After a year like 2020, some nonprofits are anxious to see what 2021 will bring. 2020 saw many nonprofits shifting their operations from in-person to virtual, and many more pivoting to serve their communities in different ways during the pandemic.
According to the Independent Sector, 83% of nonprofit organizations saw a reduction in revenue six months into 2020 and 71% responded by offering fewer services or reducing their operations.
It was a stressful year to be in nonprofit management. Between canceling vital fundraising events, losing corporate partners and other funders, and being unable to fulfill funder requirements for grants, 2020 and the global pandemic required many nonprofits to be nimble. Innovation was key in 2020—and it might still be the key to 2021.
In this article, we’ll look at the following tips for nonprofit management this year:
- Prepare for the New Normal
- Adapt to New Donors
- Update Your Fundraising Content
- Revamp Your Tools
- Diversify Your Leadership
- Think About Your Employees
- Focus on Your Mission
With these tips in mind, staring down 2021—with all of its possibilities and scary unknowns—becomes less of a challenge and more of an opportunity. 2021 may require a little bit of innovation and invention, but with the right tools, you will be up for any challenge.
The struggles of 2020 aren’t totally in the rearview mirror, though. That’s why it’s important to stay prepared.
1. Prepare for the New Normal
If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that it pays to be flexible. The past year required nonprofit leaders to adapt quickly to the new environment, shifting to providing virtual services, finding creative ways to evolve their programs, and managing their nonprofit with courage.
According to a 2020 Nonprofit Leadership Center survey, 40.5% of nonprofit leaders say adaptability is the most important trait they used to succeed, followed by creativity at 16.22%. Adaptability is key in nonprofit management—and 2021 is going to bring more potential for quick-thinking creativity.
If your nonprofit handles crisis-recovery programs, you might be looking at more service needs than ever as we move into our new normal in 2021.
Feeding America estimates that 1 in 7 people experienced food insecurity in 2020, compared to 1 in 9 in 2019. Unemployment reached the highest point since 1948. Financial insecurity, stress about the pandemic, and lack of social interaction led around 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. to report symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder during the pandemic months of 2020—this number was 1 in 10 adults in 2019.
Nonprofits that provide services to help communities in need have already seen an increase in demand for their programs. Although these nonprofits have already adapted and created online programming where possible, the continued need for social distancing means they need to continue to find ways to expand and recreate.
Ways to Prepare Your Nonprofit:
- Reorganizing and reprioritizing staff, even increasing staff capacity, can help account for the additional support needs.
- Refitting any digital communication platforms like a website or an app to accommodate online means of connection such as chat functions or video conferencing interfaces will help you communicate with community members in need.
- Finding board leadership that is willing and ready to take on the challenge will help support your nonprofit’s mission.
- Coming up with realistic goals and effective evaluation measures will ensure you and your team are working effectively.
Although the worst of 2020 may be over, we must keep preparing for our new normal by managing our nonprofits in the spirit of adaptability. The more flexible and prepared we can be, the better we can serve our struggling communities.
2. Adapt to New Donors
2020 was full of change, but not all change was bad for fundraising. According to a survey conducted by Fidelity Charitable, 25% of donors planned to increase their giving in 2020 in response to the pandemic, while 54% planned to maintain their annual giving levels.
In that same survey, Fidelity Charitable found that 46% of Millennials planned to give more in response to the pandemic, compared to 25% of Gen X and only 14% of Baby Boomers. These older generations reported feeling uncertain about how to give effectively, with 35% of Baby Boomers saying they didn’t have enough information. Only 27% of Millennials felt they didn’t have enough information to effectively direct their donations.
Why rethink your fundraising if you’re still meeting (or possibly exceeding) your goals? The paradigm shift caused by 2020, along with an increase in Millennial and even Gen Z donors, means your nonprofit needs to find an approach to fundraising that appeals to a younger audience, with slightly different giving preferences.
What to Know About Millennial and Gen Z Giving:
- Millennials are confident with their giving, but they need to be impressed by a nonprofit’s digital presence to feel comfortable choosing where their donations go.
- Millennials and Gen Z are primarily motivated by a sense of social responsibility and are excited by the idea of social change. They want to make a difference!
- Young donors want to see how their donations are being used effectively.
- Although young donors don’t always have the financial means to be big donors, they would rather donate what they can spare to a variety of nonprofits with pressing, relevant missions than to one nonprofit annually.
What does this mean for your nonprofit? Creating mission-centered, transparent campaigns will be the focus of 2021.
Once you understand how the fundraising landscape has been affected by the past year, it’s time to come up with an actionable plan to make your future fundraising the best it can be.
3. Update Your Fundraising Content
With an understanding of how younger donors think and what they look for in a nonprofit, you can strategize to find the best way to target new donors and cultivate existing donors into long-term supporters.
Here are some ways that you can manage fundraising to effectively appeal to young donors:
- Personalization is key! Younger donors want to feel like your nonprofit really appeals to them and their individual interests. Conduct surveys of your recent donors to see what kind of content they would like to see and what areas of your programming they’re most interested in supporting. Use this info to target new donors with similar philanthropic goals.
- Be as transparent as possible. Obviously, a level of transparency is required to be a 501(c)3 nonprofit—but we’re talking about going beyond posting your form 990 on your website. Include infographics about your recent successes, pictures of the communities you actively serve, video content, and other engaging digital content that’s easy to access and clearly shows your nonprofit’s value.
- Use social media to your advantage. Connect with other nonprofits who work in similar (but not the same!) areas of service or communities and ask to collaborate on social media content. This may seem counterintuitive, but using your platform to support others shows young donors that you’re a good steward in the philanthropic community.
- Rock your emails. Get creative with the content—make it valuable content about your organization. The Millennial Impact Project found that more than 65% of Millennials receive email from 1-5 nonprofit organizations. Make yours stand out! But also…
- Don’t give up on direct mail! In a study conducted by MarketCharts, 75% of Millennials think the mail they receive is valuable. Consider lighter mailings like flyers and postcards that cut back on waste and cost but still look attractive and interesting for the recipient.
Understanding how the donation landscape shifted in 2020 is only part of the battle. Being creative with your strategies will help you maintain your 2021 fundraising goals and maybe even surpass them.
4. Revamp Your Tools
To have the right fundraising strategy, you need the right tools. Even before 2020, fundraising was moving more and more into the digital world. Now, donors expect to be able to donate online—easily.
Here are some easy ways to revamp your fundraising process for efficiency and ease of access.
- If you aren’t already, use social media to accept donations. Is your organization open for Facebook fundraising campaigns? Does your Instagram have a donation button? If not, you might be missing out on donations that are easily gathered.
- Integrate a donation form like Donorbox to your website. Your donation form should provide donors with a seamless online donating experience. This form needs to be easily customizable to your brand and help you smoothly collect recurring donations to help maximize your fundraising.
- Streamline your donor data management. With Donorbox, you can easily search your donors with filters for frequency, amount, and more. This allows you to easily find donors for targeting campaigns and other kinds of outreach. You can also store a record of each communication with a donor so all your donor information can remain in one place.
- Create a virtual donor wall to instantly thank your donors. This shows your donors that they matter right away, without any lag time of a personalized thank-you letter. With Donorbox, donors are automatically added to your donor wall, saving you and your team valuable time and energy to do what really matters—supporting your mission.
Streamlining how you handle donations on the backend can simplify work chains for your employees, giving them more time to focus on things that really matter. With the right tools, 2021 could be smooth(er) sailing.
5. Diversify Your Leadership
In 2021, it’s time to have leadership that reflects the diverse communities your nonprofit serves. Your board members are stewards of your organization, each with different assets that they bring to lift up your organization’s mission through careful management oversight, donor cultivation, corporate connections, and more.
In a study to analyze trends in nonprofit leadership called Leading with Intent: 2017 BoardSource Index of Nonprofit Board Practices, Leading with Intent found that boards hadn’t gotten any more diverse since their last study in 2015, and with current recruitment practices not considering demographics, that is unlikely to change. Here’s why your nonprofit should actively try to change.
Why is Diversity Important?
- Your board should reflect the diversity of the community your nonprofit serves. This allows your nonprofit to gain useful connections with all members of the community, leading to potential new donors and collaborations. It also shows the community that you value expanding your organization’s cultural awareness.
- When you have a difficult management decision to review, having a diverse board can lead to better decision-making. All opportunities and potential downsides can be considered.
- Actively diversifying keeps your board fresh—broadening networks, social circles, and cultivation potential.
- Maintaining a diverse board can improve the culture of your nonprofit and make your employees feel more recognized as a member of your team.
How to Get Started
- Consider where your nonprofit is headed. What will you need from future board members? Think about things like networks, skills, life experience, and involvement.
- Share this discussion with your current board members. Keeping them in the loop about any searches for new board members both keeps them up-to-date and allows them to consider their own contacts as potential candidates.
- With your board, develop a plan that includes attainable goals and a timeline. An example would be a plan to recruit two new board members that fit your nonprofit’s needs by the end of the year.
- Avoid tokenism by considering how to improve your overall board culture. According to BoardSource, new voices are most effective on a board when they make up 30% of the total board, or at least three people. Make new board members feel comfortable by incorporating social time before or after board meetings.
Diversifying your board is an important tip for successful nonprofit management in 2021, and it will only continue to serve your nonprofit with new ideas, connections, and leadership strengths in years to come.
6. Think About Your Employees
Remember that as hard as 2020 felt from the management side, your employees also felt the effect of this new work environment. Whether they were able to work from home or were still going to the office, or even out in the field to support your mission, this year likely took a toll on them.
Creating a better culture in 2021 starts with treating your employees with respect and care. After all, they’re the ones who actively carry out your mission and support your nonprofit’s goals. While you ultimately have to consider the needs of your nonprofit first and foremost, finding synchronicity with your staff and your needs will create an environment where your employees are happy to go to work.
Employee wellness means that your employees feel like more than their basic needs are being met. They should feel properly supported and appreciated, with an emphasis on work-life balance that often gets overlooked in the nonprofit world.
The three areas to focus on to improve employee wellness include:
- Community Health. This refers to your employees’ perception of the community around them. Are they given the time and space to participate in community service projects? This is easy to overlook in the nonprofit world, since working for a nonprofit can seemingly fill this gap.
- Mental Health and Belonging. It’s important for employees to feel like they belong in a workspace—even if they’re working remotely.
- Personal Health. Do your employees have the time and encouragement to take care of themselves?
With so many employees working from home, it has been difficult if not impossible for some nonprofits to prioritize these aspects of wellness. Whether your employees are staying remote or returning to the office, here are some ideas to easily incorporate employee wellness initiatives into your day-to-day management.
- Hold short team meetings at the beginning of each day just to check in, chat, and ease into the day. Use this time to prioritize goals for the day, check in on weekly initiatives, and give your employees a regular opportunity to present problems. This is especially helpful when working remotely to help your employees mentally prepare for the workday.
- Host fun competitions for the best workspace (at home or in the office), the best home cooking, or even pet-of-the-week. Winner gets a reward, but everyone who participates gets to feel good and share a little about themselves with their colleagues.
- Start a wellness program to encourage employees to practice healthy habits. This might seem like a big undertaking, but the benefits of having a healthy staff that feels valued are immeasurable. For a good example, read about Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Strong4Life, a program that 97% of their employees view as a benefit.
If you don’t have the bandwidth to implement sweeping new employee wellness programs after the stress of 2020, start small! Think about what you can do. Talk to your board to see what seems reasonable—they might have great suggestions that can work well within any budget.
7. Focus on Your Mission
This one may seem obvious, but after all of the different pressure points, last year revealed, it can be easy to forget your original goal. The issue or community your nonprofit served before 2020 still exists, and may need you more now than ever before.
In 2021, you should celebrate your ability to adapt to unstable times and use what you’ve learned to refocus and regain momentum. Here are some questions to ask yourself and your team to consider how your mission has been served over the last year and how it needs to be served going forward.
1. What management adaptations and creativity from 2020 should you bring into 2021?
Reflecting on this gives you and your team the chance to figure out what worked well and what’s worth keeping. Consider what changes or actions will help you continue to serve your mission in 2021, knowing that things might still be a little hectic.
You and your team might perform a SWOT analysis to consider these changes—looking at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to figure out how your recent adaptations can serve you in the future.
2. Did your activities shift too far?
If your nonprofit pivoted a little in 2020, chances are it was to serve your community in new and urgent ways. This is not a bad thing! There’s also a good chance you’re still performing some of these activities that felt so new only a year ago. Take a step back to see how they fit with your original mission. What’s most important to your community? Talk with your board to see how—or if—your mission needs to grow to accommodate this new activity in the long term.
If you do need to tweak your mission statement, looking at recent examples is a helpful way to see how other nonprofits have taken on this challenge.
3. How are you measuring your success with any new initiatives in 2021?
Whether you changed your programming last year or not, 2021 will likely ask for some different ways of measuring success. The good news is that you have control over these measurement techniques and can set goals in a way that feels helpful to the day-to-day realities of your organization. Whether you measure by community members served, number of resources distributed, amount of aid given, or virtual audience members—come up with a metric that makes sense for your 2021 mission.
It might feel like you’ve strayed far from your original mission in 2020. But any adaptation only makes the fabric of your nonprofit stronger. At the end of the day, your goal as a nonprofit is to help—and if that’s what you’ve done in 2020, feel good knowing that you can continue that important goal in 2021.
Not even the best nonprofit trend predictor could have predicted what 2020 brought to our doorsteps. But with some good commonsense approaches and an eye toward maintaining the 2020 momentum, 2021 can be a real success.
Remember to appreciate all your nonprofit has done. It may be time to revamp and reestablish systems that work better than the old way we did things, but you should never feel like your work is for nothing. That’s the wonderful upside of working in nonprofit management—no matter what, your work is for good.
For more tips and insights to carry you through 2021, check out the rest of our nonprofit blog.