What Fundraisers Are Doing as the Pandemic Eases

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By Dan Parks

Fundraisers are rethinking how they do their job as the pandemic eases, a new study by the Association of Fundraising Professionals finds. Many are redoubling their focus on keeping donors giving again and again. Fundraisers said they plan to rely less on direct mail, which had more appeal when social distancing was essential to health and safety. And many are worried about their ability to keep staff members amid the Great Resignation.

The survey, conducted in December and early January, also found the highest level of confidence in reaching fundraising goals since the pandemic began.

But the turbulence in the economy and the political world caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine could change the equation. Michael Nilsen, vice president of marketing, communications, and public policy at the Association of Fundraising Professionals, said he expects the outlook for fundraising this year to remain bright provided the war ends soon and some weak spots in the economy prove to be relatively short-lived.

The survey also asked fundraisers to choose their top three priorities from a list of 11. Donor retention came out on top, with 62 percent citing it as a priority during the first quarter of 2022, followed by major gifts at 54.5 percent.

Meanwhile, direct mail plummeted in importance in the eyes of fundraisers. Just 26.5 percent selected it as a priority during the first quarter of 2022. In previous surveys direct mail was cited as a priority by more than half of fundraisers, and it was the most common priority just a few months earlier, in September.

AFP says that the interest in direct mail may rebound somewhat in the months ahead, especially as the year-end fundraising season draws near. However, the survey also notes that a longer-term shift away from direct mail could be underway, especially as opportunities for in-person gatherings return after a long hiatus.

The survey results were drawn from responses gathered from 531 fundraisers. The findings aren’t statistically significant, but Nilsen said they provide a snapshot of “a general sense of what the profession is thinking about.” He added, “We believe the survey does a valuable job of showing where the profession is generally headed, especially with respect to broad strategies and types of fundraising that fundraisers are preparing to use.”

Other findings:

  • Fundraisers expressed increasing confidence that their organizations will be able to hire staff and invest in fundraising during the first half of 2022, with an average score of 6.23, compared with 4.28 a year ago. The rankings used a 10-point scale, with 10 being the most confident.
  • In-person events remain a relatively low priority, but that likely is due to uncertainty over the near-term trajectory of the Covid pandemic. (The Omicron variant was surging when the survey was conducted.)
  • Telemarketing was the lowest priority, as it has been in previous surveys, with only 3 percent citing it as a priority this year. The second lowest was fundraising from donor-advised funds, at 18.7 percent over the next 12 months.
  • The biggest challenges cited included staff turnover, finding new donors, connecting with donors during the pandemic, and donor fatigue.
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