, as we approach the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, that knowledge, experience and technology are not going away.

Many medium and small nonprofits will continue to reap the benefits of the virtual experience.

5. Changing Audience Tastes

The ballroom had always been a part of our fundraising efforts, so when we watched people walk in the door dressed up, smiling, grabbing drinks, socializing with their friends, having a great meal, learning about the mission, and contributing to the fundraising, we assumed from their smiles and generosity that this in-person, dressed-up, ballroom experience was what they wanted and what they preferred.

But COVID-19 has definitely changed some people’s tastes.

Many people have discovered that they love working from home and have no desire to return to the office.

Prior to COVID-19, it felt perfectly normal and even desirable to get up, get dressed and go into the office to work all day.

But now that they’ve been working from home, many workers realize that what used to feel normal is no longer desirable. Now going into the office feels like an unnecessary burden, when they can work more effectively and efficiently from home.

That same reality is likely to show up in the nonprofit world, too.

Some of the people who thought it was perfectly normal and desirable to find a babysitter, get dressed up, fight traffic, deal with parking, etc. have discovered that they’d prefer to support their favorite causes from the comfort of their own homes.

Their employers have given them the option and the ability to continue to work from home. They may be expecting their favorite charities to do the same!

This post was contributed by Reggie Rivers, Founder and President of The Gala Team. Learn more about Reggie on The Gala Team’s website.