Fundraising in 2020

What will the art and practice of fundraising look like in 2020? We can already see the writing on the wall, written by our colleagues on the for-profit side. 

Big commercial brands are using sophisticated marketing techniques, powered by advanced technology, to give consumers unique and personalized content that allows memorable interaction (even if only virtually) with their products.  Brands are now seeking to emotionally connect with their consumers—an approach that was once wholly owned by non-profits. Brand loyalty is no longer the goal; they seek self-appointed brand ambassadors.

Futurist J. Walker Smith calls this the “Kinship Economy”. In his 2012 Ted talk (recent in terms of a futurist!), Smith discussed how marketing is about social relationships and building personal relationships, not brand relationships and managing brands.

The implications for fundraising are profound, especially as big brands enter a space once solely occupied by organizations and as demographics shift to a greater reliance on mobile and social technology, which are all about connectivity and personal exchanges.

In our own past, we see these evolutions.  Personalizing a letter allowed the contributor to feel greater satisfaction with an organization.  We now use mail, phone, email, and social media to market our message across different channels.  But what was good enough yesterday is certainly not enough for today. The changes brought by advancing technologies have the capacity to be profound--but they must not be viewed as a means to an end. 

We, too, need to change our fundraising strategies to align with these new, more personalized channels. Already donors are resisting the mass-market approaches that once worked. We begin to see the bitter fruit of this as acquisition rates plummet and retention rates fall.  It’s clear that programs will no longer survive if they are not building relationships up and down the giving pyramid.

In addition, just like we never know which low-dollar donor may make a planned gift, so too we are still discovering which donors will become ambassadors for our causes. In 2020, this is how donor bases will be built—not from external databases or internal prospecting lists, but from the relationships organizations have with their donors, and those donors’ relationships with their own communities.

Moving constituents along the giving continuum will always be our responsibility. But by 2020, the experience will need to be more authentic, personalized and tailored—no matter the size of gift, the donor demographic or the channel. This is how we will rebuild loyalty and create organizational ambassadors.

Still building relationships remains at the core of what we do. While fundraising will evolve as the world around us changes, what won’t change is that fundraising will continue be personal.  Fundraising is—and will always be—about people giving to people.