10 Tips, Trends & Observations for Successful Fundraising in 2023 | New River Communications

If you’re like most nonprofit fundraisers, you’re dialed in right now on fourth-quarter fundraising. Your days are filled with Giving Tuesday, Year-End and follow-up campaigns. And at night, visions of emails inspiring donor generosity dance in your head. (Actually, we’re hoping your work-life balance is a bit healthier than that last sentence suggests, but you get the idea.)

All of us toiling away in the direct response fundraising field know how important fourth-quarter can be. We know about the adrenaline rush (or, alternatively, that sinking feeling) that comes with your initial campaign returns – and we wish you all the luck in the world.

That said, our post today isn’t 10 Tips to Crush It in the Fourth Quarter. Truth is, for good or for bad, your fourth-quarter efforts have likely left the starting gate. If they haven’t, you should probably abandon this blog post immediately and rethink your “to-do” list for today.

But, if your year-end efforts are already rolling along, well done and congrats! Take a swig of your favorite libation, give yourself a pat on the back and then… roll up your sleeves.

That’s correct. Roll ‘em up–we have work to do. January is bearing down on us, and we need to get ready for a new year that promises to be VERY different from 2022.

So, without further ado, here are 10 important things to keep in mind when you’re planning campaigns and making projections for 2023.

1) Don’t Expect Pandemic-Era Results. The exuberant generosity you likely experienced from your active donors during the pandemic has probably cooled substantially. Fewer donors are donating, but those who have continued to give have generally been doing so in higher amounts. Whether that change has been zero-sum or not varies from organization to organization. We expect most will experience a reversion to the mean they experienced prior to the pandemic. Anything much lower or higher is likely due to other changes your organization has made rather than the economic environment.

2) Recapture Your Lapsed Supporters. While lapsed response rates have been decreasing, you’d be wise to keep lapsed renewal a top priority. If budgets are super tight and you must decide whether to go after new prospects or past donors – recapturing the latter probably remains a better use of your dollars.

3) Look for a Sustainer Upswing. Monthly donor recruitment efforts weakened substantially during the summer of 2022. This is almost certainly due to inflation and market uncertainty. Whenever the “R” word (recession) is in the news, people are less willing to make long-term commitments. With economic predictability, more of your donors will make the decision to go recurring, so keep up messaging that promotes the power of monthly giving. Monthly donor signups for your organization were likely the weakest between the two blue peaks (public interest in “recession”) in the graph below, but should be back on the upswing after that scary red peak (public interest in “inflation”) in mid-August:

4) Don’t Give up on Prospecting. New donor acquisition has weakened substantially in 2022. However, it’s still important to continue your prospecting efforts. While prospecting is always the least painful cut to make in the present, failing to prospect at least enough to replace your lapsing donors will turn a “today problem” into a bigger “tomorrow problem” and compromise the long-term health of your program. You can’t have a healthy program without pumping new blood into it (i.e., bringing in new donors.)

5) Be Careful in Your Attribution. What’s Going Mailed-in reply/response cards are down as an ever-increasing proportion of your donor base becomes comfortable using your website (or PayPal) as a gift processor. It’s important to remember that it is likely not a sign of weakness in your mail program, but a donor preference on how to give. If catalog marketing has taught us anything, it’s that a physical piece of mail is often the best way to generate online transactions. And some mail is better than others for generating web traffic. With that in mind, failure to do any soft attribution on backend reporting will likely lead you to make some wrong conclusions and decisions: choose the wrong package format, select the wrong people, etc. (There are many useful ways to look at gift attribution – but that’s a topic for another post!)

6)  What to Expect with Printing. Sanity is returning to the print production landscape. While paper availability is still an issue on some mail components, we aren’t seeing the extreme shortages that have been the rule for the past 12+ months. Savvy print vendors have started to hold widely used papers in stock for many items. You should still plan to order paper months in advance for key projects, but if you get in a pinch, there should be options available. Just don’t expect every vendor to have 100,000 pieces of that special linen stock you love on hand. A related production point: Print times are improving, especially with jobs that can be produced digitally. Envelopes, though, are still taking longer to print; think 4-6 weeks. We should see that further improve as we move into 2023, but our “in the know” print partners say it’s very possible we’ll never get back to pre-pandemic turnaround times.

7) Your Cause in a Connected World. One trend we expect to continue in the world at large, and specifically in our fundraising community, is the acceleration of interconnectedness. Technology has connected the world in ways our parents and grandparents never imagined. For good or for bad. Actually, for good AND for bad. So when war breaks out in Ukraine we all feel the pain at the gas pump. But it also means your local food bank might miss out on some donations they’d normally receive because their donors shifted their usual giving behaviors to support war refugees. It’s very hard to predict how this interconnectedness will play out in 2023. Change can bring new threats, but it also brings new opportunities. Maybe our accelerated connectedness opens new audiences to support your cause? Or can you use a viral story about something happening overseas or across the country to illustrate a point about your own cause? There will almost certainly be natural disasters occurring more and more frequently, whether stronger storms or raging wildfires. Will these disasters be threats to your funding? Or will they present new opportunities for increased fundraising? Be prepared for either, and think about how your organization can best communicate with your donors when other causes are in the spotlight.

8) Focus on Building Trust. Another trend we expect to continue is diminishing trust in big institutions. Whether we’re talking about the government, the media, the church or Fortune 500 companies – respect for authority and these institutions continues to erode. If you’re a giant, old institutional nonprofit with a grand history and a stodgy brand – you’re going to have to work harder. If you’re a scrappy new nonprofit with an exciting story to tell and a new approach to an old problem – you’ll have increasing opportunities to find support. Either way, you’ll need to make evidence-based arguments for support and tell better stories. Show people how their support translates into better outcomes for a cause they are passionate about. Relying on your well-known brand to do all the work is not a good bet moving forward.

9) How to Think About Millenials. If you’re newish to fundraising you’ve probably wondered about how to reach younger donors. If you’ve been at it for a long time – you’ve stopped asking this question. Because you understand that giving is mostly a life-stage thing. People in their golden years have more disposable income than those raising families or paying for college. As mortality approaches, people think more about the legacy they’ll leave or more about getting into heaven. Either way, most donors are older. That was true 50 years ago and it’s still true today. Even in our ever-changing world, that’s one reality we’re still banking on. But that’s not a bad thing. Appreciate the fact that 10,000 new people in the U.S. turn 65 every day. By the year 2030, the youngest baby boomers will reach 65. Today there are about 56 million senior adults over the age of 65. By the year 2030, this number will reach 73 million. That means your pool of prospects is getting huge!

10) Invest in the Future. Even though most younger folks likely won’t be giving much to your cause for a long time doesn’t mean you should ignore them. Use social media and look for other ways to get on their radar. Your efforts today will pay dividends later – when they reach the right life stage, your organization won’t be a stranger. But focus your fundraising – especially efforts that carry significant costs – on those golden-years prospects and donors. Remember, successful fundraisers never forget that it’s mostly about them (your donors) – their stage in life and what they hope to accomplish. The best thing you can do is give them a great cause to work on and a great organization to work through – and show them with words, pictures, and stats (more of the first two and a little less of the last one) – what a difference they’re making.

So, there you have it – a bit of fundraisers’ food for the journey into ’23. Wishing you the best with your fourth-quarter results. Should you fall short of expectations, here’s hoping that a nugget or two from the list above helps you and your nonprofit to make big things happen next year!

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