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Weathering 2020 – Impact on Philanthropy

The following post appeared in eJewishphilanthropy.com on December 3, 2020.


The realities of 2020 are and have been intense, and are being felt in nearly every aspect of our day to day lives. From lifestyle, to personal and community health and the provision of healthcare, to the nature and tenuousness of our professional and work lives, to financial questions and continuing uncertainty, to education and the nature of how our children will learn, to the lasting effects on mental health, to the consideration and allocation of personal and public resources, and much more, it all just seems different. We have been challenged, at times overwhelmed, but are nearly always resilient – adapting, adjusting, embracing, and innovating.


As all of this has occurred over much of the past year, how have these events impacted giving and the philanthropic marketplace? What is the outlook for the future … is it brighter than originally perceived?


At The Lapin Group, as a Board member of the Giving Institute and longtime members of Giving USA’s Editorial Review Board, we have had access to much of the data, and have seen first-hand the impact COVID-19 and the accompanying and collateral issues have had on philanthropy this year. From our vantage, one measure of clarity has emerged: uncertainty does not stop philanthropy. Unlike during the great Recession of 2008-2009, philanthropy has largely stood firm.


Donors decide to give because their philanthropy makes a difference in their lives, the lives of their families, and their community writ large. And if there is one thing that 2020 has taught us, it is that when the community supports itself, positive change is achievable. According to CCS Fundraising’s nonprofit fundraising survey, Fundraising Impact of COVID-19, Edition III, conducted in September 2020, fundraising has improved significantly between May and September this year, even with the remaining uncertainty. Our client organizations have seen similar trends. Below, we share some of the strategies that have been effective among many organizations, bearing out the data collected by CSS:

  • Organizations that remained present with fundraising throughout the spring, are meeting, or nearly meeting, their fundraising goals for the year. We have stressed direct and continuous communication by nonprofits to their stakeholders and communities. Several TLG clients have proactively and regularly shared their value propositions and points of engagement with their communities since March, highlighting their achievements and impact with varied constituents. Driven by clear, transparent, and concise communication, emphasizing the message of responsiveness and community, together with personal interactions, relationships have continued to strengthen. Organizations continue to meet with current and prospective donors through phone calls and Zoom meetings, and are achieving gift renewals, increases, and accelerating gift fulfillment. These results demonstrate the power of personal relationships, as well as tailored and intentional communication.

  • Even before COVID-19, the nature of philanthropy was changing. The transitions in giving patterns between three generations that are philanthropically engaged, (see our earlier posting) the post WWII cohort; Baby Boomers; and Gen X’ers (and Millennials notwithstanding), continue to be present, and perhaps are accentuated, during the pandemic. COVID-19 has created opportunities for some organizations to embrace these generational shifts in giving, and have allowed them to be successful engaging younger generations, for instance – through accelerated implementation of Digital Strategies. Developing a long term Digital Strategy that will be present beyond virtual engagement in response to COVID-19, will continue to lead to future success, as current and prospective donors and other constituents communicate and process more information through digital means. The impact of generational transition is bigger than, and exerting greater influence on philanthropy during COVID-19 than the pandemic itself, and will continue to do so as we emerge from the crisis in the coming months.

  • Strengthening personal connections to current stakeholders and donors is particularly impactful and productive. Continued focus on individuals, and cultivating and stewardship of lead/major giving, is fundamental. Donors value and seek human interaction and up-to-date and honest information, and many are ready to “invest.” In fact, as of September, CCS Fundraising’s survey found that 26% of organizations saw an increase in Major Giving through 2020. We see success working with organizations in establishing leadership and matching giving scenarios, emphasizing the value of individual connection and relationships – especially in this chaotic environment.

  • Organizations are adapting to the new environment; many have actively continued their fundraising campaigns and initiatives through all available means. Most nonprofits that were in the midst of major campaigns continued those campaigns, despite the pandemic. They made appropriate modifications, where necessary, adapting messaging, andin some cases, adjusting campaign priorities, while staying true to the stated purpose. This includes short-term needs and “emergency funding,” as well as thinking and planning for mid and long-term engagement for 2021 and beyond. Those organizations that continued with modifications, contextualized, and adjusted, have found success.

As we enter the winter months, and find ourselves in the midst of the next surge of COVID-19 infections, organizations must take the time and opportunity to evaluate their virtual engagement from the spring, to be intentional, and therefore, as effective as possible as they plan forward.


We invite you to read our post, How Nonprofits can Respond and Stay Connected during COVID-19, for suggestions and tips for virtual engagement and communication. Creating a cohesive strategy, addressing the immediate needs of the community, balanced with the long term goals of your organization, will ultimately lead to philanthropic success, within COVID-19, and beyond.

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