Paradox of 2020
In many ways, 2020 was the hardest year our non-profits have ever faced. Carefully laid plans and goals, fundraising events and budgets had to be scrapped as the country went into lockdown. Organisations reliant on funding from charity shops or social enterprise initiatives lost their income stream virtually overnight. Others faced cuts in subsidies, as government funding was channelled into Covid-19 crisis relief. And, as income dwindled or dried up completely, organisations scrambled to meet the additional, unplanned costs of hand sanitizer, thermometers, sanitizing stations, extra cleaning/security staff and PPE.
But in other ways, 2020 was also the most successful year for our non-profits.
Most experienced an unprecedented increase in donations, as individuals and companies responded with an overwhelming outpouring of generosity. Given that many South Africans experienced salary cuts and uncertainty about the future, it was a heartwarming reminder of just how generous and supportive we are as a nation.
The big winners were organisations that had already invested heavily in digital fundraising programmes, tools and technologies, who had the confidence and agility to take their fundraising communications online virtually overnight. Two of the organisations with which I work saw income from online donations exceed the R1 million mark for the first time last year. Although this is just one portion of the overall fundraising pie, online giving is becoming increasingly popular with donors.
Predictions for 2021
If 2020 was a successful year for fundraising, is this trend likely to continue into 2021? Unfortunately, the first rush to support charity had already started trailing off in the third and fourth quarters of last year, when we began to realise that Covid-19 was not going to be defeated any time soon. We were gatvol. And then came the second wave of a much deadlier, faster spreading variant of the disease and a new focus on funding a vaccine roll out.
So what does 2021 have in store for local non profits?
Obviously digital is here to stay, so if your website isn’t geared to accept online donations you need to fix that right now. But one of the most interesting trends is the growth in access via mobile phone. Mobile has been gaining ground steadily over the past few years, but usage shot up markedly last year. With so many people working remotely from home, and the reported boom in the sale of laptops, one would expect more donors to use this option. But it just isn’t so.
According to research I read recently, Americans pick up their phones 96 times a day. That’s nearly once every ten minutes. And there’s no reason to think South Africans are any different. We are becoming much more comfortable doing our banking and online shopping by phone (think of the popularity of the Checkers Sixty/60 App).
Last year, over 74% of traffic on the website mentioned earlier was mobile. Which means the bulk of the R1 million donated was made via phone. Your online donation system has to be geared for this. No lengthy, difficult to complete forms. And certainly not a donation process that includes a pdf form for donors to download, print, fill in and email back to you, which I saw on a non-profit website this week!
In 2021, I believe we’re going to see a surge in websites that have been designed and built specifically for mobile. The ubiquitous home page slider is going to disappear - unless it renders in a vastly less cluttered version (or not at all) on phone and tablet. We’re also going to have to rethink our habit of placing donate buttons in the main menu, as this typically collapses into a ‘hamburger’ on a small screen, effectively hiding the donate button from view.
Another result of working remotely has been the growth in WhatsApp as a communication tool for business. Companies are using WhatsApp groups to communicate with staff, and several of my clients now prefer this channel to email when communicating with me. It’s only a matter of time before non-profits make the same jump to this quick and ‘always on’ channel when communicating with supporters.
So if you’re not collecting mobile numbers and introducing opt-in mobile fields on donation forms and websites, this might be something to look at in 2021. Many organisations have already experienced success using phone messaging, either as a stand alone appeal, or as part of a multi-channel social media/email/phone campaign.
There are some glaring double standards when it comes to online privacy. 2021 is the year when South African websites will have to become compliant in displaying a cookie warning/policy. But this regulation does not apply in the USA. So Google and Facebook (the biggest users of tracking cookies) are not obliged to do the same.
As I write this, WhatsApp has introduced new terms and conditions that allow it to share information with sister company, Facebook. Although private messages cannot be accessed (yet), the app can share personal data such as your phone number and phone numbers of your contacts, profile names and pictures, and diagnostic data. Are concerns about privacy enough to make us abandon WhatsApp and Facebook? My gut says “No”. We already know that smart phones ‘eavesdrop’ on our conversations – even conversations that don’t take place on the phone. We express outrage but we accept it, because we just can’t live without our phones.
Even with the promise of a vaccine on the way and (hopefully) the demise of Covid-19 in 2021, things are not going to return to the way they were. Communication fundamentals and the way we work have been forever altered. We need new strategies to grow our fundraising success going forward.