Survey: Fundraising with in-person and hybrid events more effective

Nonprofits are more likely to meet or exceed their fundraising goals when they hold in-person or hybrid events, according to a recent survey of 939 nonprofit employees.

The survey, conducted in September 2023 by the fundraising technology company OneCause, included people who use the company’s tools and those who don’t. Eighty-three percent of respondents said their nonprofit plans to hold at least one in-person event in 2024. A third of groups plan to hold a hybrid one.

“If nonprofits are presenting their supporters with the opportunity to get back in the ballroom at some level, in some capacity, they are performing better,” says Steve Lausch, director of product marketing for OneCause.

Among nonprofits that only offered in-person events and those that only offered hybrid events, 51 percent met their goals. Twenty-six percent of groups that held only in-person events beat their goals, as did 25 percent of groups that held hybrid events.

Forty-seven percent of groups that did not hold any events in 2023 said they were on budget. But just 9 percent of those groups said their organization beat their overall budget goals.

Forty-one percent of groups that held only virtual events and 44 percent of groups that did not hold any events were under-budget for fundraising last year.

Ninety-seven percent of respondents said their nonprofit held at least one event of some kind, according to the report. That overwhelming majority shows that events are effective fundraising tools, Lausch says. “Where we don’t hold them, we tend to get into a pinch. And where we don’t hold them with an in-person element, we get into a pinch. That’s where we see the correlation.”

The largest share of respondents — 48 percent — said their events drew a mix of supporters who participated virtually and others who showed up in-person. But donors also seemed to appreciate the chance to gather together in-person again, with 44 percent of respondents saying their supporters attended only in-person fundraising events. That’s a 12 percentage point increase over the previous year.

The share of respondents who said their supporters attended only virtual events also continued to fall — from 28 percent in 2021 to 9 percent in 2022 and 5 percent last year.

The survey asked respondents’ feelings about artificial intelligence and found considerable ambivalence. Asked whether A.I. could benefit nonprofits, fundraising, and government oversight; whether it would negatively impact donor privacy; or whether it was overhyped in the media, upwards of half of all respondents said they weren’t sure.

Sixteen percent of respondents strongly agreed that A.I. will greatly benefit nonprofits — the highest share of strong agreement earned by any of the questions. Respondents were most uncertain about whether A.I. would increase government oversight in the sector, with 67 percent saying they weren’t sure.

Nearly a quarter of respondents said they are using artificial intelligence in their work, most commonly for writing grant proposals, appeal letters, and other content, while 28 percent said they planned to use A.I. for this purpose.

In conversations, fundraisers consistently tell Lausch they wish they had more time to get work done and improve their interactions with donors.

“A.I. holds promise for both of those areas,” he says. “It really is a matter of, is this something that we’re ready to go into? Is it something that we can easily adopt? And I think some of that is on the part of the provider to make that easy.”

The report analyzed fundraising data from 8,095 nonprofits, which attracted $4.1 billion from 3.1 million donors from January 1 to September 30, 2023. It presents a snapshot in time, assessing year-to-date fundraising trends and comparing them to the same period in 2022.

Donors who contribute $500 or less caused the drop in contributors during the first nine months of 2023. Donors who give $100 or less represented the biggest piece of the donor pie — 53.7 percent — during that time frame. The number of those donors, however, fell 15.7 percent from that same period in 2022.

Similarly, donors who contributed $101 to $500 represented 29.9 percent of all donors, but their numbers shrank 7.9 percent year over year. Nonprofits struggled to persuade people to make their first gift or repeat the previous year’s, the report found. From January 1 to September 30, 2023, the number of donors who made their first gift the previous year and made another gift the subsequent year fell 18.7 percent from 2022. During that same period, the number of new donors fell 16.9 percent year over year.

The results indicate that fundraisers should focus more on engaging donors and personalizing their communications with them, Ann Fellman, chief marketing officer for Bloomerang, said in the release for the report. “Send simple surveys to learn donor interests and passions, strengthen your storytelling, personalize your outreach, and give out thank-yous, which go a long way,” she says.

Small nonprofits were a bright spot in the report. Groups that raised less than $100,000 in revenue were the only category to boost their fundraising revenue year over year.

From The Chronicle of Philanthropy