It’s a Wrap: Key Nonprofit Insights From 2020
We’ve finally reached the end of 2020. It’s been unusual, challenging and exhausting for everyone — including those working in the nonprofit world. You’ve done your best to adapt to economic conditions, navigate a pandemic and respond to social unrest. But as tough as this year has been, it’s certainly enlightened us to our shortcomings and nudged us toward innovation. Let’s break down the lessons learned and how nonprofits can prepare for better outcomes in 2021 and beyond.
Technology Is Our Frenemy
And we’re not just talking about video conference struggles. According to Salesforce.org's "The 2nd Edition Nonprofit Trend Report", 85% of nonprofits said that technology was the key to their success as an organization. But 75% reported that measuring and reporting data was still a challenge. In other words, we have the technology to understand our constituents, our spending and our profitability, but we don’t always know how to use it properly. This brings us to our next lesson...
When It Comes to Technological Maturity, We Could All Use a Growth Spurt
Whether you’re struggling with disparate data platforms or are short on analytics personnel, your technology limitations may have stopped you from reacting nimbly to the curveball that was 2020. As you prepare for next year, find out what tools you’re missing to transform data into actionable information, like real-time automated reporting and dashboards that measure performance quickly.
Work with your team to develop rules-based triggers and algorithms for personalization — ones that allow donors to engage with programs and initiatives they care about most. Make a plan to develop and update constituent journeys regularly to improve service levels and response times. Most importantly, focus on how technology, data strategy and analytics can all work together seamlessly to deliver a better constituent experience.
There’s a Real, Ever-Evolving Person Behind That Data Point
And that person’s financial situation, home life and habits have quite possibly been turned upside down by the pandemic. Organizations may need to take a closer look at their constituents on a granular level to understand their new behavior. Are they giving more locally? Giving to causes they have never supported before? Volunteering instead of donating? Changing or adding channels in their giving? When we tune into these signals, we can better track attribution, understand the constituent affinity and determine their lifetime value.
Virtual Events Are Far From Over
Organizations that rely heavily on event-based fundraising faced the arduous task of adapting their programming into a pandemic-friendly format this year. And while the immediate pivot to virtual events may have been out of necessity, this approach can remain a valuable asset in your fundraising toolkit. Capitalize on the ability to encourage participation without the bounds of geographical location, and use technology to improve engagement and profitability. Large gatherings may be on hold well into 2021, so any effort to innovate is worthwhile.
Don’t Put All Your Eggs in 1 Basket
The need to diversify your revenue streams is more important than ever. Investing in digital experiences is valuable (like in the case of virtual events or #GivingTuesdayNow), but more traditional approaches are not to be forgotten. In fact, channels like direct mail and telemarketing saw a resurgence in performance this year, as audiences who typically respond to these channels were less impacted by the pandemic.
Foundations increased their giving from historical levels. And when financial institutions urged higher giving levels, giving patterns through donor-advised funds continued to expand. As donor behavior changes with major events or cultural shifts, don’t be caught flat-footed. Have the financial tools in place to understand the profitability of all your programs, and be ready to engage people within their preferred channels.
It’s OK to fail, But Fail Fast
As Winston Churchill said, “Perfection is the enemy of progress.” This year was a massive experiment for most organizations, and you more than likely made some mistakes. You learned along the way, and now you can turn that insight into action.
While we may never see another pandemic in our lifetime, the ability to observe change and pivot accordingly will remain important in the increasingly competitive nonprofit environment. What’s working now might not work tomorrow. Get the tools you need to respond in an agile way, and you’ll be better prepared to weather the next storm.
Richard Heimsoth is the senior director of Customer Strategy at Merkle.