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Yesterday was the first day of The Collaborative – the virtual nonprofit conference of the year put on by Classy. After attending “Where Do We Go From Here? Rethinking the Future of Philanthropy,” I am inspired. I am motivated. I am ready to share so that we can all go out and do the most good effectively. 

The conversation, which was led by Dr. Una Osili of the Lively Family School of Philanthropy, Jen Shang of the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy, and Erin Gore of World Central Kitchen, was largely centered around COVID. How could it not be, given the year we just had? It is something that impacted all people and, in many cases, connected people. And nonprofits certainly felt the effects of it.

However, the insights these women shared weren’t COVID recaps. They were actionable steps nonprofits can take to recognize the shared experience and move forward in a way that recognizes all humanity – donors, supporters, and the community.


The first topic was focused on relationships moving forward. How should we engage donors who want to support nonprofits? How should we be listening to communities to fulfill our missions? How can nonprofits work with the changing world to continue building relationships?

Don’t be afraid to go deep

Building relationships that go beyond the superficial are going to be the ones that move the needle in the next decade. This means that we need to be looking at donors as people, not dollar signs. When we recognize that everyone has an identity outside of giving, the deeper that connection becomes and the more you can encourage giving.

Look at the relationship between the people and their community

Of course, your donors have a relationship with your nonprofit. But if you are looking to increase your donor base, you need to look at the relationship people have with their community. Giving is a way for people to connect with their entire community, so it is crucial that you provide them with that full experience.

Move beyond the easiest and most convenient messages

We live in a world where people are inundated with messages. Texts, emails, and social media are legitimate channels of communication for nonprofits to reach their supporters. But make sure the content of the message isn’t a generic ask. Part of being in a relationship with your supporters includes trusting them with your mission.

Actionable Takeaway

As basic as it might sound, think of your supporters (and potential supporters) as individual people. Utilize audience segmentation and other personalized methods when sending emails to ensure you are communicating a message that matters to them. Highlight the voices of the community you serve on your website so donors know who is being impacted by their donation. Design different landing pages for the different programs, and A/B test to ensure it is resonating. Your nonprofit is a central hub for a service or mission, but it is only as effective as the relationships it creates with people.

Equity & Inclusion

Next, we discussed equity and inclusion as it relates to philanthropy. There will always be a focus on fundraising in nonprofits, but it is important to make space at the table for those who are not in a position to give financially or have other contributions. Include the people who are in a better position to volunteer. Include those who want to learn. And include the voices of those you serve. We must lift the voices of those we serve. Philanthropy is for everyone, and it is our responsibility to allow people to express their generosity in a way they are capable of – either through donations or their time, talent or testimony.

Those who want to volunteer

Those who want to learn

Those who you serve

Those who are ready to give

2020 saw a substantial increase in online giving, especially in sectors that related to people’s interests and passions. Many more financial gifts were made to nonprofits helping animals, music and the arts because a physical separation from those passions during quarantine encouraged people to find another outlet to support. Social justice organizations also saw huge increases in donations after George Floyd’s death. Donating allowed people to express their kindness, compassion, and care for their community – both in their hometown and around the world.

Actionable Takeaway

Your website is certainly a marketing tool that can drive donations, but make sure it isn’t excluding those who aren’t ready or capable of donating just yet. Include CTA’s for volunteer opportunities. Allow visitors to learn and engage with the website, and open up a dialogue. Include forms on the website asking for people’s experiences and input. And when asking for donations, do so in a way that recognizes their identity that creates a connection to your cause and thank them in a personalized way.


There is no tiptoeing around it. The economy got hit hard in 2020, and the future of philanthropy and fundraising needs to take that into consideration.

While we are seeing the economy recover, it is a K-shaped recovery. Some households found themselves with more discretionary income because they were spending less without losing income. For this reason, many nonprofits had an increase in new donors and large gifts. On the other hand, it is no secret that many households struggled to provide for their own families. Regular donors had to decrease their giving or stop it altogether.

As the world moves toward its new normal (business and schools opening back up restrictions lifted, etc.), it could be easy to assume that the people of the community are part of that progression. However, many families are still in the throes of the economic impact and will be for some time.

Actionable Takeaway

Don’t stop fundraising. Those who are in a financially stable position are still giving more than in previous years, and those who are struggling still need nonprofit services. Strategize how you will ask to ensure you are still building the relationship, but don’t slow down.


Technology is here to stay. There is momentum to get back to in-person events and face-to-face engagement, but virtual fundraisers aren’t going anywhere. And neither are all the lessons we learned from 2020 in regards to technology. 

Online giving went up in 2020 thanks to the ability to donate digitally, but there was one roadblock. Trust. Online models make it harder for people who don’t already have a relationship with an organization to trust it. So while many nonprofits had a broader reach in terms of the community they served, it became more of a challenge to invite new supporters in.

Thankfully, technology and creativity came together to turn websites into platforms for building relationships instead of simply providing information. Sharing numbers, sharing impact, and sharing stories builds trust. And adding interactive elements to the page design engages visitors in a way that parallels an in-person experience. While Mittun has been building websites like this for years, 2020 truly proved how essential it is.

If you want donors to trust you, you need to trust them. Bring them into your world and the work that is happening.

Erin GoreWorld Kitchen Central

Actionable Takeaway

Circling back to the very beginning of the conversation, one of the huge advantages of technology is building relationships. Build digital impact reports for transparency. Include videos on your website so that potential supporters can actually see the work you do, even if they can’t be there in person. Create donor journeys that bring them into a deeper relationship with your nonprofit. Share fundraising goals, progress and struggles on campaign pages. Technology has opened up a whole new world, and made our physical world feel much smaller. Use that to your advantage to do more good in the world.

What now?

Mittun is excited to be attending The Collaborative. We are constantly looking for ways to improve our agency, stay on top of trends and help nonprofits achieve their goals. And we love sharing what we learn with you.

Explore more tips and trends, or contact us to have a conversation about how you can enter the future of philanthropy with confidence.

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