Amid the unprecedented disruptions we’ve seen since March, it’s clear that the nonprofit sector and grantmakers are in uncharted waters. 

Between the pandemic, its wider economic impact, and the ongoing movement for racial justice in the United States, many nonprofits and other groups are seeing an increased need for their services just as resources become tighter than ever.

Of course, it hasn’t been all bad news. The surge in need for nonprofit services has come alongside an equally unprecedented surge in grassroots energy and interest. Philanthropists and foundations of all shapes and sizes have stepped up in major ways, too, pledging support and facilitating critical conversations around public health and social justice. 

At Mobilize, the events management and volunteer recruitment platform for mission-based organizations, we have seen the sector shift and adapt firsthand and in real-time. We want to share five key trends we’ve seen among individual supporters and mission-based organizations using our platform:

1. The shift to virtual was extremely rapid.

Prior to COVID-19, only about 20% of postings on our platform were virtual. By mid-March, nearly 100% of sign-ups on our platform were for virtual events and opportunities. 

The speed with which organizations adapted to the necessity of virtual engagement has been incredible, and this shift will have long-lasting impacts, even when in-person gatherings become feasible again. Most importantly, organizations of all sizes have proven that they have the ability to quickly pivot their strategies and that supporters will stay responsive. 

Mobilize_Inside Philanthropy_Supporter Engagement During COVID-19_chart 1.png

By now, it’s clear that any organization continuing to hesitate on virtual events and engagement is falling behind. We’ve seen supporters immediately jump on board to engage virtually with nonprofits, advocacy groups, and political campaigns alike. The only things potentially holding organizations back with virtual events are strategy and tech, but definitely not a lack of interest or willingness from supporters.

2. The energy from supporters has been record-breaking.

Alongside the rapid shift to virtual events, organizations using our platform for recruitment and volunteer management have seen dramatic increases in engagement across the board.

Between March 8 and June 8, we saw over 1.3 million total volunteer shifts scheduled. Our weekly shift volume during this period was higher than in any single week in 2019. 

People are clearly eager to help the causes and campaigns that matter to them. Organizations that shifted strategies quickly to tap into this surge of energy must actively engage and steward new supporters to retain them through the end of the year and beyond. 

The growth of more effective digital infrastructures over recent years has laid a solid foundation for organizations looking to harness this surge of grassroots support over the long run. For instance, NARAL incorporated the Mobilize platform into their revamped multichannel recruitment strategy, growing their average monthly volunteer shifts from 600 to 1,900 in the process. Solid recruitment strategies and networks have put organizations like NARAL in powerful positions to leverage and retain their surges of COVID-19 support.

3. Phone banking and community events have dominated.

Between March and June, 35% of all events created on our platform were phone banks, and 23% were virtual community events. In terms of attendance, virtual training sessions for political and advocacy campaigns, virtual community events, phone banks, and solidarity gatherings have been the most popular with individual supporters. 

The emphasis on these types of events makes sense. Community discussions, phone banks and training sessions all translate to virtual settings fairly easily. Plus, during times of disruption and uncertainty, reinforcing your relationships and spreading the word about your campaign or mission is critical for shoring up support. This is true for any type of mission-based organization, from nonprofits to political campaigns to labor unions making the shift to virtual engagement

Here’s the complete breakdown of volunteer shifts by event type:

Mobilize_Inside Philanthropy_Supporter Engagement During COVID-19_chart 2.png

If your own organization or partners are looking for new virtual opportunities to explore, start with the types of events that others have already found effective and that are proven to be engaging for online audiences.

4. Event attendees represent an important new fundraising source.

The events of recent months have made grassroots fundraising more challenging than ever for many organizations. While virtual engagement and volunteering have surged, donations aren’t necessarily following suit across the board.

On the Mobilize platform, we’ve seen 20% of event registrants initiate an average donation of $26 when solicited after completing the sign-up process. 

As individuals who have already demonstrated commitment to the missions they’re supporting, volunteers are an increasingly important source of donations for many organizations. For some types of organizations, like nonprofits, soliciting donations from volunteers is a new technique, while others like political campaigns regularly rely on this tactic.

Depending on the specifics of an organization’s audience, mission, and events or virtual opportunities, appealing to volunteers for small donations can be an effective way to generate additional support.

5. Volunteers can (and should) take charge to drive more engagement.

Taking a peer-to-peer approach to engagement during COVID-19 and beyond can be a winning strategy for many organizations. The rise of peer-to-peer fundraising as a major trend in the nonprofit world shows how effective it can be to empower supporters to drive more engagement on your organization’s behalf. 

Between March 8 and June 8, 23% of events posted on the Mobilize platform were hosted by volunteers. We expect to see this trend grow for many types of organizations as virtual events become increasingly incorporated into their strategies as standard engagement outlets.

Mobilize_Inside Philanthropy_Supporter Engagement During COVID-19_chart 3.png

As with peer-to-peer fundraising, volunteer-hosted events can be a great way to drive results because they tap into the power of social proof. Plus, they reinforce an organization’s relationships with those key volunteers, driving long-term retention. 

Pursuing these benefits through peer-to-peer tactics isn’t difficult. Our research indicates that supporters whose first event is volunteer-hosted are at least twice more likely to be retained over the months ahead. With virtual events the new norm, empowering key volunteers to host their own discussions or training sessions is more feasible than ever.

Even simpler social strategies can make a big difference for recruitment. Automated bring-a-friend prompts encouraging registrants to share the event with friends via email, text, or social media have generated 14% of all registrations on our platform of over 2.2 million volunteers.

As the broader mission-based sector settles into a new normal and braces for other uncertainties, maintaining and growing engagement with supporters will be both more important and more challenging than ever.

With (at least a little) hindsight now that we’re several months into the pandemic, it’s clear that audiences are still eager to engage virtually with the causes that matter to them, and more eager than ever in some cases. Organizations will have to meet supporters halfway, so to speak, and give them the right opportunities to put their passion into action. 

For more statistics on how organizations have recruited and organized supporters amid the COVID-19 pandemic, check out our complete list of trends and insights.

***

Mobilize is the volunteer recruitment and events management platform for mission-driven organizations. Our rapidly growing network of 2.2 million passionate supporters has helped organizations of all sizes reach their recruitment and engagement goals. We’ve powered over 5.1 million volunteer actions since 2018, and we’re excited to help drive more missions forward in 2020 and beyond.

Share with cohorts