Predictions for the Charity & Fundraising Sector in 2021

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Making predictions for the upcoming year can be tricky at the best of times, but even more so after the utterly unpredictable year that was 2020. However, this didn’t stop us from opening the floor to the Wood for Trees team and asking for their thoughts and ideas on what they expect to see, or not see, in 2021.


Unsurprisingly, many of the suggestions focus on wider engagement with insight and reporting – after all, this is what we do! They also focus on the development of skills and techniques in these areas, too.

The pandemic has indirectly made more people aware of line charts and statistical rates, and coupled with a younger, digital and data savvy cohort entering the workforce, this will mean analytics will become truly embedded in the ‘new normal’. Insight will become more accessible and wider in scope, and charities will look to place their own results into context of the wider environment.

Aimee Smith predicts…

Insight Culture leading to Better Stewardship

Whilst some parts of a charity are on board with a more holistic approach to insight, often others cannot get away from purely campaign by campaign analysis. This can eat up analysts’ time and prevent more ‘big picture’ insight. Also, teams are still unaware of the touch points for supporters with other parts of the charity. For example, an events team know what their supporters get in terms of event communications yet are unaware of other comms they are receiving.

Culture is everything and often is the thing that can be slow to change. However, 2020 saw great innovation and cross department collaboration and this looks set to continue as charities will start to fully embrace the kind of insight needed to understand what supporters want to receive across their whole portfolio, rather than team by team.

Josh Hopkinson predicts…

Democratised, accessible insight will become the norm

Although there are a wealth of solutions claiming to ‘put data at your fingertips’, mere access to your organisation’s data does not necessarily deliver the meaningful connections and insightful conclusions you need from this data. Many organisations still rely on one team or set of individuals to not only process, review and present their data in understandable formats, but also to interrogate and interpret it to drive action.

Forward thinking organisations in 2021 will strive to deliver meaningful insight directly to all areas of the business, regardless of their data processing capabilities – empowering all members of all teams to make informed strategic decisions aligned to business strategy and backed up with a unified interpretation of your data.

John O’Dowd predicts…

The emergence of quality benchmarking to assess performance during COVID-19 (and beyond)

COVID, COVID, COVID. It has impacted charities in a variety of ways – it has been a nightmare for some, with St John Ambulance facing a financial deficit of £20 million for example, but not so bad for others. Most charities may expect a decline in income for 2020/21 but are also facing a huge increase in demand for their services at the same time. In these uncertain times more organisations were keen to see how they have fared compared to other charities to place their own results in context.

Charities will increasingly compare their data with other organisations’ data to benchmark their performance. At its core, it’s about defining relevant measurements – which might include metrics for both 2019 & 2020, – and then evaluating these against a peer group. After this is complete, then an individual charity might try to identify opportunities for improvement and try to implement action plans to address them. It could also be used to provide a sense for an organization’s relative strength in fundraising (e.g. pounds raised, average gift amount, response rate, retention rate).

Tim McKenzie predicts…

Increased dependencies on social media monitoring

The pandemic undoubtedly accelerated the move to online activity – something which the sector has been slow to over previous years. Clients will generate more and more of their activity across their social and digital platforms and will therefore have an increased need to analyse the performance across these platforms, and to work out if they can ultimately turn this activity into successful relationships in the long run. This will start with more plug and play self-reporting for social media platforms but ultimately lead to attribution back with CRM data for monitoring of social engagement with general fundraising activity.


Furthermore, the team also foresees some significant changes in the ways that supporters will give and therefore how charities will engage with their supporters. From the ongoing rise of virtual events to a significant growth in legacies, many of these changes were catalysed by the impact of COVID-19 and look set to remain with us. However, we will also continue to see the rise and return of some old favourites. So much will change but remember much will not.

Lucy Jenner predicts…

More sophisticated engagement strategies for non-financial supporters

In 2021, there will without a doubt be an increase in non-financial engagement. And this will mean that clients will need to look to develop their existing base of supporters and assign further value to non-financial interactions with the ultimate hope being to convert these non-financial supporters into donors.

Jon Kelly predicts…

A significant focus on the legacy journey

Legacies look set to become one of the growth areas of income for charities. This will be both in the short term, as existing wills and pledges are brought to bear, but potentially also as a longer-term trend due to the natural shift of our financial and moral compasses being catalysed by the global pandemic, that has also impacted our working and personal lives.

Legacy giving is notoriously hard to forecast and attribute to specific activities due to the (often) lengthy time frames involved from first contact to legacy gift, and the volume of previously unknown legators – commonly around 50% – for whom there is no prior recorded engagement. However, as other revenue streams are stretched having better insight on legacy giving will enable charities to get more accurate forecasts on the potential income from current legacy pipelines which might secure short term stability. It will also lead to a better understanding of who and why people give leading to better engagement programmes for the future.

Rob Dyer predicts…

Emails using personalisation in the best and most creative ways will succeed

Successive lockdowns have curtailed face to face fundraising and at times have also impacted the production of direct mail. Amid continued uncertainty and instability in the NFP industry, one thing at least remains true: people make time to look at their phones and engage with their email. Furthermore, advances in software make it cheaper, quicker and easier than ever for charities of all sizes to connect with their supporters. This is a double-edged sword however, as these same advances also increase the potential number of charities vying for supporters’ attention. It’s more important than ever to get the basics right, but also to be a little creative and stand out from the crowd. And, unfortunately, “Dear [first name]” followed by a standard piece of copy doesn’t cut it anymore. Knowing who your supporters are, what motivates them to donate and how they want to be engaged with, will mean some charities are able to get better results from their mailing list than others, and sow the seeds for better relationships with them in the future.

Kayleigh Philps predicts…

The importance of virtual events will continue to grow

The traditional events audit will change to understand how a charity’s events program was performing, and how it’s been shaped by the global pandemic in 2020 and beyond. This should aim to understand the successes and failures of past events, how these have been affected within the last year and understand how to protect events going forward. Furthermore, the answer to many of these things may be virtual events, as it grows evident these may be attracting a new supporter base. We must understand whether others are more or less likely to donate to a friend doing a virtual event, and are virtual events giving more people the opportunity to take part? We must also consider how effective are methods of creating a community atmosphere, for example, Facebook groups.

Jane Tippetts predicts…

Capitalising on Success in Direct Marketing

Whilst several areas of fundraising have – and still are – facing significant challenges due to COVID-19, many charities saw an increase in direct mail response in 2020. This could be the result of going out to a wider audience, increased urgency in the message, a greater sense of empathy as a result of COVID-19, or a more captive audience. Whatever the reasons, it is going to be important to look to capitalise on success in this area. Where they are able to, this will be using the motivation for giving and profile of supporters combined, to implement a supporter journey that promotes long term engagement over short term financial gain.


We leave the final word to Wood for Trees’ Consultant Analyst, Geoff Hartland, who reminds us of that old adage: don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Geoff advises us to ensure that we test and learn to maximise the positives from what we have face over the last year.

With all the changes and disruption of 2020, it will be important to understand whether you are now engaging with new supporters or whether they existing supporters who have switched their way of giving? Will this switch be temporary? Or will they revert to old methods once available? And if they do revert, will they also continue to give in these new ways? If you can understand the full picture, you will be in the ideal place to build these new and changing relationships in the most appropriate way in 2021, and beyond.

Geoff Hartland predicts…

Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

Unquestionably COVID has had a profound impact on fundraising. Close contact activities, like face-to-face recruitment and events, have taken a hit due to restrictions put in place, and as a result, there may be less confidence and performance in partnerships and trusts. However, we must consider whether this has changed human behaviour forever. Will people respond better to current, close to home issues, or will previous direct mail fundraising approaches still work? The answer is likely outside of our control, and we’ll only really know when the COVID situation, risks and restrictions stabilise. So, the answer should be to continue to test our approaches. Take what you know has worked in the past, but apply learning from COVID activity, test and monitor. This way, when we hit a ‘new normal’ once more, in whatever shape that takes, we will have gathered enough insight to respond appropriately.