I spy 5 fundraising trends in 2016

Published by Tom Ahern on

  1. Growth-oriented nonprofits will “discover” donor-centricity.

In the quest for improved revenues, charities will switch from so-called “corporate” communications (where the organization is the hero; it’s how you raise the least amount of money) in favor of donor-centered communications, where the focus is on the donor’s emotional gratification (it’s how you raise far more money from the very same people).

The commercial world made this switch back in the 1950s, by the way; nonprofits tend to be a few decades behind in their business practices, as Adrian Sergeant has noted.

Today, the websites of fast-growing innovators like charity: water are as much about the donor experience as they are about the mission … as it should be. To quote Mark Phillips, “The only thing that matters a damn is the donor experience.”

  1. Facebook will continue to mature as a fundraising platform.

There is exactly one charity on the face of the earth I’m aware of that makes significant, steady revenue from Facebook: Soi Dog, an animal welfare charity in Bangkok, Thailand.

It took them and Pareto in Australia years of research and development (proving once again that there is no easy money). But Soi Dog now brings in US$300,000-400,000 every month in giving, mostly from women 45 and older in the US and UK.

Among the advantages of Facebook fundraising: you can raise money globally for your local cause … if it’s the right cause (animal welfare is a clear winner).

What’s worth noting is that the advertising associated with Soi Dog’s success could have been written in the 1940s. The tried and true methods of conventional response advertising are essential in Facebook fundraising, according to Pareto co-founder, Sean Triner. So, yeah, social media is a shiny new thing … but you better know something about the shiny old thing, too, if you want to make Facebook fundraising work for you.


  1. There will be a new kind of fundraiser in town.

One cohort of fundraisers is leaving the stage (the baby boomers) and another cohort is coming on stage (some in their twenties).

The baby boomers often came into their positions without much or any formal training in fundraising. They learned as they went, through experience, reading, conferences, mentoring and such.

The new cohort will be different … in grounding, if nothing else. Nonprofit management programs have popped up everywhere in higher ed., as our massive industry attracts the career-minded. Fundraising degree and masters-level programs (such as the new AFP International Advanced Diploma in Fundraising [IADF], developed by Drs. Adrian Sergeant and Jen Shang) will turn out far more rigorously prepared professionals.

We’re even seeing hugely successful 2nd-generation fundraisers like Rory Green and Jen Love, both with distinguished fundraising dads. One observer stated, “Fundraising is the biggest profession on earth run on war stories and conventional wisdom.” I see those days starting to pass. Tomorrow’s top fundraisers will guess less and know more.


  1. Direct mail will not die … again.

Forbes, the business magazine, writes about this non-obituary pretty much every year … because every year direct mail advertising way outperforms digital advertising. Now even science has chimed in, as Gina Danner wrote in Next Page:

“Direct Mail is alive and kicking even if your original cell phone is not.

“Despite the attraction toward digital marketing, direct mail is far from extinct. According to a study conducted by Millward Brown, Using Neuroscience to Understand the Role of Direct Mail, physical marketing materials vs. virtual marketing materials engage customers far better and trigger more emotional responses deepening brand engagement.”

“But we’re not in sales!” fundraisers will scream. And I scream back: “Yes, you are!” And it’s about time you recognized that you have a customer … and that customer is your donor.

Food for thought: according to Jeff Brooks, baby boomers will represent the bulk of your donors until about 2035. Baby boomers use technology heavily, but they are not digital natives. They grew up with paper. They have an enduring romance with paper.


  1. Charity rating services will become obsolete (except in their own minds)

The charity ratings watchdogs have never exposed a real fraud, far as I know. Yet they’ve made life miserable for good charities forced to forgo investment in staff and growth, in fear of a downgrade to three or fewer stars.

The charity industry is growing madly for one reason: there are more problems than ever to address … and government doesn’t want to be in that particular business.

The charity ratings services aren’t watchdogs, they’re obstacles. They prevent nonprofits from behaving in a business-like manner, as Dan Pallotta has said so often. Please just go away. Your time has come and gone.

Tom Ahern

Tom Ahern is considered one of the world’s top authorities on how to increase revenue thru donor communications. Writer since birth. Collector of best practices in donor communications. Specifically: TESTED, PROVEN best prax in donor comms, prax that raise more $$$$$$$$.


Niall Harrington · January 11, 2016 at 22:05

You mentioned that in point #2 that the donations came “mostly from women 45 and older in the US and UK.”

How did you get this information? Is it from facebook analytics?
How can I get access to them?

Thanks in advance.

Greg Warner · January 13, 2016 at 02:48

I really think more nonprofits will regain focus on the 80/20 rule (the Pareto Principle). They’ll recognize that at least 80% of their revenue comes from only 20% of their donors (or less) and they’ll make sure to steward those folks so they give even more.

Carsten Direske, Germany · January 13, 2016 at 21:01

> They grew up with paper. They have an enduring romance with paper.
Yes, I agree. But I would add: The baby boomers are still “the reading” and not only the “scanning” generation. So even writing emails to them is still the good old “writing a proper letter” job. Avoid jargon, informal language, or nerdy terms and all these often in social media contexts found writing. And even think of books related to your cause as incentives for e.g. recurring donor’s programs. We got 20 percent higher response rates paying off the investment within the first year and bringing in thousands of loyal donors.

Ksenia Repina · January 27, 2016 at 11:33

Hi Tom,

good read for someone who just started exploring world of fundraising for charity purposes. I am currently scaling up fundraising platform at Catawiki- online auction of special items. After few weeks of exploration and trying to get in touch with charities, so far I got negative or no feedback on fundraising and I wander why. I read daily news about how much each of those companies are trying to put together to support various programs, however when you offer them a hand of 12 mln unique users – you get silence in return instead. I start doubting if they really care, or I am just unlucky with getting to the right people at those organisations. Appreciate your feedback!

claire axelrad · February 2, 2016 at 21:18

I truly hope you’re right about the charity watchdogs. The focus on overhead has led to too many charities to needlessly starve themselves. This meant not as much got done as could have, and good people, who could otherwise have made a real impact, got burnt out and left. Mission matters; not nickels and dimes. Charities have to help things to change by ceasing to tout their low overheads and 5 stars. Talk about outcome instead.

    Tom Ahern · February 2, 2016 at 23:30

    I want to join (maybe start) a movement, Claire (with your help?): the “statute of limitations on charity watchdogs proving their worth” movement. I haven’t seen them do anything useful. They find no crooks. What I have seen them do is infantilize the NGO world, by insisting that “this much investment is OK, and this much more investment is plain wrong.” Come on: the most lamentable lack I see right now is this unwillingness amongst NGOs to do smart investment. E.g., it takes $50K/monthly in investment to raise $300-400K monthly from Facebook for one charity I know. Yet most other charities will shun that investment … scared of the boogiemen. The charity watchdogs have become the boogiemen, holding a deeply needed industry back. How did that happen?!? They are irrelevant until proven innocent, in my mind.

email processing system · May 18, 2018 at 15:23

Good article. I’m dealing with some of these issues as well..

How Useful Are Those Charity Rating Sites When You're Looking For An Assistance Dog? - Al Brittain · February 21, 2016 at 23:25

[…] a few days ago at Future Fundraising Now that contained a link to another post in the same vein (“I spy 5 fundraising trends in 2016”) at 101Fundraising, and, specifically, number 5 on that […]

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