COVID-19 and philanthropy
Trends in Jewish Philanthropy 2021
By Avrum D. Lapin
The world has changed over the past year … and 2020 was a year unlike any other.
Since March 2020, when COVID-19 disrupted nearly every aspect of our lives, the philanthropic community has braced for impact. However, while the nonprofit sector experienced substantial difficulty and chaos in many areas, the anticipated wholesale devastation in the charitable arena did not materialize as broadly as anticipated.
Throughout the late spring and early summer of 2020, nonprofits began to realize that to advance they would need to plan and implement in a thoughtful and entrepreneurial way. For those who sought out opportunity in the chaos, their funders, communities, and stakeholders, to a large degree, remained engaged. In fact, they benefited from many of their leaders and supporters looking to their philanthropic activities as a way to remain connected while simultaneously making a demonstrable difference on the world during these challenging times, beginning with their local communities.
Looking ahead to 2021, our perspective is advancing with trends and directions in the marketplace. Developments that were already anticipated have accelerated over the past year, creating discernible shifts in the philanthropic community.
Read below to find the trends we project will affect the Jewish community this coming year, and beyond:
- Innovation and Philanthropy
- Despite the much vaunted “Zoom fatigue,” and the imperative to interact once again face-to-face with leaders, stakeholders and donors; digital resources – especially video communication – are here to stay. With increased comfort and greater ease around using new (heretofore not used) technologies, innovative content development is more accessible to organizations and communities of all sizes, regardless of their resources, and has quickly become an expectation of Board members and supporters. Organizations learned that as most individuals have spent the year close to home (mostly at home) learning their way around video and other digital content resources, they do not require fancy (expensive) video production companies to create meaningful and impactful video content to reach their community and boost giving. Because of this, according to Wild Apricot, a membership management software provider that enables nonprofits to maintain contact and communicate with their members, the trend of video messaging will continue to increase, and there are plenty of at home tools and resources to make video content part of your digital engagement strategy.
- Creating individualized experiences for donors is more possible than ever before. As donor meetings today, including cultivation, asks, and stewardship, are still primarily virtual, we have seen many nonprofits significantly improve, and indeed excel, at creating individualized experiences for their donors. In doing so, organizations have stayed current and relevant; lowered costs for printing, mailing, and presenting – compared to just one year ago; enhancing their ability to tailor materials and presentations to specific individuals and to specific groups as a part of their communications plan.
- Countless six, seven, and eight figure gifts were strategized, cultivated, asked for, and ultimately granted on a screen in the past year, defying expectations. While we all long for the return of the “personal touch” and clearly know the value of meeting, congregating, and interacting to build our nonprofits, we must give homage to the determined and dedicated professional and volunteer leaders and Boards who pressed forward and were determined to achieve success.
- Digital tools
- Many organizations have utilized their time and bandwidth to think through more all-encompassing, ultimately well planned digital approaches. They accelerated the use of technology to reach their broader communities and to close the generation gap. They have been able to reach and speak to their existing stakeholders, as well as engage new individuals and families using social media and more well developed e-marketing tools, as the ease of use has extended across generations and demographics. In addition to continuing to increase engagement through social media, according to Classy, an online fundraising platform for nonprofits, livestreaming content increased revenue for nonprofits in the past year, as stakeholders became more intimately and personally connected to the impact of the organizations they supported. This livestreaming trend is expected to continue to increase through 2021 and beyond.
- Reaching supporters wherever they are is more acceptable than it ever has been before. Setting meetings with donors has become a bit less challenging, as individuals have become open to and are more readily accepting meetings and correspondence more willingly through video calling, email, text, and social media messaging platforms.
- Virtual events have been very successful in many venues and will remain an option, certainly through 2021, and for years to come. We have seen organizations and faith communities prove successful at engaging their existing and new supporters and stakeholders using virtual gatherings. From educational programming, celebrations, and fundraising events, thoughtful nonprofits have maximized the opportunities.
As a result, we have witnessed communities come together successfully and inspirationally through religious service, holiday and family programming, and learning; creating the context and ability to clearly demonstrate impact and ask successfully. In fact, capital campaigns and other more substantial and longer term fundraising activities that have adapted to the current circumstances have successfully hosted events as virtual connectors for synagogue communities, enabling people to feel more closely tethered to their local community institutions.
- Closer connections to local communities
- Many local organizations, including synagogues, were there when their communities needed them the most. Instead of going dark and waiting around to see what happened next, professional and lay leadership jumped into high gear and started reaching out to their stakeholders and supporting their base of membership. This did not go unnoticed, and communities are recognizing and giving back to help ensure the long term success of these organizations.
- Additionally, with travel restrictions still in place, and anticipated to remain in place in many ways for several months, local communities and organizations will continue to have a meaningful draw on donors’ emotions, personal connections, and funding.
- Focused Messaging and Transparency
- Clear and consistent messaging will continue to be vital in 2021, and as a basis for successful fundraising at all levels going forward. Lead, major, and more modest donors alike want a clear understanding of the impact of their philanthropy, and how their gift will be valuable to the organization they are supporting. Donors are more and more mission driven and are doing more due diligence, as they are connected to the results and the direct impact of those results on their lives, and the lives of their families and their communities, local or writ large.
- Donors want transparency and clarity about how their funds are going to be used and spent. It is increasingly important for donors to ensure the financial health and stability of organizations they support. Transparency builds trust, and donors want to feel trust in the organizations they fund. According to the Johnson Center for Philanthropy, running a transparent operation reinforces public trust in philanthropy on a broader scale, and the nonprofit sector has a strong opportunity to do this, more so than the private sector, government or media. Yes, giving is a passionate act, but passion without accountability can be perceived as hollow and unappealing.
- If there is one thing 2020 has taught us about philanthropy, is that so much remains possible, and that so much can be achieved under the most unprecedented circumstances! It has proven that nonprofits and their supporters are far more resilient than we could or would have anticipated.
- When COVID-19 and lockdowns began last year, organizations that were quick to adapt and shift plans saw success, and donors noticed. Donors took stock and many adjusted their plans to give for the year and made more unrestricted gifts, enabling organizations they trust make decisions on where funds were most needed. According to Classy, this trend will continue to drive us through 2021, and beyond, as unrestricted giving becomes more and more important, and ability of successful organizations to adapt to our ever changing landscape is vital to their continued success.
We are looking forward to a positive and prosperous 2021 and are interested to see how the events and of 2020 and “facts on the ground” continue to shape the Jewish nonprofit world this year, and for years to come. Donors and communities surprised everyone in 2020, by continuing to support organizations they care about, and their impact did not go unnoticed. Now is an important time to build on that momentum and look forward to a hopeful future for all.
Avrum Lapin is President at The Lapin Group, LLC, based in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, a full-service fundraising, and management consulting firm for leading nonprofits. For a full bio, please visit the TLG website here.