New results from CCS’s Philanthropic Climate Survey show that the pandemic’s negative effects on fundraising are growing less severe over time as nonprofits embrace virtual methods of donor cultivation and solicitation.

The first two installments of CCS Fundraising’s Philanthropic Climate Survey series in May and June 2020 documented the immediate effects of a crisis in nonprofit fundraising. Our third-edition survey conducted from September 9 to September 16, 2020 provides a window into a nonprofit sector that—at this point, half a year into the global pandemic—has moved past the initial onset of crisis and into adapting to a “new normal.”

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The Pandemic’s Changing Impact on Nonprofit Fundraising

Our September survey results, comprised of responses from nearly 1,400 individuals representing nonprofits of all major subsectors, show that although the pandemic has brought widespread fundraising challenges, its negative impact on fundraising has lessened over time.

In our most recent survey, 53% of respondents reported that the pandemic has led to a decline in fundraising at their organization. As illustrated in the graph below, the proportion of respondents saying that they experienced a decline has decreased markedly from a height of 63% in May. Moreover, the proportion of respondents reporting a fundraising increase amid the pandemic has doubled since May, rising from 14% to 28%.

Though fundraising outcomes are growing more positive in the aggregate, improvements are felt unevenly across subsectors. Nonprofits hard hit by lockdowns and social distancing measures, like performing arts organizations and cultural institutions, are unsurprisingly more likely to report negative effects, with 73% and 67% of respondents respectively reporting a decline so far. On the other end of the spectrum, 45% of respondents from human and social service organizations reported a fundraising increase amid the pandemic—the highest rate of all major subsectors represented in our survey.

Our survey results show that the vast majority (74%) of respondents have not laid off fundraising staff as of September. There was a slight uptick in hiring since June, with 7% of respondents saying that they added fundraising staff. Overall reports of layoffs and furloughs increased in September, though the size of individual layoff and furlough events may be growing smaller on average: a greater proportion of these staff reductions were deemed “modest” rather than “significant” in comparison to May and June numbers. Moreover, our data suggest that nonprofits may be less likely to conduct future layoffs and furloughs now than in previous months, with only 3% of respondents reporting that staff reductions are “under consideration” in September compared to 8% in June and 10% in May.


The Evolving Response of Nonprofit Professionals

As the pandemic continues, our data suggest that virtual donor engagement methods are becoming more and more prominent in nonprofit fundraising operations. In September, a combined 44% of respondents reported that they held some sort of online fundraising event to date, up from 31% in June. As demonstrated in the chart below, this 13-percentage-point increase was almost exclusively driven by survey respondents converting previously planned galas, dinners, and other fundraisers to a new virtual format, as opposed to creating new virtual events.

As a positive indicator for the future of fundraising in an increasingly virtual world, our latest survey results suggested relatively widespread comfort with virtual solicitations at the major gift level. So far, 43% of survey respondents have conducted a virtual major gift solicitation. Phone and video methods are about equally popular for conducting these requests, as shown in the chart below. Moreover, another 29% of respondents are considering a virtual major gift ask, contributing to a combined total of more than 70% of respondents who have either already solicited a major gift virtually or are considering doing so.

To see more results from our Philanthropic Climate Survey series, check out our newly released third-edition report Fundraising Impact of COVID-19. If you have any questions about the report or CCS Fundraising, please contact us today.

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