12 Essential Nonprofit Trends to Watch in 2021
The unprecedented changes in the last year have shifted the way we live, work and communicate. In a time of limited face-to-face interactions and physical events, digital technology became a saving grace for many nonprofits, ushering in new strategies for membership collaboration, marketing and fundraising.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 shined a bigger spotlight on issues like inequality and lack of diversity. With Gen Z – dubbed the “most diverse generation” – entering the workforce, more organizations are making an effort to diversify their leadership structure and expand on their company’s diversity and inclusion (D & I) initiatives.
But we’re just scratching the surface. In this article, we look at some of the biggest nonprofit trends that emerged in the past year, how they’ve changed the nonprofit landscape, and what we can expect to see more of in 2021.
1. Increased Demand for Health and Community Services
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, 15 percent of US adults lost their jobs. Worldwide, millions fell into poverty and experienced food insecurity. As a result, demand for nonprofit services shot up in the last year – even as the organizations themselves suffered from a decline in volunteering and funding.
Meanwhile, those who maintained their jobs or switch to remote work faced issues like work exhaustion, difficulties adjusting to homeschooling and mental health decline. Mental health experts around the world have also noted an increase in cases of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts during the pandemic.
Those who suffered significantly from the pandemic will take some time to bounce back and adjust to the “new normal.” As such, we can expect to see more people relying on nonprofit services – especially wellness, mental health and community services in the upcoming year.
2. Climate Concerns and a Green Mentality
More young people are becoming interested in taking action against climate change. According to an Amnesty International survey, Gen Z ranks climate change as the #1 issue of our time. We’re also seeing more people make the connections between global warming and the rise in wildfires, super typhoons and infectious diseases.
The Washington Post recently lauded several climate-focused nonprofits, including Prime Coalition and the Clean Energy Trust, that flowed funds to climate change mitigation technology. Meanwhile, a piece by the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy states that, “The philanthropic sector is at the forefront of advocacy efforts to combat climate change.” While there is an increase in nonprofit organizations targeting climate change, there is still much to do, and people are actively trying to make conscious efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
3. Digital-First Event Strategies
As the COVID-19 pandemic kept us from holding large gatherings and events in person, fundraising efforts such as benefit concerts, galas and walks/runs/rides turned virtual.
Zoom, Google Meet, Facebook Live – these platforms all became our digital stages for virtual events. More recently, voice-based platforms for real-time conversations have been gaining traction as well. Clubhouse, Discord and Twitter Spaces are a few examples of this growing trend.
At first many nonprofits struggled to adjust. They quickly learned that virtual events had their advantages too, from breaking geographic barriers to reaching wider audiences. On top of this, gathering data is much easier when the events are facilitated online. These platforms collect information, allowing organizers and marketers better understand what works and what doesn’t compared to when live events were the norm.
And while we see a return to normal (or “new normal,” instead) on the horizon, we’re not expecting on the ground events to come back anytime soon. Naturally, as we come out of the pandemic, most people will still be cautious around large gatherings. Instead, we can expect hybrid events that marry live-streaming with smaller in-person events in the near future.
4. Mobile-First Approach
In 2020, there were approximately 3.5 billion smartphone users around the world. On top of this, people are reportedly on their phones more than ever – American adults spent roughly 3 hours and 30 minutes a day on mobile internet in 2019, and experts believe this number will grow to four hours by 2021.
So with everyone’s attention on their phones, it only makes sense for nonprofits to prioritize mobile in their strategies. But how exactly can they do that?
- If you’re looking to get more volunteers, make sure to initiate mobile-friendly ways to register for events and initiatives. For on-the-ground events, skip the paper and use a volunteer management system or app.
- If you’re running a donation drive, make sure people can complete the donation process entirely online. MembershipWorks allows you to easily set up online donation forms that look good on both desktop and mobile.
Don’t forget about social media! Most people use their phones to browse social platforms, so make sure your Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter presence are updated regularly. Produce relevant and insightful content, stay on top of trends, and make sure to engage with your followers online.
5. Social Media Activism
These days, social media is essential to running a successful nonprofit organization. According to Hootsuite, social media platforms gain 1.3 million users every day! That’s a massive audience that you can potentially influence to support your cause – with the right tools and strategies, of course.
The good news for nonprofits is that millennials and Gen Z are now using social media as a platform for activism and advocacy. From the Black Lives Matter movement to Greta Thunberg’s climate protest, social media has even helped mobilize movements on the ground. Recently, young activists have also turned to platforms like Instagram and Tiktok to talk about issues, using infographics, memes, recorded video and live streaming content to capture their audiences.
There are numerous ways nonprofits can harness the power of social platforms to get their messages across to more people. You can:
- Employ the help of an influencer with a strong following
- Pay for targeted ads on Facebook and Instagram
- Start an awareness campaign with profile photo frames and hashtags
- Share videos from those who benefit from your nonprofit such as members or constituents
- Post short, shareable, and informative videos. Don’t forget to use the “Stories” feature on platforms like Facebook and Instagram as well as regular posts.
- Start “challenges” (like the ALS ice bucket challenge)
These are just a few examples, but the possibilities on social media are endless!
6. Remote Meetings, Virtual Brainstorming Sessions and Video Conferencing
In the past year, companies and nonprofits were forced to adopt remote working to curb the spread of COVID-19. Organizations had to rethink collaboration at a time when face-to-face meetings couldn’t happen. For many people, this meant replacing brainstorming sessions and conferences with Zoom calls and a heavy reliance on Google Drive.
While there was definitely a learning curve for a lot of people, many also realized that a lot of time was being wasted in in-person meetings. For nonprofits, there was also a need to weigh the costs of keeping people safe and healthy as they volunteered. Many people realized that integrating better tools for remote work and putting a premium on staff health and wellness resulted in increased productivity – not to mention less financial strain in the long run.
Though not everyone is in love with remote working, some organizations are embracing it. Some businesses have adopted a hybrid model going forward, giving their staff the option to continue working remotely or show up to the office several days a week.
As we go further into 2021, most expect that the pattern of remote collaboration will continue – at least for the time being.
7. Virtual Volunteerism
When people’s fears of illness increased, fewer people showed up to volunteer in person. Organizations also had to set limits on who could come and help out and how many people could be in the same place at the same time.
As a result, virtual volunteer opportunities became popular. Volunteers could pick from one-time activities like data entry and proofreading or more long-term commitments like marketing plan creation and event management.
In 2021, we can expect the trend of virtual volunteerism to stay, not only because people remain cautious about COVID, but because it’s a legitimately good way to get more hands on deck.
People who otherwise couldn’t take time out of their busy schedules to show up to a meeting or a fundraising event could choose precisely when and where they could volunteer. All they need, after all, is a phone or a laptop with an internet connection.
On top of this, virtual volunteering is something that pretty much anyone can do, from teenagers on summer break to tech-savvy seniors in retirement. It’s a great way to get the community involved without demanding anyone to sacrifice their health or their precious time.
8. More Revenue for Online Fundraisers
Thanks to the ubiquity of mobile devices, digital philanthropy has surged in the past few years. In fact, according to one source, “more than half of the 50% non-profit organizations” depend on online engagement to reach wider audiences and get more donors.
It’s indicative of the social attitudes of today’s most digital generations, too. Gen Z and millennials get their news primarily through their phones, and as the most engaged and socially active generations, they don’t just stop at consuming information – they’re big sharers online. This proclivity for sharing content translates to faster dissemination of information and reaching more potential donors.
So, how can you harness this rising trend and generate more online revenue? Donation-matching drives and social media takeovers are popular and effective strategies.
9. Corporate Giving
Numerous nonprofits rely on corporate partnerships and donors to stay afloat. The good news is that, even though the tumultuous year, corporate giving grew by 0.4 percent in 2020 and is expected to go up by 1.4 percent this year.
Today’s consumers are increasingly interested in companies with a conscience and strong connections to their local communities. Gen Z is known as the socially conscious generation, and as they enter the workforce, we can expect a more significant push for these attitudes in already shifting company cultures. Nonprofits with good reputations can work their connections to find companies who want to burnish their own image. Nonprofits who focus on fostering connections with corporate contacts through their board, executive director and volunteers can network their way into a partnership or sponsorship.
10. Transparency in Storytelling
With the rise of a more socially conscious workforce, we’re also seeing a higher expectation for transparency and accountability from organizations. Today, donors and volunteers expect a nonprofit organization to be more honest about how donations are handled, the fees and costs involved in mounting a project and the recipients of the donations.
With this in mind, nonprofits need to consider investing in data tracking tools and ramping up their communications and marketing efforts. After all, it’s more than just reporting numbers – most people don’t respond to cold, hard figures. They do, however, connect to stories, photos and videos.
11. Leadership Diversity
In the past couple of years, there’s been a lot of talk about diversity and inclusivity across all industries and sectors. The conversation has focused on the lack of diversity in leadership positions as well as the importance of embracing and providing support for people of different backgrounds.
A 2017 Philanthropy News Digest article stated that, “While 42 percent of the organizations we surveyed are led by female executive directors, 87 percent of all executive directors or presidents were white, and that there was only minimal representation of women of color.” By 2020, not much had changed. According to Forbes, “One recent study found that less than 20% of nonprofit director roles were filled by minorities.”
We’re seeing a growing trend of nonprofits leading the way in terms of diversity in their boardrooms and offices. There are more resources on the tangible steps you can make towards diversifying your own organization. The first step is to collect and analyze data on diversity, then:
- Share the data with key stakeholders
- Try alternative systems for reporting issues of harassment and discrimination
12. Centralized Data Management
We’ve been talking about the importance of data gathering a lot, but we also want to highlight the importance of a centralized data management strategy – especially at a time when we are so reliant on remote collaboration. As we settle into a digital-first mindset and way of working, it makes sense to invest in data management tools and software. These allow us to better understand how our organization runs and how other nonprofits succeed.
No conversation about data would be complete without touching on data security as well. More than ever, it’s important to keep information that your nonprofit gathers about donors, members, recipients and constituents secure. Just one data breach can significantly erode your constituents’ trust and can impact fundraising for an extended period of time.
Despite the “new normal,” we don’t expect a full return to physical events and collaborations in the nonprofit sector in 2021. Instead, we see an uptick in technology-driven trends as well as the public’s demands for transparency and diversity.