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To America's worried faith-based nonprofits: Church donors are holding steady

As soon as we all realized how momentous COVID-19 was going to be, I could see the fear rising among America’s faith-based nonprofits.

Courtesy of Dickerson Bakker
Courtesy of Dickerson Bakker

Leaders of the nation’s 1.5 million nonprofit organizations – many totally dependent on charitable giving – watched with dread as the storm quickly grew.

It was as severe a storm as can be imagined: an international pandemic of unprecedented scale, the highest level of unemployment since the Great Depression, and waves of uncertainty big enough to potentially swamp even the healthiest nonprofits.

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I have some good news: the ship is NOT sinking.

But I also have a word of caution for faith-based nonprofit leaders: right now, you can’t afford to be complacent.

Here’s the encouraging news. In a recent national survey of the giving intentions of 1,079 donors across 44 states, 85 percent expect their giving to hold steady or increase in the second half of 2020.

The comprehensive study of mostly churchgoing mid-level and major donors – those giving anywhere from $1,000 to $1 million-plus per year – revealed six out of 10 expect their giving to stay the same as last year’s, and an additional one-in-four expect to increase their charitable gifts in the latter half of this year.

It gets better: only one-in-six donors expect to give less, and fewer than one-in-20 anticipate a substantial drop in their giving for the rest of the year.

I’m confident the study paints an accurate picture. My consultancy firm, DickersonBakker (, conducted the survey during the month of June in cooperation with some of America’s biggest faith-based nonprofit organizations.

Our report – titled Charitable Giving in the Wake of COVID-19 – also has more good news for nonprofit leaders losing sleep over the possibility that the wave of giving for immediate COVID-19 relief will result in a decline in giving to their organizations. Fewer than one-in-10 donors plan to shift support to new or different causes because of the pandemic, and more than seven out of 10 who gave to COVID-19 relief consider those gifts to be “over and above” their regular giving.

Winners and Losers

There is a warning lurking beneath the surface of all of the good news contained in this report, however. This might be hard for nonprofit leaders to swallow but there will be winners and losers in the quest for donations during the upcoming fall fundraising season.

Competition for donor dollars is always fierce – but there’s no room for complacency in a COVID-19 world. Today’s donors are being more vigilant than ever in their giving. Our research shows 40 percent of donors’ giving is potentially “fluid” – and could go either way. Nonprofits with a dynamic donor outreach strategy will thrive in this environment. Nonprofits that fail to make a strong case for why people should give – or hunker down and simply keep doing what they’ve always done – will likely pay a heavy price.

The landscape of year-end giving for 2020 has changed. More than four-in-10 major donors say they won’t attend a big in-person gathering – such as a fundraising gala or banquet – until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine. Nonprofits that rely on major events need to find other ways to engage these donors if they’re to meet their fundraising goals.

On the positive side, approximately eight out of 10 donors are willing to meet one-on-one with fundraisers, or attend a small event at their church or in someone’s home, as long as social-distancing and other measures are in place.

Nonprofit leaders, donors are ready and willing to give generously this fall. All you need to do is make your case compelling, and not be afraid to ask!

Derric Bakker is the president of DickersonBakker (, a consultancy firm specializing in helping faith-based nonprofit organizations in the U.S., Canada, and overseas engage donors and maximize their charitable giving. Read the full report at Charitable Giving in the Wake of COVID-19.

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