5 Actionable takeaways from the 2020 Giving Report

5 Actionable takeaways from the 2020 Giving Report: Why and how donors are giving

October 26, 2020
12 minutes
A large play button is surrounded by lightning bolts of energy shooting towards it.

Funraise is proud to sponsor the 2020 Global Trends in Giving Report, produced by Nonprofit Tech for Good. The biennial research project focuses on how donors like to give and engage with their favorite causes and non-profit organizations (NPOs).

Nonprofit Tech for Good asked global donors and non-donors what's behind their decision to give. Here are five takeaways that every fundraiser should know for succeeding in this most unusual year.

Spoiler alert? Despite a cinematic year, there's no single strategy here. What we have is a choose-your-own-adventure that takes us back to the basics of donor engagement and simple guidelines for how your organization can ride the rogue wave that is 2020.

Donor takeaway #1: NPOs still got it!

96% of donors say that NPOs are essential for social change.

What else we're seeing:

  • You're doing great! A full 9 in 10 donors view NPOs as ethical and trustworthy, and the same proportion think NPOs are effective when it comes to expressing gratitude for their donations. Only slightly fewer approve of the ways NPOs keep them updated on programs.
  • Even non-donors mostly approve. Only a relatively small minority of non-donors (11%) pointed to perceived problems with NPOs themselves as the reason for not donating.
  • Regional trends matter. Since these are global trends, it's wise to download the full report to take a closer look at your regional trends. Throughout this article, we present country-level data on Canada (which represents 46% of respondents) to illustrate the need for nuance.

Action item: Build off your existing strategy. This report suggests that major shifts in fundraising strategy may not be needed, though we know you're facing real threats in 2020; here's why: Your stakeholders probably still think you're doing a great job! And that's good news, because now is a great time to check on the fundamentals of your donor engagement strategy.

If good strategy involves placing bets that maximize the chance of success—and it does, according to Roger L. Martin in the Harvard Business Review—then now is the time to check your gut about the odds of a winning hand, er, fundraising strategy and make sure you're excelling at the basics before you spin off into a emergency tactics.

Donor takeaway #2: While times are tough, donors and non-donors are still giving back.

60% of donors have given to an NPO in response to the global pandemic.

What else we're seeing:

  • People really are in this together. We know that people are struggling right now. So when 6 in 10 donors have opened their wallets (and hearts) since the pandemic began, that's a big deal. If your region is like North America, where donor intentions remain high, then there's still the potential for hitting your targets.
  • Inequality undermines working-class donations. There are numerous American reports, like this one from the Institute for Policy Studies, showing that donations from lower- and working-class Americans are on the decline as inequality rises. In Canada, recent data from partner organization CanadaHelps.org shows that charitable giving is going down alongside decreases in disposable income. It's reasonable to expect you may see something similar in your own country.
  • Non-donors are giving back in other ways. We asked non-donors what their main reason was for not giving money to NPOs. Over 4 in 10 said that not having money was the main barrier, and an additional 4 in 10 said it was primarily because they gave other resources, like food, services, or skills, in lieu of money.

The bottom line: Look beyond the usual suspects. Consider expanding your fundraising strategy to include in-kind contributions. Because even when humans are under-resourced or disaffected, that doesn't mean they're apathetic. Now's a great time to nurture relationships with everyone, including non-donors, or, as we like to call them, "pre-donors". Go get 'em!

Donor takeaway #3: Donors are highly engaged in their communities.

The donors and non-donors who report voting regularly represent 94% and 85% of our sample, respectively.

What else we're seeing:

  • Donors are highly engaged in democratic life. Just check out the proportion of respondents who say they've participated in various forms of civic engagement. To put those numbers in context, we compared them to a more representative sample, looking at a 2019 opinion poll by an independent Canadian think-tank. You can see that the makeup of these donors seems to be much more engaged than the general population.²
Civic Engagement Donors Non-donors Sample of Canadians (2019)*
Vote regularly in local and national elections 94% 85% 66%**
Sign Petitions 71% 70% 57%
Volunteer 66% 40% 45%
Attend marches and protests 23% 29% 16%

* We chose Canada as a comparator since they made up 46% of our sample.
* * 66% was the voter turnout for Canada's last national election in 2015.

  • Non-donors may have even more to say. Case in point? The proportion of people who went to marches and protests was actually higher for non-donors than it was for donors. And support for protests only seems to be increasing—even in America, where net support for Black Lives Matter has grown gradually since late 2017, and steeply since spring 2020. ²
  • 'Non-donors' may have even more to give. As pointed out by UC Berkeley lecturer Kim Klein, the methodologies used in philanthropy often undercount small donations, as well as informal donations made to grassroots organizations. In fact, Klein points out, by emphasizing major giving for decades, fundraisers may have helped drive down the motivation of regular folks to chip in with $5 here and $30 there.

The bottom line: Follow the energy, with a bias for trying new things. The scary uncertainty of this historical year is also what makes it exciting and potentially transformative. Donors and non-donors alike are fired up! And with good reason. If ever there was a time to try something unorthodox, this is it. What I mean is, once you tap into your base with a safe, basic strategy, open yourself up to what you hear—especially if you haven't tried it before.

Donor takeaway 4#: No fundraising approach stands alone

Over half of donors surveyed are enrolled in a recurring giving program, but otherwise, the field of fundraising channels is fragmented.

What we're seeing:

  • A spectrum of ways to execute: Even for experienced fundraisers, the range of fundraising approaches and channels can be downright dizzying. Alas, the data isn't as straightforward as we might wish, with a gradual taper in popularity among the donors we consulted, from a maximum of 56% for online stores benefitting NPOs, to a mere 1% for smart speaker giving. In between, it's not at all clear where to direct attention.
  • Digital is the way. What's striking, though, is the relative popularity of digital approaches like Facebook Fundraising Tools (32%) compared to old-school tactics, including workplace giving (8%) but also galas and luncheons (40%). In the national report by Canada Helps, we can see that the growth of online giving was continuing to outpace overall giving, at 17% to 6%, respectively. Given the mass move toward virtual engagement that's taken place, it's reasonable to assume that digital tactics will be topping the charts by the time this survey circles back in 2022.

The bottom line: There's no one-size-fits-all solution. What's the best channel for executing your fundraising strategy in 2020? That may feel like the million-dollar question, but it won't be—unless, of course, your strategy lays out a clear profile of your donors, and employs a solution that fits that profile. For example, one consulting study of over 800 Canadians found evidence that over a quarter of people plan to "give more locally" in response to COVID, and another 24% are open to becoming monthly donors with the charities they've supported before. That means local-serving charities seem to have an opening to invest in infrastructure for monthly giving. Even without good data, it's better to make imperfect but deliberate choices about who to focus on and which specific approaches they (might) respond to.

Donor takeaway 5: There's hunger for digital communications

Among donors, 92% say that NPOs must invest financially in digital communications to stay relevant.

What else we're seeing:

  • Donors prefer email and social media. We asked donors about the singular medium that makes them feel most inspired to give. Topping the list were email and social media, with each one being the preference of 25% donors.
  • A pool of niche tools a mile wide and an inch deep. Beyond that Big Two, there was a mish-mash of preferences, including websites (17%), ads in traditional media like print (13%) and TV (8%), and five others.
  • How often? It depends. Among the email diehards—I see you, email peoplethere was  an even split in the preferred frequency of updates, between quarterly (39%), monthly (32%) and at least twice monthly or more (29%). Among social media fans, Facebook attracted the most (48%), followed by Instagram (24), and then a mix of Twitter, WhatsApp, Youtube and LinkedIn, each garnering between 5 and 8 percent.

The bottom line: The best 'tool' is listening. There are, of course, many questions beyond which tool to use, and how often. Foremost among them is figuring out what you're going to say, as well as the voice and tone in which you say it, which may vary across media. Research on donor motivations, like this foundation-funded study in Long Island, has shown us that giving is an unconscious, psychological contract between donor and steward. As nonprofit people, we ignore that contract at our peril.

The bottom-est line: Use this data to form a hunch, then use your hunch to go find more data!

The best way to use this data is to go find out what makes donors (and potential donors) in your area tick. It doesn't have to be complicated. Talk to them. Be human, be yourself. Ask them what's working... and what isn't. What annoys them? It's like any relationship, after all.

Go wild with a survey, or lead an interview process, if you have the capacity. But eventually, you need to take that hunch and put it to the actual test. Have fun! See what sticks. Look for what makes people light up, and follow that.

PS—There's room for growth, and you could be part of it. Improving the inclusivity of our methods is part of our long game to build the strongest evidence base possible for philanthropy. Nonprofit Tech for Good operates on a simple crowdsourced model wherein partner organizations promote the survey within their sphere, and the report in turn provides them with anonymized data specific to where they work. There's more work to do, and it's an honour to keep it going together.


¹ “2019 Democracy 360.” The Samara Centre's 2019 Democracy 360, The Samara Centre for Democracy, 2020, www.samaracanada.com/research/2019-democracy-360.
² Civiqs. “Black Lives Matter Support from Registered Voters in the United States.” California, USA, 20 Oct. 2020.
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