The Future Is Hybrid: Preparing for the Next Evolution of Fundraising

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by Kelly Velasquez-Hague

A high point in a challenging year has been the creativity and resilience displayed by the nonprofit sector. The innovation and advancements made in 2020 continue to shape the future of philanthropy as nonprofits have expanded their digital footprint and explored new fundraising streams.

We conducted an online survey of 1,997 nonprofit professionals to better understand where nonprofits are finding fundraising success and how they are planning for the future. The “Fundraising Through a Pandemic” report examines how the pandemic impacted fundraising budgets and strategies, insights from the pivot to virtual fundraising, and expectations for 2021.

While many organizations are still feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we found that those that made the pivot to virtual fundraising are finding success and are 10% more likely to be raising at or above their original goals. In fact, 70% of those that held virtual events in 2020 describe them as successful, with only 3% feeling their virtual event was not successful at all. As nonprofits prepare for 2021, insights gleaned from our research can help inform not only the macro-nonprofit outlook, but priorities that will shape the digital evolution in fundraising.

Preparing for Hybrid Events

Events still remain an important part of nonprofit fundraising strategy. Seventy-eight percent of nonprofits surveyed are planning to host one or more events in 2021. We anticipate a fairly even mix of in-person, hybrid and virtual events this year. Hybrid events (those with audiences both onsite and online) in particular are gaining popularity with 42% of those surveyed planning to hold one next year, compared to the 19% that held hybrid events in 2020. There is still approximately 21% of nonprofits that remain undecided as to their 2021 event fundraising plans.

Graph from Fundraising Through a Pandemic report

Credit: OneCause

Hybrid events will continue to evolve the digital pivot, combining both online and in-person events into a single fundraising format. These events can bring opportunities for growth and fundraising effectiveness, during and beyond the pandemic, allowing nonprofits to further embrace technology to reach new donors and meet existing donors wherever they are.

The success of hybrid fundraising will rest on a nonprofit’s ability to create seamless fundraising experiences for dual audiences. Organizations will have to adapt their overall event strategy to drive better engagement and higher impact with both in-person and virtual attendees. Nonprofits will need to think differently about how to deliver communications, programming and the overall giving process with two audiences in mind.

What we learned from those successful with 2020 virtual events is that mobile optimization and creative donation options are most important for engaging a virtual audience. Seamlessly switching between livestream and recorded content and social media integrations were also considered very important. When reshaping an event strategy for hybrid, it will be important to think about how live programming can translate to mobile viewing and how to leverage technology for both an in-person and virtual donor. Whether it’s online or in-person, that act of giving should be as easy as possible to not only encourage donors to complete a donation, but also inspire giving beyond a single gift.

Optimizing the Online Giving Experience

As the importance of online fundraising has grown over the past year, we still see many organizations struggling to optimize the digital giving experience. We found nearly half of those we surveyed feel they could be doing better with online giving, with only 16% saying they were very successful in 2020.

Nonprofits who focus on humanizing and simplifying the digital giving experience will continue to be successful. Start the year fresh by reexamining your online donation processes through the eyes of donors who may only interact with your cause virtually in 2021. Eliminate unnecessary clicks or forms to create a seamless and easy giving experience. Make sure mission messaging, impact statements and donor recognition are central parts of your online fundraising. The giving experience should connect them to your mission and build affinity through a frictionless process — much in the same way that online consumer experiences enhance our connection to brands. In this next evolution of virtual fundraising, a positive or negative giving experience can greatly impact both gift completion and ongoing retention.

Tapping into the Power of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising

The virtual world also brings opportunity for nonprofits to amplify their fundraising efforts by tapping into the power of social networks. As the lines between traditional events, peer-to-peer, and online fundraising are blurring, more organizations have incorporated peer-to-peer strategies into their signature events and annual campaigns with challenges, matching gifts and team-based fundraising competitions. It’s important nonprofits continue to diversify their fundraising streams, even as they return to in-person events. Adding a new and compelling peer-to-peer fundraising element gives an organization the ability to scale their reach quickly and efficiently.

Overall, the pivot to peer-to-peer endurance events was successful for many nonprofits, with 64% reporting their run/walk/ride in 2020 as either very or somewhat successful. Only 8% said their peer-to-peer events were not successful at all. Supporter-driven or DIY peer-to-peer fundraising was the one area those surveyed seemed to struggle, with only 43% describing their campaigns as successful. As organizations slowly return to in-person peer-to-peer, take the opportunity to reevaluate the participant experience. Incorporate new engagement touchpoints and resources that inspire and incentivize fundraising. The goal should be to create an enjoyable participant experience that keeps them engaged throughout the campaign and helps them meet their fundraising goals.

Starting 2021 With a Renewed Focused

According to our survey, engaging and retaining known donors is the most important goal for nonprofits in 2021. Whether your organization has a defined plan or you’re among the 21% who are still undecided, we encourage you to focus on creating easy and engaging experiences. Challenge your organization to reexamine donor experiences, identifying opportunities to simplify and infuse new engagement touchpoints. Use what we learned about important factors to engaging a virtual audience to help reshape your strategy. Continue to try new approaches, and expand your online fundraising footprint.

The full report, “Fundraising Through a Pandemic,” is available for free to download here.

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