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The Top 17 Nonprofit Trends for 2021

Finally, it’s that time of year again when we round up the top nonprofit trends for 2021!

2020 has proven that we certainly can’t predict the future. However, we can analyze and report on what nonprofits are doing to maximize their impact going forward. 

This article will project advances in community-forward technology, nonprofit management, fundraising, and philanthropy. We’ll also explore the (near) future of volunteerism. 

What can nonprofit organizations expect in 2021? Find out in our guide to nonprofit trends, 2021 edition. 

Trends in nonprofit technology for 2021

Nonprofit Trends 2021: Technology 

Today’s nonprofits and community organizations rely on technology to get more done. The right technology is efficient and cost-effective, allowing nonprofit professionals to continue to deliver essential services. 

Technology is also changing the way people support community causes. Embrace these trends to boost your fundraising and marketing efforts and simplify volunteer management.

So, what’s the biggest theme for 2021? 

We’re seeing apps and services that increase flexibility and accessibility for volunteers, donors, and the nonprofits that engage them. 

Going Mobile

You’ve heard it enough: we’re more attached to our smartphones than ever before. Smartphone users are set to reach 271 million by 2022 in the U.S. alone. People are using their phones to check social media, perform web searches, and make purchases. In fact, worldwide ad spending is predicted to exceed 280 billion dollars by 2022

But in 2021, we’re hoping to see more smartphone use for good. 

Nonprofits can leverage these statistics by ensuring their content and donations pages are mobile-friendly. We recommend you prioritize these mobile-friendly elements:

  • Donations – Your supporters should be able to make donations to your organization on their phones. Add Apple Pay or another mobile-friendly payment system. 
  • Volunteer Check-in – Volunteers have more ways to check in to the opportunities they’ve signed up for using volunteer management systems and volunteer apps. Moving away from paper is easier than ever. Mobile check-in is especially important for large-scale events and volunteerism that occur in multiple locations.  
  • Volunteer Registration – Volunteers may begin to find and register for volunteer opportunities on their mobile devices. Nonprofits may benefit from ensuring their volunteer opportunity listings are mobile-friendly. 
  • Webpage Videos and Images – These days, people are consuming more video content on their phones. Mobile video consumption increases by 100% each year. Make sure they can load and view your site’s videos and images without a hitch. We recommend you upload your videos to Youtube, then embed the link into your webpage. 
  • Email Content (including embedded elements) – Lots of us read our emails on the go. Make sure your email content, like links and images, displays correctly on mobile devices.

What’s more, in 2021, more 5G infrastructure rolls out nationwide (starting with urban centers). Faster networks make it easier for smartphone users to connect to web-based mobile apps, load webpages, and stream live video. With access to 5G, your supporters may be even more likely to use a smartphone to access your website and find volunteer and donorship opportunities.

Texting (SMS): Changing How You Reach Supporters

We see it everywhere: businesses asking consumers to sign up for text message alerts to receive promotional updates. SMS marketing has been around nearly as long as text messaging itself, but it’s increasing in popularity. A growing number of consumers say they’re comfortable receiving text messages from brands. 

But texting isn’t a strategy limited to for-profit businesses. 

2020 saw a steep rise in on-the-ground organizing. And more community organizations are using text messaging to drive action. For example, community organizers used text messaging to reach constituents and even register voters for the 2020 election. There’s certainly a future for text messaging in all facets of nonprofit management, from “text-to-donate” fundraising to communicating with volunteers in the field. 

Before you jump on board: Your supporters must consent to receive text messages from you. Start by collecting mobile numbers during volunteer or donor registration and include terms of agreement for receiving text messages. 

New Social Frontiers

Social media is more important than ever to engage supporters. As of 2020, 3.8 billion people use social media daily, and 90% of people age 18-29 use social media regularly. This number is expected to rise in 2021. 

Social media has become a must for nonprofits looking to market their program and engage supporters. So if you haven’t already, consider boosting your social media presence in 2021. 

How can nonprofits use social media? Social media is a place to share snippets of your story through videos and images. Promote a giving campaign, show volunteers in action, and introduce followers to your cause (don’t forget to use hashtags!). Once you’ve mastered the art of the social media post, consider organizing a sponsored campaign or influencer partnership; “influencer” accounts have lots of viewers and can draw attention to your cause.

Social media is becoming increasingly important to draw attention to social movements and community causes. For example, the Black Lives Matter movement mobilized thousands of supporters through social media, and Gen Z led the charge.

Social media users by age

For nonprofits struggling to engage the next generation of supporters, it’s important to stay updated on social media trends. As more Gen Z members enter the workforce, engaging them will become especially important to sustaining nonprofit causes in 2021.  

Which social media platforms should nonprofits consider to engage the next generation? Facebook is still the platform of choice for most users. But younger generations are moving away from Facebook. Tik Tok is the platform of choice for Generation Z. With 2 billion application downloads, Tik Tok surpassed Facebook as the most downloaded social networking app in 2020, and it’s responsible for massive cultural moments.  

For some, the Tik Tok seems like strange, uncharted territory dominated by teenagers and compulsive dance moves. It turns out there’s so much more to the short-form video streaming platform. The company recently launched Tik Tok For Good, an initiative for community-focused organizations and amplifying voices for change. Tik Tok For Good is in its early stages, so just put it on your radar for now. 

We also don’t recommend you put all your eggs in this one app-basket. Social networking is an ever-evolving landscape. It’s also worth noting the ongoing news of data privacy concerns, but we’ll let you judge those for yourselves. 

For 2021, we recommend you choose one or two social media platforms to try out. Create a social media strategy for each, test the waters, and track your progress. 

Remote Collaboration and Video Conferencing

We’ve been video conferencing for a while now. But video conferencing and remote collaboration are sticking around, likely for years to come. Thanks to apps like Google Docs and Zoom (Facebook even launched their own video conferencing app), remote work is even more achievable. 

Working remotely may become a consistent reality for many in 2021 for some volunteers and nonprofit employees. Look for ways to add flexibility to volunteer and employee schedules by offering remote options when appropriate. 

Video Marketing and Fundraising

Video is expected to receive 82% of all online traffic in 2021. Equally as impressive, 57% of people who watch a nonprofit video make a donation. 

The lesson here? Nonprofits can benefit enormously by using video for their marketing and fundraising campaigns. Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals generated millions of donations through a live streaming campaign. 

In 2021, look into new ways to add video content to your organization’s marketing efforts. We found this guide for creating a nonprofit video marketing strategy especially useful. 

Technology shouldn’t replace the social interaction that makes volunteers happier and healthier. However, it can help nonprofits improve the way they operate to do more good in their communities.

Trends in nonprofit management for 2021

Nonprofit Trends 2021: Nonprofit Management

Let’s shift our focus inward. What will nonprofit management look like in 2021? Here’s what we found:

Inclusive and Diverse Leadership

Historically, the key strategists at nonprofits were less entwined with the fabric of communities. “Women of color do the lion’s share of work in nonprofit organizations, yet they fail to make it to the top leadership and strategy roles,” says Denise Collazo, Senior Advisor at Faith In Action

The past few years, however, were encouraging. Today, more organizations are making a concerted effort to establish thoughtful leadership practices. If you haven’t already, make 2021 the year to evaluate your organization’s leadership structure and ensure it’s representing a range of community voices. 

Staying Mission-Focused

In the wake of a divisive election, history dictates that a record number of nonprofits are competing for the public’s attention and resources. Thom Ruhe, President and CEO of NC IDEA, urges, “the nonprofit sector, more than ever before, will need to stay mission-focused and clear about their priorities. We will need to be the safe port in the storm.” 

What’s more, a global pandemic has forced many nonprofits to make significant adjustments in the way they operate, from pausing operations entirely to shifting focus toward more immediate community needs. 

The new year is the natural time for nonprofit organizations to review missions, goals, and procedures in light of current fundraising and volunteer engagement strategies. 2021 is your year to regroup, refocus your mission, and communicate your intentions to stakeholders. 

Transparency is Key in Data Storytelling

By definition, nonprofits must be agents of transparency to maintain 501(c)(3) status. But transparency is becoming increasingly important to your community supporters. 

Tracking and reporting data like volunteer impact can help you win grants and attract more donors and volunteers

For-profit companies are reporting that transparency is becoming increasingly important to their customers; consumers want to know they’re purchasing socially-responsible products or services. Likewise, nonprofit donors and volunteers like to understand how their efforts make a lasting difference and where their contributions are going. 

But transparency isn’t the tricky part; nonprofits can struggle with keeping track of their data (and lots of it!). That’s why organizations rely on digital tracking tools to collect the data that tells their impact stories

fundraising and philanthropy trends for 2021

Nonprofit Trends 2021: Fundraising and Philanthropy

What are the current trends in philanthropy and nonprofit fundraising? Let’s look at the state of giving to help shape your 2021 fundraising strategy:

A Personalized Donor Experience

Today’s consumers are more likely to purchase a product if they receive personalized communication, and nonprofit fundraising trends follow suit. So it’s more important than ever to build better relationships with your donors. 

In 2021, fundraising should feel less transactional and more personal. But personalized fundraising is about more than just using a name on an email. Donors who engage with your cause on a deeper level are more likely to become loyal supporters. 

Here are some ways to create better donor relationships:

  • Get to know your donors, large or small, and make an appropriate donor recommendation.
  • Don’t just ask. Demonstrate that your organization shares their values.
  • Provide opportunities for your existing volunteers and donors to contribute their ideas and feedback.

Nonprofits are finding increased success with membership programs that offer tangible benefits. These benefits may include swag (like t-shirts, hats, water bottles), VIP admission to an event, or any other perk that the donor receives in exchange for their annual contribution. 

Donor membership programs can account for a considerable percentage of total online revenue for nonprofits. Memberships are an opportunity to boost revenue and bolster donor loyalty. 

In 2021, consider appropriate ways to provide donors with an authentic and engaging giving experience

A Different (and Direct) Way to Ask

Charitable organizations have often used their past successes to appeal to donors, asking for donations to continue their efforts. However, this model may prove less effective going into 2021. 

Today’s donors want to know their contributions are making a difference.  Millennials and Generation Z are especially motivated by a sense of social responsibility; they want to be a part of the change-making process. 

To engage the next generation of donors, you may need to change how you ask for funds. 

This article suggests using the following outline to appeal to donors:

  • There’s a problem occurring right now.
  • You’re needed to solve the problem.
  • Here’s how your gift, or time, will solve the problem.

This model tends to engage the proactive donor by identifying a current need and shifting the focus from the past to present.

Monthly Giving on the Rise

Subscription services are flourishing—and that’s no surprise. Smaller, monthly payments that automatically renew tend to be more manageable and convenient for consumers, while companies enjoy increased customer retention

The concept has influenced philanthropy trends, too. Monthly givers tend to donate more over time than their counterparts who donate once per year. The annual value of regular givers is worth nearly three times more than that of one-time donors! 

Check out this article for ways your organization can promote monthly giving. 

Online Fundraising: A Major Source of Revenue

Digital philanthropy is widely favored among donors (and the nonprofits they support). Nonprofits have reported a 77% increase in online revenue over the past five years! 

Email still accounts for 13% of online giving, but successful email fundraising can require a bit of strategy. This article by Whole Whale is a great resource to help nonprofits like yours to optimize fundraising emails. 

Despite Facebook’s rocky past, nonprofits see steep increases in revenue from a peer-to-peer fundraising tool called Facebook Fundraisers. On average, nonprofits raised $1.77 through Facebook for every $100 of total online revenue.

The uptick in direct donation platforms like Facebook Fundraisers suggests that it’s worth diversifying online fundraising efforts. Many nonprofits rely on social media to help supplement fundraising efforts, and we don’t see that changing in 2021. 

Smarter Fundraising in the Face of Disaster

Experts are predicting a surge in environmental activism over the next ten years as communities demand action. And as natural disasters become increasingly devastating, disaster prevention and recovery teams rely more on the goodwill of individual citizens. 

Many disaster funds receive outpourings of charitable donations from individuals and corporations immediately after a disaster event. However, funding can just as quickly subside, even when significant need remains. 

If your nonprofit gets involved in disaster mitigation and relief, the Center for Disaster Preparedness suggests shifting the focus from short-term, reactionary giving toward a more sustainable, strategic giving plan to have the most impact. 

Here are some smarter ways to prepare for a disaster:

  • Plan ahead: Have a program in place, ready to collect donations or lend services for planning, recovery, and immediate relief efforts.
  • Think holistically: How can your organization, your volunteers, and their skill sets make a difference?
  • Be strategic and sustainable: Waiting for a disaster to strike before we act is unsustainable. A changing climate calls for creative thinking and preparation. Support innovative prevention, mitigation, and adaptability programs.

Research shows that disaster-relief giving can heighten “prosocial behavior such as charitable giving and volunteering in the long-term.” Ensure your nonprofit has a program in place to receive donations and supplies when disaster strikes (and consider partnering with your community’s disaster mitigation efforts).

Post-Election Giving

2020 saw an outpouring of donations and volunteers participating in civil rights, social action, and advocacy programs. 

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, many nonprofits experienced an increase in recurring donations and volunteer participants. Donors who signed up for a recurring donation around the election were 50% more likely to donate again within 18 months. 

The work isn’t over when the election ends. Social sector nonprofits should take advantage of the “election effect” by offering recurring donations and boosting fundraising efforts in early 2021. 

Capitalizing on Corporate Giving

Despite the pandemic, corporate giving was up 0.4% in 2020 and is expected to rise another 1.4% in 2021. While many factors affect giving tendencies, experts suggest that corporate philanthropy in 2021 will be impacted most by (1) growth in GDP and (2) growth in corporate savings. 

Decreased confidence in short-term investments means that corporate giving’s average growth rate is expected to be lower than average. But many nonprofits rely on corporate partnerships to sustain their programming. So, nonprofits must look to adopt best practices when it comes to leveraging corporate philanthropy in 2021.

An expanding variety of giving options reinforces upward trends in corporate philanthropy. One promising option is impact investing, an emerging movement in which investments are made in companies, funds, or organizations to create social impact in addition to financial gain. 

More choices make workplace giving more appealing to employees and support modern principles of corporate governance. According to the Philanthropy Outlook for 2020-2021, companies have begun to recognize the benefits of focusing on their employees’ philanthropic interests. In fact, 58% of Americans consider a company’s social and environmental commitments when deciding where to work. 

Companies that allow employees to choose the causes or organization to give their donation experience greater employee engagement with workplace giving programs. 

Regardless of how companies and their employees choose to give, strong corporate partnerships will become increasingly necessary to sustain nonprofits. 

Nonprofit Trends 2021: Volunteerism

2020 saw some shifts in volunteerism as many of us supported our favorite causes from home. But many nonprofits are choosing to continue to leverage these volunteerism trends:

Virtual Volunteerism: Here to Stay

COVID-19 changed the way we volunteer. Virtual volunteers have become essential to the sustainability of many nonprofits. Even if your organization is ready to welcome volunteers back in-person in 2021, there are innumerable benefits to continuing to leverage virtual volunteerism.

Many volunteers cite busy schedules as the largest barrier to volunteering. Volunteering from home offers people the flexibility to make a difference in their own time and their own space. Plus, virtual volunteering is way great to engage tech-savvy kids and teens, especially during these summer months. Communities benefit when everyone can be a part of change. 

We’re also noticing the growing popularity of virtual and hybrid events; they’re great for boosting attendance. Consider adding virtual streaming and online attendance options for your 2021 fundraising or volunteer event

Welcoming Corporate Volunteerism

From employee volunteer grant programs to company-wide volunteer days, businesses are looking for creative ways to improve public image, lend a hand, and promote employee well-being. 

Accommodate employees’ goals and interests by suggesting opportunities to foster meaningful corporate partnerships. Processes like simple team sign-up and volunteer impact reporting are inviting to businesses with workplace volunteer programs. Employees who have a positive experience volunteering through a company program are more likely to volunteer with your organization again (and refer their coworkers and friends)!

Nonprofits act as community hubs. They connect the private sector, donors, volunteers, stakeholders, and decision-makers. Heading into 2021, organizations like yours must have the tools they need to develop, maintain, and manage these relationships more easily. 

While it’s difficult to predict the exact course of future nonprofit trends, organizations can better prepare for a new year of change-making by remaining abreast of public sentiment toward giving and volunteering. We hope that these insights will help you to better strategize for 2020.