By Ted Grossnickle, Senior Consultant and Founder, Johnson, Grossnickle and Associates

This month, JGA celebrates our 30th anniversary, which has us both reflective regarding where we’ve been and more importantly visualizing where we are headed in the future.

It’s abundantly clear to all of us that the ways in which people are generous is undergoing significant transformation. From face-to-face meetings with donors in the living room to Zoom meetings across the globe, from direct mail solicitations to emails and texts, nonprofits have adapted to shifting trends and donor preferences. The acceleration of change has caused our team and our clients to think more carefully and strategically about what is vital to retain and what can and must be done differently to adapt to our changing sector. The world’s needs require all our best efforts for them to be properly fueled and catalyzed by generosity.

We believe there is a growing imperative for innovation. And we are doing just that at JGA.

Trends that Shaped Generosity and Fundraising

Mail and Phone Era:      In the 90’s, Direct mail and telemarketing were standard nonprofit fundraising efforts, serving as primary channels for donor outreach and engagement. While effective in their time, these approaches lost traction as technological advancements reshaped how individuals interacted with the world around them.

Internet Revolution:      The rise of the internet saw nonprofits embracing websites and email campaigns as essential tools for sharing stories, collecting donations, and mobilizing supporters. Nonprofits recognized the potential of online platforms for fundraising and outreach. Email campaigns emerged as a cost-effective means of communication, allowing nonprofits to reach a broader audience instantaneously.

Social Media Communities:        With the advent of social media platforms like Facebook and X (formerly Twitter) in the mid-2000’s, nonprofits capitalized on the opportunity to build online communities, engage supporters, and amplify their reach through shares and retweets. Giving Days and affinity strategies rapidly expanded.

Mobile Integration:       The widespread adoption of smartphones led to a surge in mobile giving, as donors increasingly sought out convenient ways to support causes. Crowdfunding platforms also gained traction, empowering individuals to create personalized fundraising campaigns for causes they cared about.

Each of these – and other elements – including changes in thinking about impacts of gifts, connectivity to volunteering, rethinking how initiatives could be accomplished with others as collaborators – have created the environment we now inhabit. It is one which requires that we be more thoughtful about helping donors find more meaning in their causes while using so many new approaches.

Shaping Generosity Today

Donors, prospective donors and volunteers want and expect personalized experiences and much more transparency from the organizations they support; nonprofits must harness the power of analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) to help provide those. Elements of this include:

Artificial Intelligence (AI): AI holds tremendous promise for revolutionizing nonprofit fundraising. AI technologies offer nonprofits the ability to leverage predictive analytics, personalized fundraising appeals, and real-time donor interactions, enhancing both fundraising effectiveness and efficiency.

Data-Driven Insights: Analytics can play a crucial role in helping nonprofits understand donor behavior, identify trends, and optimize their fundraising strategies. By leveraging data analytics tools and machine learning, organizations can gain valuable insights into donor preferences, segmentation, and engagement metrics.  This enables them to tailor their outreach efforts more effectively, keeping more donors, and helping nonprofits see how and where to get the highest return on investment. This point is essential. Members of board and senior institutional leaders now have data driven tools which help them understand the impact of investing wisely in advancement efforts. This might turn out to be one the largest “sea changes” of this decade.

Overcoming Barriers: While the potential benefits of analytics and AI in nonprofit fundraising are increasingly evident, many organizations still lag in adopting these technologies. Limited resources, technical expertise, and concerns about data privacy and security can pose barriers to implementation. Recent initiatives such as Fundraising Summit AI are terrific and nimble responses to some of these and will make a huge difference in the next few years.

Charting a Course Forward

JGA believes nonprofit consulting firms like ours provide crucial thought leadership and “exemplar” roles in building the future we desire rather than enduring one we’ve allowed to happen.

By providing tailored guidance, training, and resources, we empower nonprofits to embrace innovation and leverage technology to achieve their fundraising goals. Whether it’s conducting data audits, developing predictive models, or implementing AI-powered fundraising platforms, consultants help organizations navigate the complexities of modern fundraising and unlock new opportunities for growth. During all of this, we must also keep top of mind the overarching importance of personal attention and authentic experience to keep all of this meaningful to all who are engaged in being generous.

Collaboration and knowledge-sharing within the nonprofit sector are essential for driving innovation forward. By fostering communities of practice and facilitating peer learning networks, nonprofits can exchange best practices, lessons learned, and innovative ideas. This collective effort not only accelerates the adoption of new fundraising technologies but also fosters a culture of continuous improvement and adaptability within the sector.  Throughout our 30-year history, JGA has consistently supported these types of collegial and collaborative educational initiatives to grow and empower philanthropy, and we will continue to do so. In fact, it’s a key strategy for our future.

The evolution of nonprofit fundraising over the last 30 years was driven by a shift towards digitalization and technological innovation. As we look towards the future, the need for nonprofits to evolve once again to embrace analytics, AI, and other emerging technologies is more pressing than ever. JGA understands firsthand, harnessing the power of data and technology through our work in our own data products and working with organizations to enhance their fundraising effectiveness, deepen donor relationships, and drive greater impact in pursuit of their missions. Together, let us embrace innovation and chart a course towards a more vibrant and resilient nonprofit sector.

Some may find it counter-intuitive that technological innovation can and will improve the experience of giving and being given to. It’s not.

In an era of diminishing personal connections and shared experiences, we believe thoughtful innovation can significantly accelerate and enhance generosity by fostering personal relationships as our common ground.