Top 5 Branding Trends for Nonprofits in 2021

This past year has been one of the most challenging yet, but sometimes more difficult years can force us to grow the most. The great news is that you, O’ mighty nonprofit leader, are resilient and have made it through — and I’m sure are even stronger for it.

2020 was an incredible year for giving and for people becoming actively engaged with social causes that are moving our world forward. According to Double the Donation, overall giving grew 4.1% and online giving grew 12.1% over the past year. 

Whether last year ended on a high or low note, we can learn from these lessons and get ahead of the trends that will set the course for our sector in 2021. We’ve compiled a list of the top trends we’re watching as we enter 2021 and hope that they help your organization thrive this year!


1. Lean Into Your Humanity

People crave connection now more than ever, so every touchpoint with donors counts. We’ve already talked about the importance of handwritten notes, but there are so many more ways to show personality and humanity in your organization. People love to see pictures of…well, other people! So if your organization relies heavily on stock photography or illustrations, it may be time to invest in a photoshoot and share photos of real people — ideally those who are involved with your organization. And don’t worry too much about staging or capturing the perfect pose. Perfection is overrated, especially in this season!

Pro tip: Photographers have been hit hard by the pandemic, so a lot of them are offering outdoor shoots to maintain a safe social distance.Plus, many are offering discounted rates right now.

Other ways to lean into your humanity:

  • Call your donors just to check in.

  • Feature volunteers or heartwarming stories on social media, but back them up with your vision or mission statement.


2. Create a Hybrid Experience

Even though everyone says they “can’t wait to get back to normal,” COVID has forced people to change their lifestyles and establish new habits that they may need/want to keep in the new year and beyond. Donors expect your organization to stay effective, but they’re also craving a more personal experience. If your nonprofit relied heavily on in-person events in the past, consider how you can translate some of those experiences online to engage more donors and sustain fresh excitement about your cause. The more you lean in to this experience, the more people will feel invested and rave about your organization to friends and family. With emotions high, 2021 is the perfect opportunity to go the extra mile to ‘wow’ donors, and small, thoughtful touchpoints are the perfect way to endear them to your brand. 

Other experiential ideas:

  • Host a webinar or “chat” session to connect donors.

  • Need help brainstorming a new campaign or fundraising strategy? Host a brainstorming session with your top volunteers and give it a fun name like the “Brain Trust.”

  • Consider extending donor engagement to be more accessible and create new virtual volunteer opportunities that can bring in people’s time and talents, rather than a limited focus on monetary donations.


3. Invest in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

2020 rocked many Americans to face the inequality in our culture head on, and most people are still leaning into diversity and inclusion as we enter the new year. Although a lot of progress has been made, the work isn’t finished yet. People are looking to support organizations that are on the front lines of combating racism and inequality and want to support nonprofits who have a diverse leadership team and board. This year it’s time to invest in diversifying your team and start celebrating all of the unique perspectives that can contribute to furthering your mission.

Resources for creating a more inclusive culture:


4. Time to Level-Up Online

Now is the perfect time to make sure your nonprofit looks amazing online, providing a seamless experience for donors, staff, and the community you serve. People are discovering your organization in a lot of different places – browser searches, Facebook groups, social media platforms, even texting and video messages. They’re watching your nonprofit long before they ever decide to donate or get involved, so it’s time to double down on building a solid digital presence.

Your website should be the professional landing pad, offering information, resources, and effortless ways to call people to action. Think of your website as a marketing tool that can continue working to attract supporters as you sleep. Be honest: does your website build an irresistible argument for your cause that encourages people to give or get involved — that is, without direct encouragement from staff? Your website should carry just as much influence (if not more!) as real-life interactions with staff and volunteers. In fact, your website can be your greatest asset — or liability — when it comes to attracting and retaining supporters.

Social media should be used to raise awareness of your organization and show off your important work with personality. Remember, lean into your humanity! Every experience with donors needs to be effortless and focused on meeting them where they are at. Try to take the pressure off yourself and your team to appear perfect online. Instead, show your most authentic self, and bring your followers into important updates, topics, and questions with content that’s super easy to access.

3 ways to level-up your website this year:

  • Make sure your site looks good on desktop, tablet, and mobile devices — according to Classy, 43% of donations are made on mobile devices.

  • Optimize for search engines. People are searching for nonprofits according to causes they care about, so now is the time to hire an SEO consultant that can help you appear in more search results. 

  • Ask for feedback from donors and volunteers. Is your website an accurate reflection of the great work you’re doing? If not, it’s not attracting the right supporters and it may be time for a redesign.


5. Collaboration Will Be Key

We are truly stronger together, and nothing proved that more than the roller coaster of 2020. Consumers are demanding that for-profit companies be purpose-driven, so partnerships with for-profit companies or other nonprofit organizations will continue to be critical for many years to come.

Contrary to popular belief, in the eyes of your supporters, other nonprofit organizations are not your competition. Collaborating to serve a single mission will speak volumes to your followers, increase your reach, and demonstrate genuine good will to your cause. A rising tide certainly does lift all boats, and there are plenty of funds for everyone to survive and thrive.

The key to a great collaboration? Making sure your values align and that you serve a similar audience. Nothing makes people cry foul faster than an inauthentic connection, so be choosy about the organizations you’re collaborating with and be clear about the work you do. Don’t be afraid to take the lead or say no to partnerships that aren’t the right fit for your organization — your brand integrity in this partnership is just as important as theirs!

How to prepare for collaboration:

  • Add an application page on your website for people to partner with your organization

  • Prepare a downloadable PDF that outlines your values, mission, vision, team, work, statistics, and testimonials. This will save time when partners come knocking!

  • Seek out other nonprofits that you could partner with to lend support, whether that’s through finances, volunteers, or just brainstorming.


How will you use these trends in 2021?

Looking at all these trends, we see a significant shift towards connection and innovation in the coming year. This year, instead of looking at the donor as a collective third party outside of your organization, think of them as a friend or partner to your organization.

Never before has the human side of branding been so important — moving the donor relationship from transactional to transformational. These trends also cue your nonprofit up to best partner with Gen Z and Millennial supporters, but more to come on that in another blog post! 

There are still amazing opportunities to be had in 2021, and we believe that all nonprofits can build brands that help them thrive, even in the midst of uncertainty. We hope you choose to lean into this new year with boldness and authenticity. Onward, upward and forward, friends!