2021 looks to be a pivotal year for the future of charities.
To say 2020 has been challenging for non-profit organisations worldwide would be something of an understatement.
The coronavirus pandemic brought with it decreased funding, heightened competition for awareness and the cancellation of major events among many other extremely demanding factors. The industry as a whole learned valuable lessons throughout 2020 — perhaps most pertinently that even the best-laid plans can fall apart in spectacular fashion.
However, 2021 presents a new year. The shining light of a vaccine can be seen on the horizon and charities need to be ready to not just catch up on lost time, but address new and perhaps more challenging than ever issues.
This article will outline five of the biggest upcoming trends for charities in 2021, so whether you’re a nonprofit yourself or an enterprise planning on working with one, you can be prepared.
Virtual events aren’t going anywhere
For many of us, 2020 has been a largely virtual year. We’ve spent the year stuck in front of webcams, waiting for our turn to speak in Zoom meetings and absorbing entertainment, education and crucial life moments through the blue light of a screen.
This has been a difficult reality for a sector that is used to meeting people in person and relies on the voluntary work of people who are perhaps not so tech-savvy. But while there have been some creative solutions to our new Zoom reality, signs suggest we may be back to in-person meetings and events sometime in 2021.
However, this doesn’t mean charities should give up ground on the virtual front. Even if everyone is sick of quizzes and talking over each other, there is still significant room for digital events and strategies in the charity sector throughout 2021.
A greater understanding of these new mediums (video calls, online content) is essential for charities looking to progress throughout the new year. The first part of the year will likely see more remote working and even temporary lockdown procedures, so nonprofits should accept that virtual events are here to stay.
These events present a brilliant opportunity to get different guest speakers and famous faces involved remotely, expose potential donors to new causes and make the jump into charity involved seem less drastic (everything is more accessible from the comfort of your living room).
We may be able to hug and hold conferences in person this time next year, but a digital strategy towards meetings and events still has a significant role to play in 2021.
A focus on recurring donations
The COVID-19 pandemic saw a push from charities to online giving programs. As the crisis worsened, people felt emboldened to support causes they are passionate about financially, some at a rate not seen before. The first half of 2020 alone saw an £800 million increase from the UK public on the year before.
The difficulty for charities is, of course, retaining those levels. While the pandemic spike was only ever going to be temporary, nonprofits need to find a way to capture some of that goodwill sentiment and attract others to the cause long-term.
Rather than going for big donations, charities need to focus on recurring donations.
We see this becoming a major trend throughout 2021, not just for the benefit to charities in terms of a reliable revenue stream, but the benefit of the donor. Repeat donations to a particular organisation are shown to make donors feel more connected to their successes. This win-win situation helps to build relationships and embolden the charity to reach out to these donors.
By encouraging small recurring donations over large one-time sums, charities actually seem less greedy to the general public and create a situation in which the contributor is more likely to top-up their donation. An extra gift around Christmas time to your favourite nonprofit feels more achievable if you haven’t been giving enormous sums throughout the year.
Charities need to find sustainable ways to rebuild after COVID — and a sensible, small but continuous model might just be that.
Taking the fight to new people
As much as we prophesise a continuation of virtual events throughout 2021, it’s equally important that charities are willing to go out from behind their laptops and meet people on their own turf.
We may have spent 2020 indoors and wrapped in our own safety blankets for good reason, but 2021 is the year where charities need to take risks and reach out to new bases for both donors and outreach opportunities.
This can be taken in two different ways.
First is literally. The charity sector must not be confined to laptop screens and social media platforms. It needs to be in the thick of things, meeting vulnerable people to understand their struggles and collectively finding creative students.
The work of organisations such as Acorn should be admired, where massive community outreach programs have attracted volunteers who would never have provided that kind of assistance pre-pandemic — bringing new people into their programs and raising awareness of their mission while committing good deeds. Their work could be a sign of how charities will bring new people into the fold throughout the next year.
Alternatively, this can be looked at as a way to do digital outreach differently. Meeting people on their own turf can be done in a digital sense too. Social media is a brilliant tool for tapping into new communities and growing interest in a cause. Throughout 2021, we expect charities to build on the digital lessons learned throughout the pandemic and expand their digital reach.
A grander mission focus might be beneficial
2020 has been a year of lessons for the charity sector, but perhaps the most important has come from outside of the pandemic.
The rise of social movements such as Black Lives Matter may signal the direction of charities throughout 2021.
While nonprofits have traditionally aimed to promote a simple and achievable mission, the grand aims of these popular movements and the widespread success they’ve had in incorporating them into the mainstream should act as inspiration for any charity that feels it isn’t making the progress it wants to.
As the true financial effects of the pandemic set in, nonprofits will be required to have more of a direct impact on people’s lives. The scope of these issues will become bigger and funding is cut across the board. The messaging and actions of these charities need to reflect that.
A huge trend throughout 2021 could be charities refusing to accept being part of a pack that gets handouts and demanding serious action. While charities are unlikely to become protest groups, they could further align themselves with them and look to adopt much of the same language if not tactics.
With so much competition, charities will need to make their moments count. If a particular cause achieves traction across both traditional and social media, expect to see charities seizing the opportunity to spread their message and draw in as many donors and volunteers as possible in that space of time.
Narratives move quickly, and trying to push for larger societal changes will require making the best use of your time to speak, or forcing the issue entirely. Nonprofits may well think the time for half-measures has passed.
An increase in partnerships
Brand partnerships and affiliations continued to be a vital part of a successful marketing campaign throughout 2020.
The power of the influencer has only grown, and brands have found huge success working with companies of a similar size across a number of industries, from fashion to entertainment.
2021 will be a year in which charities continue to move past the typical celebrity endorsement and integrate more familiar and relatable influencers — and micro-influencers — into their strategy.
These online celebrities will be crucial for charities, both in reaching out to younger audiences and giving a personal face to their brand. The donations of the future won’t be won on television or at fundraisers, but through concentrated yet subliminal advertising on social media. The endorsement of a respected influencer can have more of a tangible effect than any similar marketing strategy in 2021.
While there were suggestions in 2020 that the power of the influencer was waning, they have proven to be powerful assets for everything from mental health charities to the fight against fast fashion.
However, with this comes a greater responsibility for charities to vet their partners (both for influencers and other companies). Charities need to be prepared for a potential ‘Twitter fallout’ that might come from working with a particular online name, and ensure their history aligns with their messaging and aims.
Creative partnerships are nothing new, but they’ll become more essential in the next year. Charities will be fighting for the right name to lead their brand, and innovative thinking will be needed to find them and form the right campaigns.
As many charities will be aware, the future is what we make of it. These are just a few trends; Personalised giving is just another example of how charities will be able to engage with new audiences throughout 2021.
In many countries, the wealth gap has become the giving gap, and as the seriousness of the pandemic is laid bare, the avenue for potential donations is thinner than ever before.
They may not have the funding of big corporations or the coverage of a billion-dollar tech startup, but nonprofit organisations have the power to shape a narrative and bring people along for the ride of a worthy cause.
These trends may not be set in stone (2020 has taught us a year can change quite quickly), but we largely expect them to help shape the nonprofit landscape throughout the year.