Photo: ChameleonsEye/shutterstock
Photo: ChameleonsEye/shutterstock

Despite all the challenges of 2020, there was one upside for many nonprofits: The pandemic drove record numbers of new donors to their doors. As leaders and development officers come up for air, attention is turning to keeping those newcomers in the fold against competing priorities and donor fatigue.

Barron Segar, president and CEO of World Food Program USA (WFP USA), has more than 20 years of nonprofit leadership under his belt, including three years in his current role and two decades at UNICEF. WFP USA is the U.S.-based charity that supports the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting global hunger—and the winner of the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize.

Since 1992, WFP USA has spearheaded U.S.-based efforts to create a “zero-hunger world” by lassoing private sector support from individuals, businesses and policymakers. The fruit of its marketing, communications and advocacy efforts helped feed more than 138 million people in 80 countries last year.

As the pandemic raged, donors were quick to focus their giving on basic needs in general, and food security in particular. Of approximately $17 billion in COVID-19 relief grants tracked by Candid, more than a $1 billion went toward alleviating hunger.

Segar believes hunger relief is nonpartisan. “Everyone agrees on food,” he said. Even as many Americans lined up at food banks for the first time, international food aid grew in popularity among U.S. donors. WFP USA saw fundraising increase from $18 million to $30 million last year amid an influx of more than 50,000 new individual donors. First-quarter fiscal year results this year were “one for the record books,” Segar said, reporting $16 million against a goal of $8.5 million.

Sustaining that kind of growth is not without its challenges. Here are four ways Segar plans to prioritize growth and keep new donors in the fold.

Rightsizing staff

WFP USA isn’t the only nonprofit trying to get its arms around pandemic staffing. An exploding need for services has not always translated into more hiring during COVID-19, and financial types warn that the 2020 fundraising tidal wave could easily turn into a trickle.

Still, Segar is building and restructuring his team with optimism, convinced that the right talent will drive a continued upward trajectory. In 2020, he grew WFP USA’s headcount from 38 to 50. An LGBTQ leader, Segar also says he’s been intentional about diversifying his senior leadership team, already making several hires that represent the communities WFP USA serves.

Diversifying the donor base

Segar has intentionally sought to diversify WFP USA’s major donors. The organization’s main corporate supporters, for example, skew heavily toward the food industry and include the Cargill, PepsiCo and General Mills foundations. But by working other networks, Segar recently brought in a major gift from the S&P Foundation. And a champion within the Conrad Hilton Foundation just unlocked a $500,000 grant to WFP USA to support people in some of the world’s most vulnerable areas.

Stepping up storytelling

Segar acknowledges that “donors are not ATMs” and thinks it’s important to take the time to show that WFP USA is a “good steward of their philanthropy.” He believes in the power of stories to boost fundraising results, and works with colleagues in the field to gather real-life examples of what impact looks like on the ground. In Segar’s view, sharing those stories, both electronically and via direct-mail marketing, helps donors understand the impact they’re making.

Getting personal

WFP USA saw an explosion of individual donors in 2020 from 25,000 to 80,000. Segar says the average gift was about $100 to $200—lower through digital channels, and higher through direct mail. Currently, he’s reaching out to all donors of $5,000 and above. But he doesn’t plan to stop there, saying he’s open to meeting with everyone. “I’m always available to anyone who wants to talk,” he said.

Moving forward, Segar hopes to build on the light that WFP’s Nobel win shone on its work. Instead of seeing last year as “just a blip or one-time event,” he sees “an incredible opportunity to save the world.”