The COVID-19 pandemic created anomalies in the philanthropic giving of donors. During interviews with donors for our 2021 Donor Insights report, our researchers found that many donors hit the pause button on their regular philanthropic contributions to respond to the immediate and pressing needs of their local communities, from care and equipment for local healthcare providers to food pantries to rent relief. While some donors indicated that they might be interested in continuing support for these causes, most donors are eager to get back to their regular giving.

“We stepped up. We have, I would say, five or six grantee organizations that we work with. And then we have a series of smaller organizations that surround that. The COVID situation was a layer on top of all of the organizations that were in the first two circles that we were supporting.”

—Donor interviewed for 2021 Donor Insights 

“There’s just so many issues that can grab somebody’s interest or their dollar. But the reality is, if we take COVID out of the mix—which hopefully at some point in the next year or two will become much less of a focus for all of us—I don’t think there’s anything more important [than my pre-COVID causes].”

—Donor interviewed for 2021 Donor Insights

 If your organization benefitted from increased charitable giving or contributions from new donors, how can you keep them engaged with the mission of your organization?

Present a compelling opportunity

Donors want to contribute to opportunities, rather than needs. Basing your #GivingTuesday campaign on needs may bring in “ought to” donations—gifts that donors give because they feel a sense of obligation. However, if you want to make meaningful connections with donors that inspire transformational giving, present your organization’s funding priorities as philanthropic opportunities for investing in people.

“If the only time that they’re reaching out to me is just because they need money, I don’t see value in that. I think they can get that from a number of other people. I’m more interested in the relationships in the end.”

—Donor interviewed for 2021 Donor Insights

 Amplify your vision

Make sure everyone who is connected to your organization knows the vision and can articulate it concisely. Because donors desire to make a difference for people, ensure that your vision statement clearly defines how achieving the vision will benefit people.

“We’ve realized personally that there is absolutely no end of groups that need money. It’s absolutely endless—there are so many groups—but you can’t give to everybody. So, you pay attention to them all and when there’s something in there that sort of strikes a chord, we’ll look it up a little bit more.”

—Donor interviewed for 2021 Donor Insights

Sharpen your mission

Your mission is where your organization’s boots hit the ground. In other words, when people connected with your organization describe your mission, they should work to put a face on the people who will benefit from achieving the vision. Provide a few—but not too many!—statistics that describe the cost of the situation. Then, share what support is needed to solve the problem and what action(s) potential donors can take to help. Now, instead of just throwing dollars toward a need, donors can imagine themselves stepping into the gap and creating a bridge to success with their contributions.

“Whenever you talk with somebody about your philanthropic values, it reinforces them, you know, in your own heart.”

—Donor interviewed for 2021 Donor Insights

“I’m not sure if it’s necessarily that the organizations do better or that we’ve become more informed donors. We ask questions differently, we ask for proposals differently versus the kind of conversation where we’re just saying, ‘Okay, well, where’s your need, and where can we send the check?’”

—Donor interviewed for 2021 Donor Insights

Keep your donors in the loop—in a meaningful way

Whether your organization has made strides toward achieving success or has taken a few unfortunate steps backward, it is of utmost importance to keep your donors apprised of any developments—both positive and negative. Open and transparent communication is important for stewarding donors and developing trust-based relationships with them.

“I have appreciated the nonprofits that have said, ‘We’ve taken a step back during this time period to reassess how we’ve been servicing our clientele, how we may be able to adapt, and how we may engage with our donors moving forward.’ The fact that they’ve come out and said, ‘You know what, we’re looking at this as an opportunity to reassess how we do our business.’ I’m all for that. Regarding the nonprofits who fear that and aren’t nimble and able to move off of the dime, I’m not really interested in supporting them.”

—Donor interviewed for 2021 Donor Insights

Your organization should strive to provide timely communication about successes and setbacks to donors of all stripes—although the frequency of communication may vary. For example, in addition to thanking donors who spontaneously contributed to your #GivingTuesday campaign, consider sending them an update in several months to report, in general, how those campaign dollars were spent. Donors who contribute larger amounts and/or regularly contribute should receive more personalized thank-yous and more detailed impact reports.

“We’ll get people reaching out to us for connection points just for the sake of connecting. That’s really hard. And, and you know, it doesn’t feel as purposeful as it should be. We like all those conversations to have some meaning behind it, whether it relates to an update at the organization or the mission.”

—Donor interviewed for 2021 Donor Insights           

“Ask people. People want to be asked to help. I really believe that. And the second is to show gratitude. Always, always, always show gratitude because, as much as people want to give, they want to know that that their gift is appreciated.”

—Donor interviewed for 2021 Donor Insights

Putting deliberate strategies in place for deepening the commitment of those one-time donors who have contributed in response to the pandemic or are simply responding to a one-time #GivingTuesday appeal, can help you make lemonade from those “ought to” donations. Donors are thirsty for a meaningful way to impact society beyond the act of making one-time donations—they want to contribute.

“We believe we in and we love the communities we live in. COVID has made us more aware of our communities. Not that we weren’t before, but we are making a better effort to be contributing. And that I guess has been the definition of what I think a good citizen is—somebody who contributes to their society, doesn’t drain it, but contributes it.”

—Donor interviewed for 2021 Donor Insights


To learn more about crafting donor-centric strategies using Advancement Resources’ research-backed process concepts, register for our Professional Education Series. This public workshop takes a deep dive into creating meaningful engagement that will inspire donors and includes one-on-one coaching sessions with an experienced front-line fundraiser to boost your professional skills.

Professional Education Series