The numbers for 2020 are still being tallied, but fundraisers were bullish about having reached their goals for the year, according to survey conducted late last year. At the same time, fundraisers expressed concern about 2021 receipts, according to the Arlington, Va.-based Association of Fundraising Professionals’ (AFP) Fundraising Confidence Survey.
The survey, which was conducted this past November/early December, is a follow-up effort to a survey conducted in September 2020. According to the most recent results, on a one to 10 scale, with 10 representing the highest level of confidence, fundraisers rated the likelihood of meeting their 2020 goals as 6.98, up from 6.52.
During the same period, when receipts from end-of-year campaigns were starting to roll in, fundraisers gave the likelihood they would receive more money in 2020 than they did in 2019 as 5.47, up from 4.89.
“It’s good to see that confidence is increasing slowly across the board,” AFP President & CEO Mike Geiger said via a statement. “From our Fundraising Effectiveness Project, we’re seeing giving holding steady or even growing a little for many organizations, so I think this may be a case of fundraisers having low expectations for the end of 2020 and seeing those expectations met or exceeded. Hopefully that translated into a decent year-end giving season for most organizations; I hope to be pleasantly surprised, but I suspect we’ll see a wide variety of results.”
The results bear out Geiger’s wish. When fundraisers considered receipt levels during the September through November 2020 period versus the same time a year earlier, 35% said they had raised more, 38% reported receiving less, 21% said they had pulled in around the same level, and 6% were unsure. Still, those levels represented an uptick in sentiment from the earlier survey, in which 32% reported raising more, 41% said they had raised less, 22% said their levels had remained steady and 6% were unsure.
Fundraisers were generally optimistic about donors’ willingness to receive solicitations and other communications. Their confidence level increased from 6.75 in the first survey to 7.38 in the most recent. Asked to consider fundraising success in 2021, fundraisers were somewhat less sanguine, giving their prospects a less bullish 6.47 ranking.
The current year finds fundraisers in defense mode, focusing more on existing donors than on finding new sources of funds. On average, 60% of fundraisers said donor retention and stewardship would be their top priority during the next three, six and 12 months.
Fundraisers also said major gifts would be a high priority, especially as the year went on. While 55% said major gifts would be a priority during the first three months of the year, the figure ticked up to 61% at the six-month mark and 64% after 12 months.
“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,” AFP chair Kevin J. Foyle said in a statement.
In comments, fundraisers gave good reasons for their diminished expectations. As one anonymous respondent put it, “With all of our major donors tapped out, it will be difficult to sustain this level of fundraising, so we will need to be creative to keep the momentum up, since, like all of us, we will have a slow ramp up to former revenue levels. We hope that stewardship and small virtual events will help, and good social media and communication.”
Another opined, “As hard as this year has been, I think next is going to be even more devastating. The City funding that was halved in 2020 could very well be zero in 2021 (since they haven’t received the tourism-based tax revenue that normally fills their coffers). More individuals are suffering from the long-term economic devastation of the COVID pandemic. More small businesses are likely to fold. And as the inability to gather in person drags on through 2021, we will have fewer and fewer chances to fulfill our core mission of live theater.”
AFP based its findings on 454 AFP members within the United States and Canada who responded to an online survey between Nov. 30 and Dec. 11. All AFP members were eligible to participate. The next iteration of the survey will be available in April.