Woman holding change with a note saying, "Make a Change"

What Will Shape Nonprofit Growth to Close 2020?

As we make the turn to the backstretch of 2020, much is uncertain for worldwide commerce. Trends have veered to unforeseen paths, some positive, some negative. It’s no different for philanthropic organizations and its volunteers.

Galaxy Digital, an American asset management company, conducted a study on trends for nonprofits. The findings lend insight into understanding current donor and volunteer sentiment and predictors for giving.

Building Donor Loyalty

Personalization drives action, as the COVID-19 response for nonprofits attests. Email and social media segmentation is the first step, but donors of all sizes want to know how their values align with the organizations they support.

Opportunities to contribute ideas and feedback allow donors to engage on a deeper level, creating loyalty. Tangible takeaways help, such as branded swag (hats, T-shirts, water bottles) and VIP admission to events.

Memberships that included a benefit accounted for 77% of total online revenue for nonprofits. Members become long-term contributors. In a pandemic shutdown, events and swag aren’t as readily available. A nonprofit’s cause often determines what aspects of the pandemic alter the landscape most, especially social distancing, says Tyler Easterling, President and COO at The Brandon Agency.

“One of the nonprofits we partner with has had to figure out new ways to collect and distribute food and necessities to those in need,” Easterling said. “Also, training programs that many nonprofits do in person have had to be changed to virtual. That has caused its own set of challenges for needed equipment and internet bandwidth.”

Fundraising in 2020 took a major hit when coronavirus shuttered much of the world. Nonprofits struggled to find footing at first, but the study shows promise of recovery.

Bill Gaskins is Associate Director of Helping Hands of Georgetown, a coastal South Carolina nonprofit organization that has helped residents during crisis and other challenges since 1989. He says face-to-face contact has been a challenge, especially for a nonprofit that deals directly with people. But they’ve made adjustments.

“We have moved from having clients come into the building and shop for their groceries to having a drive-up service that we are bringing food to their car,” Gaskins said.

Helping Hands’ after-school Youth Empowerment Program is now virtual, and the organization is still doing good work, thanks to donors and volunteers.

“We have made a lot of positive changes to serve our community,” Gaskins said. “We look forward to being able to serve people face-to-face. It has been a difficult time but very exciting to see our volunteers, staff, and donors come together so we can continue our services.”

CCS Fundraising is a strategic fundraising firm, with offices in the U.S., U.K., and Germany. It’s large scale study reveals creative solutions to fundraising led to positive results – and a brighter outlook for the sector.

More from the study, from data gathered May 1-June 1, 2020:

  • Fundraising results are improving. In the previous, 14% of respondents said they’d seen increases in fundraising. For this poll, 23% did.
  • Plans are on track. With adjustments, most nonprofits will continue planned campaigns. Nearly two-thirds say they’ve held or considered holding a virtual fundraiser in place of in-person events for major initiatives. Nearly two-thirds said they’d made special appeals to donors or dipped into emergency funds during the pandemic. Donor engagement is also up, on social media and other assets, such as podcasts and webinars.
  • Most staff is safe. In CCS’ recent survey, nonprofits reported slightly higher numbers of furloughs and layoffs. Most respondents, however, reported no staff changes. Hiring remains static.

Some sectors have struggled in some of those findings, especially in tourism-related fields.

Hobcaw Barony is a historic education and research reserve on Waccamaw Neck, a peninsula in Georgetown County, S.C. The Belle W. Baruch Foundation, established when its former owner and namesake died in 1964, operates the tract of land. Hobcaw Barony contains a unique combination of cultural and natural resources.

The hit to tourism has been significant for Hobcaw Barony, accounting for 25% of operations, says director of development Sydney Miller. That’s forced the foundation to cut costs, freeze vacant positions, reduce hours, and apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan from the federal government.

“As to mission, the greatest impact has been to the research mission with few projects and no students this summer,” Miller said. “Research requests were down more than 70% from the previous year.”

A Different Outreach Strategy

Track record mattered to donors in the past. Rather than join the winning team, young givers want to back organizations that make a difference. Driven by a sense of social responsibility, they want to effect change. An effective message to them includes:

  • Details of a problem. What’s happening, and who is it affecting?
  • We need you. The solution must come from donors and volunteers.
  • How you can help. A demonstration of what the contribution will really do.

It’s less about what’s been done before, and more what needs to happen now.

Alignment with values can lead to long-term associations between donors and a nonprofit. Membership is rising. Automatic monthly contributions allow donors to set it and forget it – and organizations to manage a donor base efficiently. Versus annual givers, those who contribute monthly donate more over time – nearly 3 times more.

Donors want a way to click and tap their support rather than write a check. In the past 5 years, nonprofits report a 77% increase in online donations. Of that, 13% come by email, a successful means that lends itself to segmented strategy. Facebook Fundraisers, a direct donation feature, has seen year-over-year growth as a platform, raising $1.77 through the social channel for every $100 of total online revenue.

Social media is a great supplement to fundraising. Photo posts catch the most attention to a call to action, on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. This study also showed an existing sentiment for a more engaging giving experience, to give time to help with an event.

Fundraising software company MobileCause published a list of 10 virtual campaign ideas. Among them:

  1. Donations to COVID-19 victims. Pausing planned campaigns to help with the global pandemic is a good idea, as an act of goodwill. Infections, furloughs, and layoffs have hit some sectors hard.
  2. Digital happy hour. To support local displaced food and beverage workers, bring them online to teach attendees to make cocktails from home. Donors can interact with the workers and submit donations digitally.
  3. Virtual galas. Parties, luncheons, and other formal events are the jewels in many nonprofits crowns. Gather attendees virtually on Facebook or YouTube Live. Attendees will have more access to guest speakers through online questions. One plus: your nonprofit can save on overhead costs vs. an in-person event.

Disasters also drive donations. Experts predict a surge in environmental activism in the next decade. Exposure to global disasters, made more accessible than ever with social media, influences action, too. Charitable donations pour in from people and companies when the news of a disaster hits. Is there a way to turn heart-tugged givers into members to aid a strategic giving plan?

The Center for Disaster Preparedness suggests this approach:

  • Planning. Establish programs for planning, recovery, and relief
  • Holistic Thinking. How can your cause and its volunteers enact change?
  • Strategizing. Rather than wait for disaster, what about innovation for prevention, mitigation, and adaptability programs?

Attention from a disaster gives an organization immediate awareness; this is an opportunity to vet participants to stay involved with sustainable giving and volunteerism in the long-term.

Preparing for an Election Effect

Election years are harvest seasons for nonprofits. After the 2016 elections, charitable giving rose – not just in the moment of civil rights, social action, and advocacy awareness. Of donors who got involved during elections, 50% were more likely to repeat donations within 18 months. The elections in 2020 provide an effective stage to boost membership and recurring donations.

Corporate giving is shifting in the current political climate and pandemic event – and it shows up in other ways, too.

Modernized principles of business put emphasis on a change that benefits all stakeholders, such as communities, customers, employees, shareholders, and suppliers.

Jamie Dimon is chairman of the Business Roundtable, a nonprofit in Washington DC. CEOs of major U.S. corporations make up the bulk of the membership. He says for companies to sustain success, they must invest in their communities and their employees.

“These modernized principles reflect the business community’s unwavering commitment to continue to push for an economy that serves all Americans,” Dimon said. This shift can benefit nonprofits whose message appeals to this sense of service to impact philanthropy. The results are already apparent.

Corporate giving rose 3.2% in 2019, with a forecast of 2.6% more in 2020. Philanthropy Outlook, a research team at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis, predicts giving to exceed the historical 10-year annualized average rates of growth. Chief in that hypothesis: growth in GDP and corporate savings.

Supercharge from Impact Investing

Corporations are finding more ways to give, including impact investing. They make these contributions with the goal of a two-headed result: measurable environmental or social change, plus financial return. Organizations receive capital to address their causes, and corporations benefit from the investment return – and social currency of being part of the solution.

Emerging targets for impact investing include:

  • Affordable, accessible basic services. Education healthcare, housing, and more
  • Conservation efforts. Protecting species from extinction, habitats, ecosystems, and biological diversity
  • Microfinance. Conventional banking and services for individuals and small business who lack access to it
  • Renewable energy. Geothermal heat, rain, sunlight, tides, wind, and more
  • Sustainable agriculture. Meeting current needs in food and textiles, without compromising future generations

Corporate support on this level encourages workplace giving by employees. Impact investing creates a partnership between corporations and nonprofits. Such emphasis on a workforce has paid dividends: 58% of Americans consider a company’s environmental and social commitments when making employment decisions. The same Philanthropy Outlook report reveals companies whose employees choose which causes to support have higher engagement from them.

Companies sponsor volunteer days and grant programs to boost public image as they help. A byproduct: employee well-being. Nonprofits can meet these employees where their concern lives most to establish significant partnerships. Employees who have a positive experience volunteering through such a partnership are more likely to contribute again – and refer the cause to coworkers and friends.

Nonprofit Response

This evolving environment impacts volunteer management, too. Trends include:

Inclusivity in leadership

Denise Collazo is a senior advisor at Faith in Action, a nonprofit formerly known as PICO National Network. It’s a collection of faith-based community organizations. “Women of color do the lion’s share of work in nonprofit organizations, yet they fail to make it to the top leadership and strategy roles,” she said. That could be changing. More thoughtful leadership choices are being made, including the evaluation of organizational structure. Is the leadership representative of the community voices it serves?

Clarity of Mission

An election year isn’t the time to be unclear about priorities. Thom Rhue is president and CEO of NC IDEA, an independent private foundation that supports entrepreneurship and economic empowerment in North Carolina. He says mission focus is critical in 2020. “We will need to be the safe port in the storm,” he said. Election years are prime for an audit of goals, missions, and procedures in fundraising and volunteer engagement.


Transparency in nonprofits is required to maintain 501(c)(3) status, part of the IRS code that exempts organizations from federal income tax. Community supporters also hold nonprofits to that standard. The proof is in the numbers: Nonprofits must track and report data, such as Volunteer Impact on Return of Investment. Favorable reports lead to grants, which draws in donations and volunteers.

Transparency matters for for-profit organizations, too. Customers want socially-responsible products and services. Donors and volunteers need assurances that their efforts aren’t for naught, and making a lasting impact. How are nonprofits spending money? Accountability can prove a challenge to bootstrapped nonprofits who must invest in data-tracking technology.


Nonprofits play a vital role as community hubs for:

  • Decision-makers
  • Donors
  • Stakeholders
  • The private sector
  • Volunteers

To rise to that challenge, nonprofits need the tools to develop and manage those relationships. Software platforms that support multiple functions, including email marketing and donor/volunteer management, create a viable solution to maintain transparency.

This insight can help nonprofits gain public sentiment to join their cause – and keep them evolving with a sometimes volatile landscape of giving and volunteering. Putting their passion and ideas with the business acumen and creativity The Brandon Agency brings, a nonprofit can navigate the challenges today – and build toward even greater achievement tomorrow.

“As a business and marketing partner, we can help them come up with creative ways to communicate their needs and operational changes,” Easterling said. “We can also help them create unique virtual events that can help them reach their fundraising goals. For example, we are helping one of our partners, Helping Hands, plan a virtual gala.”

Gaskins said they raised $117,000 online on Palmetto Giving Day, a 36-hour window for the community to donate to local nonprofits. That ranked the second-highest donation total in the drive, which raised a total of $1.7 million overall, largely through social media.

“We picked up many new donors,” Gaskins said. “The Brandon Agency created social media ads targeting several different audiences. We could not have been as successful without that support. For our upcoming virtual gala, The Brandon Agency is helping us design social media ads and save-the-date and invitations to all our donors.”

Miller calls The Brandon Agency “the best friend you could have any day,” and has been pleased with their involvement in Hobcaw Barony’s predicament during the pandemic.

“From helping us decide what to tell our constituents and when to tell them, to brainstorming about the pros and cons of a virtual fundraising event, The Brandon Agency has been by our side,” Miller said. “If running a non-profit were Who Wants to be a Millionaire, I’d only want the ‘phone-a-friend’ lifeline, with The Brandon Agency on the other end of the call.”

Is your nonprofit trying to innovate on a shifting donor and volunteer landscape? Talk to The Brandon Agency about your goals, and let’s see what we can come up with together.