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March 2, 2021
 
Nonprofit Fundraisers Cite Need to Focus on Donor Retention
Donor retention

February 7, 2021 — Optimism among nonprofit fundraisers steadily grew in the last quarter of 2020, with more than half saying donor retention and stewardship will be the most important area for them to focus on during 2021, according to a recently completed assessment of fundraising professionals.

Completed by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), the Fundraising Confidence Survey, completed in December, found that nonprofit fundraisers were optimistic about their confidence in finding fundraising success over the next 12 months.

“It’s good to see that confidence is increasing slowly across the board,” said Mike Geiger, AFP’s president and CEO. “From our Fundraising Effectiveness Project, we’re seeing giving holding steady or even growing a little for many organizations.”

Among other questions, survey participants were asked to choose the three areas they were going to increase their fundraising efforts over the next three months, six months and 12 months. As with the first iteration of the survey conducted in September 2020, fundraisers continued to focus on donor retention and stewardship, with an average of 60% selecting it as the most important area over all three timeframes.

Top focuses for 2021 also included major gifts, with 55% of respondents selecting major gifts one of their three priorities over the next three months. More than 60% of respondents chose major gifts as a priority at six months, and then 64% after a year. Overall, major gifts rose in importance from the first survey to the second survey—49% selected it as a priority over three months in the first survey, 61% over six months and 62% over a year.

Another focus for fundraisers included online and email solicitations, selected as a priority by 44% of fundraisers over three months, 40% after six months and 37% after a year.

Top focuses for 2021 also included major gifts, with 55% of respondents selecting major gifts one of their three priorities over the first quarter of 2021.

More than 60% of respondents chose major gifts as a priority at six months, and then 64% after a year. Overall, major gifts rose in importance from the first survey in September to the second survey in December: 49% selected it as a priority over three months in the first survey, 61% over six months, and 62% over a year.

Another focus for fundraisers included online and email solicitations, selected as a priority by 44% of fundraisers over first quarter of 2021, 40% after six months, and 37% after a year.

Other top priorities included direct mail (average 36%), foundation giving (average 37%), planned giving (average 30%), corporate giving (average 30%), social media (average 29%) and donor-advised funds (16%).

Telemarketing remains least popular, with just 3% of fundraisers selecting it as a priority over the first quarter of 2021, 2% over six months and 2% over a year. In-person special events was selected by just 2% of fundraisers over the next three months, but its importance rises significantly as a priority over six months (11%) and then 12 months (28%).

“It’s no surprise that donor retention and stewardship remain priorities for so many organizations, as it’s always more effective and efficient to keep existing donors than find new ones, especially in a challenging situation where in-person, relationship-building opportunities are limited,” said Kevin J. Foyle, chair of AFP. “At the same time, it’s interesting to watch the drop in online solicitations and growth in major gifts and special events.

“It is clear that fundraisers are expecting a stronger economy and a return to some type of normal as 2021 continues. We’ll have to see how that transition occurs, with a lot potentially riding on how the vaccination rollout continues.”

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