November 14, 2020 Lauri Stone

Philanthropy’s Future: Insights from Experts in Times of Pandemic, Protests, and Elections

Everything is out of focus these days. There are countless ways lives have been upended and in business, some industries are thriving, others are struggling, and many are dangerously in need of CPR. It’s both valiant and scary to watch many industries scrambling to stay alive in 2020.

Then there’s the beautiful and complex world of the Nonprofit, whose lifeblood is to give, with the hope, promise, and hard work to then receive. They foster relationships within communities by keeping their presence alive through activities, fun events, and relationship-building. The ongoing drive to gain corporate sponsorships, increase their membership base and gift receipts takes a lot of creative thinking, strategy, and development skills. Even without multiple crises, a nonprofit’s work is a true labor of love.

New Challenges, New Questions

Naturally, forecasts for the Nonprofit sector have shifted necessarily with the new challenges. The first question, of course, is how do you get the message out from a virtual distance? How do you maintain and increase your presence in the community and remain engaging? In an economic crisis riddled with uncertainty, how and when do you ask for money? Where do you look to uncover new sources of revenue and increase retention rates with what you have?  Which is the best way to engage a new pool of potential donors outside of screen share meetings? Better yet, how do you find that new pool and who are they?

You have a fundraising event coming up and you need to manage the event from your living room with kids and pets in the background. Should you just order pizza and call it a slumber party? How do you keep your volunteers busy and experiencing satisfaction, which is why they volunteer in the first place? Is your organization’s brand strong enough to carry your organization through unforeseen challenges without taking a hard hit? Crisis communications up to par? Diversity and inclusion issues… how does that look? We looked to the nonprofit experts for answers.

Late 2019 Forecasts Eerily Accurate

Forbes Nonprofit Council is an invitation only, fee-based organization for senior level nonprofit executives who work with successful organizations. There’s an excellent article that was written pre-COVID entitled, “What Will Nonprofits Look Like in 2025? Nine Experts Weigh In” (February 27, 2019). In this article, the experts discuss interesting areas like tailoring key messages to bring about change, tools to target donor demographics, the role of artificial intelligence and voice powered virtual assistants. The topics of diversity, inclusion and equitable access. Especially interesting is the mention of using data analytics and machine learning to forecast the future. The strong takeaway message is the increased and expanded use of technology along with the importance of discovering new digital opportunities.

But perhaps the most prophetic of all challenges that nonprofits may tackle in 2020 were incredibly spot-on and now mirror our troubling times.

Mental health issues, political and social unrest, ‘Nano’ needs, housing, and media driven issues.

The main takeaway from this panel of experts is for nonprofits to “step up, tune out the noise, rethink funding priorities and consider broader partnerships to advance the common good.” (Thom Ruhe, NC IDEA Foundation, “Nine Challenges That May Impact the Nonprofit Sector in 2020”, November 25, 2019).


New Ways to Fundraise

According to Giving Tuesday, fundraisers are “throwing all sorts of tactics and strategies against the wall. We’re beginning to see what sticks.” That’s great news but even still, nonprofits of all different shapes and sizes are taking a hard lesson on adapting. No stranger to tight purse strings, operating on a thin margin is the case even during good times. But with cancelled fundraisers and lost revenue along with increased costs associated with protection from the virus and distancing, reaching a shuttered community is a difficulty that even the most seasoned nonprofit must work through.

In an article published by the Harvard Business Review, reimagining your nonprofit is the key to surviving this crisis. There are four areas on which to focus: impact, people, finances and the community. (“Reimagine Your Nonprofit to Survive the Crisis”, Steve Zimmerman, June 1, 2020)

  • Nonprofits exist to have impact. Reimagine your organization by clearly defining what that is
  • People – build a more diverse, inclusive and talented staff who are aligned with the people it serves
  • Finances – Intentional revenue strategy required
  • Community – Focus on the larger system in which you operate; your community.


Multichannel Fundraising

Integrating multiple online and offline channels for fundraising is not as easy as it may sound and timing is everything. You can make your donation appeals whenever you wish but reaching the right audience at the right time can make or break your efforts. Timing makes all the difference between still having your hand out giving, but not receiving what you need in order to keep going.

Photo credit: Nonprofit Hub

Digital fundraising should form the foundation of any fundraising strategy and offline fundraising channels can reach donors and raise funds on a range of traditional, although now modified ways.

  • Branding – keeping branding consistent creates a solid giving experience for donors
  • Website – establish online donation platform on the website so that sending links to the donation page and including the link in posts will drive donors
  • Social Media – timing… know the peak days and hours for each platform
  • Email marketing – targeted and personalized. Don’t just send appeals for money, also send updates, volunteer opportunities and invitations to “events”
  • Crowdfunding – many useful platforms
  • Cash collections – read, Salvation Army in front of a store (but now with a mask on)
  • Advertising – can be targeted with verifiable results
  • Direct mail – old school but works with the older demographics.


According to the nonprofit leadership team at Sanmita, maximizing the use of your organization’s resources through prioritization is the beginning, middle and end, and an ongoing process. There’s no common playbook when putting together your organization’s strategy. But by taking a hard look at specific pain points, where you are now versus where you need to be, you will have the framework to begin reimagined plans. Even if the future still looks a bit murky.

Sanmita is an agency that specializes in strategic planning, marketing, development, and fundraising for nonprofits and associations nationally.  They help build powerful stories, effective programs and advancement campaigns. Their work is based on the development of a solid and practical strategic plan, which is the foundation for all branding communications and fundraising initiatives. Sanmita helps leaders discover and tell their most powerful stories to achieve real measureable results. Contact Sanmita for a complimentary consultation here.


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Lauri Stone

Lauri Stone is Director of Client Relations at Sanmita, Inc., a web design and development firm offering strategy, design, and technology services to higher education, government, and nonprofit entities. She comes to Sanmita with over 25 years of experience in media marketing and advertising and is located in Los Angeles, California.