As 2024 approaches, the world of fundraising faces both significant challenges and exciting opportunities. The sector is changing rapidly, with evolving technology and increasing donor expectations. In this dynamic environment, strategic adaptation and innovation are more crucial than ever. We spoke with professionals from various organizations to understand these shifts and what lies ahead for fundraisers.
Table of Contents
Balancing Technology and Relationships
As the Head of Advancement at Emma Willard School, Ann Dejnozka stands at the forefront of transformative change in girls’ independent school education. With the school’s “Infinite Horizon” campaign, she emphasizes the power of strategic philanthropy in advancing an institution’s mission. Dejnozka identifies a key challenge in the evolving landscape of philanthropy: the impact of technology on donor relationships. She emphasizes the irreplaceable value of personal connections, noting, “There’s nothing that replaces the trust that’s built between two individuals.” While technology offers new tools, it also poses a risk to the depth of these crucial relationships in fundraising. Dejnozka emphasizes the importance of authentic engagement, particularly in the initial stages of donor interaction. Her approach involves candidly sharing challenges and authenticity, which she believes leads to more fruitful outcomes in giving conversations. Integral to this balance is the support and collaboration from the school’s leadership, the Board of Trustees, volunteers, and a dedicated Advancement team, highlighting how strong partnerships complement and enhance the impact of technology and personal relationships.
Creativity and Resilience in Funding
Adriana Adams, the Executive Director at Triad Health Project highlights a critical opportunity: the mythical third source of income. “Being able to grow that or identify that for your nonprofit is going to become more and more essential,” she advises. Diversifying revenue streams is not just strategic—it’s imperative for survival. Reflecting on her strengths, Adams believes her creative thinking and resilience will be crucial. She draws from her immigrant and refugee background, embracing a problem-solving mindset that thrives on diversity and team-building. “I didn’t learn when I was growing up that when there was an issue or a problem that you stop and you just crumple. I learned that you pivot and that resiliency is prized, and it’s expected; it’s part of what you do,” she asserts, underscoring the importance of innovative approaches and collective effort.
Collaboration Across Departments
Jen Newmeyer, CFRE, Senior Director of Digital Fundraising Strategy at PBS and the Founder of CharityJen, shines a spotlight on a critical issue that has, perhaps surprisingly, persisted into the current year: the need for collaboration. “Collaboration with the Development Department and the Marketing Department,” she notes, “is so critical to the user journey from a fundraising standpoint.” The takeaway? Break down silos. Your Development and Marketing teams shouldn’t just be on the same page; they should be writing that page together. The opportunity here is clear: integrating strategies can lead to a seamless user experience and more effective fundraising campaigns. However, the danger lies in resistance to change. Departments that cling to traditional, isolated methods may find themselves struggling to keep up with the cohesive approaches that modern fundraising demands.
Strategic Use of Technology
Deniz Conger, MPA, CFRE, with Go Mavi Nonprofit Consulting, emphasizes a critical challenge in nonprofit funding: the focus on restricted funding for new programs, often at the expense of essential operational costs. She advises, “you have to invest in the whole to get the whole,” highlighting the necessity of supporting the core elements of nonprofits, including their personnel. To address this, Conger champions continuous donor communication and engagement, along with the strategic use of technology. She is spearheading Illumeworks, a digital platform designed to streamline nonprofit operations, showcasing the potential for technology, including AI, to enhance efficiency and impact in the sector. This approach highlights the importance of embracing both innovative funding strategies and technological advancements to strengthen the nonprofit landscape.
The Power of Storytelling
Luke Mickelson, the Founder and Head of Development of Sleep in Heavenly Peace, champions the art of personal storytelling as a key driver in fundraising. He believes in the power of his own narrative, saying, “Being the founder and the voice and face of SHP, I feel like my strengths are my story.” This strategy not only encourages donations but also deeply engages supporters with the cause. Mickelson has effectively leveraged podcasts and media coverage to amplify SHP’s mission, thereby expanding its reach and attracting a broader base of donations, volunteers, and even chapter presidents. Looking to the future, he is keenly focused on developing corporate sponsorships, seeing this as an avenue for both substantial revenue growth and an expanded impact for the organization.
Simplification and Automation
Devan Mercurio, Senior Manager of Development at Pittsburgh Public Theater, advocates for simplification and automation, valuing efficiency in fundraising strategies. Looking forward, she focuses on automated, personalized communication to keep donors engaged. She urges a shift towards simplification and automation, asking, “How can I make this more automated, or like what tool am I not using that I could be using?” Mercurio advocates for an attitude of curiosity to propel the industry forward. She believes in “working smarter and not harder” and the value of constantly seeking ways to improve efficiency.
Tradition Meets Innovation
Ken Meifert, VP of Sponsorship and Development at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, outlines the delicate balance between upholding tradition and embracing innovation in fundraising. Meifert is enthusiastic about leveraging data and AI for prospecting, moving from basic demographics to sophisticated predictive modeling to efficiently connect with new audiences. He emphasizes the shift from basic demographic data to sophisticated predictive modeling, which helps identify potential members who match current ones on multiple points. This approach allows the organization to connect with new audiences efficiently. Meifert stresses the importance of adapting to the changing landscape. “If you’re not changing with the world, then the world is leaving you behind,” he asserts. His approach combines traditional, relationship-focused fundraising with cutting-edge communication and predictive modeling technologies. To engage and retain donors, the Hall of Fame taps into the universal love for baseball, using this shared passion to forge strong connections. Meifert relies on a unique aspect of the Hall of Fame’s appeal—the universal love for baseball. “Just to talk baseball with people is incredibly valuable for us,” he says, using this shared passion to build lasting relationships.
Joel Ramjohn, President of Agape Source, discusses his vision for integrating AI into nonprofits and the desired progress over the next three years. Ramjohn envisions total engagement and ownership from his board and leaders regarding AI in nonprofits. He anticipates a shift akin to moving from pagers to cell phones—a significant leap in technological adoption. Ramjohn is deep-diving into AI to bolster his competency. He’s excited about the freedom and speed AI brings to design and product testing, allowing rapid idea realization without extensive team involvement. Currently investing significant time in strategic fundraising plans, Ramjohn leverages AI to analyze trends and data from past performance, which informs his plans and teaches him nuances he may have previously overlooked. Ramjohn wishes to dedicate more time to the programs at the heart of Agape Source’s mission. He hopes AI can take on more administrative roles, freeing him to focus on helping people directly—a transition from backend tasks to program involvement.
Sustainer Giving Expansion
Brittany Frieder, Manager of Donor Relations at Feeding Westchester, emphasizes the critical importance of sustaining and expanding the sustainer giving program in fundraising. She recognizes this program’s resilience during economic fluctuations and its potential to provide a reliable income source, especially during a crisis like a pandemic. Frieder highlights the need for a strong and continuous donor pipeline, noting, “It’s my belief there is a lot of focus on major gift fundraising… But I do think that their focus in the industry we do need to continue to focus on the pipeline of donors that are coming in.” Her vision is to see the sustainer giving world grow substantially, acknowledging its integral role in building a solid foundation for future major gift donors. This approach reflects her commitment to a strategic and sustainable growth model in nonprofit fundraising, focusing on the long-term stability and growth of donor relations.
Angela Benard, Senior Director of Advancement & Communications at the Virginia Living Museum, emphasizes the necessity of an operationalized strategic plan to facilitate long-term fundraising. This groundwork is crucial for having substantive discussions with funders and moving beyond short-term operational fundraising. This plan is vital for substantive discussions with funders and transcending short-term operational fundraising. Benard focuses on refining corporate partnerships and creating unique, mission-connected donor experiences. Creating unique, mission-connected experiences delivers long-term results in donor stewardship. “You’ve got to listen. You’ve got to talk to your donors and you’ve got to meet them where they are.
Charly Jarrett, Director of Development and Communications at Veterinarians Without Borders, envisions a future where the nonprofit sector rivals the for-profit world in efficiency. The challenge, as Jarrett sees it, is the sector’s risk aversion. She draws a parallel with the advent of the internet, where early adopters gained a significant edge. “We’re gonna see the risk-takers really thrive in this environment,” she predicts, emphasizing the need for bold steps toward adopting new technologies. Jarrett emphasizes the move away from broad-based strategies towards more personalized donor engagement through advanced CRM systems.
The 2024 fundraising landscape demands a skillful blend of adapting to changing donor behaviors, strategic use of technology, and fostering personal connections. The sector is primed for substantial growth through collaborative innovation, strategic thinking, and embracing new approaches.