It’s no secret that the landscape of online fundraising has shifted dramatically post-pandemic, yet one challenge remains the same—donor retention. While online fundraising as a whole grew by 10% in 2020—donor retention rates saw one of the largest declines in recent years, dropping to a record-low of 43%. That means nearly 60% of new donors aren’t returning to nonprofits for a second gift.
The good news is nonprofits now have more tools and technology at their fingertips to re-engage with lapsed supporters and forge authentic connections. Virtual and hybrid event adoption are exploding across the sector—with 73% of nonprofits planning to hold a virtual or hybrid fundraising event in 2021. This presents a new opportunity for nonprofits to reach more donors across new geographies and demographics.
With peak giving season on the horizon and planning mode in full swing, now is the time to map out a game plan to pivot your traditional approach and reimagine how to retain these new supporters with unique experiences like virtual and hybrid events.
Virtual events were bred out of necessity as in-person events were put to a screeching halt in the wake of COVID-19. But the value has proven to extend beyond a short-term solution, to serve as a long-term means to drive growth. As nonprofits are leveraging the flexible technology to maximize stewardship, education and retention opportunities.
Even as we shift back to in-person fundraising events, investing in a virtual solution is important to consider for a few reasons:
Accessibility—move beyond location and time barriers and reach a global audience. In addition, as donors transition out of a post-pandemic giving landscape, some may not feel comfortable engaging in-person. Offering a virtual or hybrid option keeps your cause accessible to all of your donors and gives you an opportunity to expand into new communities.
Cost—Budget is a constant pressure for any nonprofit. When you invest in the in-person experience, what you gain in rapport you lose in actionable insight. So many of the valuable engagements and conversations from the day get lost in the shuffle. With a virtual component you capture these key moments, and leverage valuable engagement data from the event to enhance stewardship efforts. With live chat, Q&A, polls, breakout sessions, and networking tools you’ll gain strategic insights into your donor’s activity to help inform your retention tactics. At a high level these are the key areas you’ll cut corners on budget when transitioning to virtual events:
The money you save by going virtual can be reinvested back into your donor’s and attendee’s experience to make for a truly unique and engaging event. Put those dollars towards virtual contests or giveaways for your community.
Donation Potential—If you’re not incorporating a virtual fundraising component to your event strategy, you’re leaving money on the table. With virtual tools like donor leaderboards, mobile bidding and real-time donations, you can gamify the experience, build competition and bring the excitement of the in-person event to your virtual or hybrid attendees.
Engagement—Zoom fatigue is real. Why put your time and resources into planning and hosting a lackluster event? Virtual and hybrid tools give you the opportunity to integrate engaging elements like live donor leaderboards, networking, mobile bidding, and real-time progress bars to build competition, showcase top donors and show impact the moment it’s made.
The secret to harnessing the power of virtual to drive retention? Be unconventional. Get creative. Think outside of the box. Your donors are unique and the success of your event depends on tapping into their minds. How often do they engage? What motivates them to give? What do they need to feel recognized?
If you’ve held virtual events on Zoom before, chances are you’ve noticed declining attendance rates and overall lack of engagement among your donors. And all of the above makes it hard for nonprofits to forge authentic connections, garner attention and engage with their online and virtual supporters in a meaningful way.
It’s noisy, it’s crowded, it’s distracting—to drive authentic interest, you need to make sure the experience you craft is relevant, entertaining and engaging.
To get there, you must start by cultivating a deep understanding of who your donors are. Start by segmenting and diving deeper into the data to understand how to best target these audiences and craft experiences that bring value and break through the noise. At a high level, I suggest mapping out the following five segments:
We’ll break down each of these donor segments further for insights you need to brainstorm creative events or experiences to captivate, engage and motivate them to stay connected to your cause.
Segment 1: First-Time Donors
Segment 2: One-time/Lapsed Donors
Segment 3: Annual/Yearly Donors
Segment 4: Recurring donors
Segment 5: VIP Donors/Major Givers
No matter your organization’s size or sector, adopting a virtual or hybrid event component to your retention and stewardship strategy will pay dividends. These engaging platforms present a unique opportunity to bring your mission to life, show donors the impact of their gift and authentically connect with them in a crowded online landscape.
Now that you have the framework to segment your donors and ideas to get started, you can prioritize planning. There’s no shortage of creative ideas to explore. In fact, you can get strategic and use these intimate virtual experiences to connect with donors for insights and feedback to inform your year-end campaigns.
Start small, focus on one of your five key segments, and get creative! Don’t overlook the value of your different segments and give them authentic opportunities to engage with your cause. We’re several months out from peak giving days like Giving Tuesday and Year-End and now is the time to test different ideas and hone your virtual strategy so you can end 2021 on a high note.
Traditional fundraising strategies no longer work. This blueprint explains why today's donor expects more, and how nonprofits are shifting to responsive fundraising.