Keep Your Eye on These Trends in Grantseeking for 2021


Information about trends in philanthropy for 2021 abound on the Internet. So what do you take to heart, and what do you ignore? What information can be useful when it comes to grantseeking and what is just general babble that really doesn’t influence your work? In this article I’ve tried to focus on those trends that will influence your grantseeking efforts, and to give you some ideas about how you might incorporate each particular trend. I hope you find this information useful!

Information Technology
According to an article written by Chantal Forster, 3 Ways Philanthropy Tech Will Change in 2021,” 2020 laid bare existing gaps in infrastructure funding as philanthropy (and many of their nonprofit partners) transitioned quickly to remote work. The mass closure of offices helped crystalize conversations that organizations were having about how they work and the technology they need to do it…. As a result, foundations are now investing for more robust operations in the future.” According to NTEN’s 2020 State of Philanthropy Tech Survey, 51% of their foundation respondents expect their IT budget to increase in 2021. Community foundations, in particular, are choosing to invest more heavily in IT. More than half (58%) said they expect to moderately or significantly increase their technology budgets.

Chart 1

You can expect to see the introduction of more online applications and online reporting. It’s important to become proficient at writing this type of application, which often means learning to summarize your thinking since many online applications have word limits. There is a free tutorial on Guidelines for Writing a Summary on the Hunter College site. Very useful!

As foundation staff become more tech savvy, they will also be more open to requests for funding technology improvements at your organization. It might be time to wrap all of your technology needs into one proposal. Keep an eye on those grantmakers who are adopting a lot of these tech changes as they may be the right source(s) for making such an application.

In addition, you will probably see streamlined application and management processes. Ms. Forster said, “Recognizing and rapidly reducing the burden on grantees of onerous application and reporting is a heartening change in philanthropy.” This chart from the NTEN survey is quite interesting and points out changes we can expect to see across the board, such as moving to paperless payments.

Chart 2

This is a report well worth diving into as it has numerous insights on what will be happening in the realm of technology and philanthropy.

The Written Proposal
There is definitely a change on the horizon in terms of how we write and present our requests for financial support. The upcoming Gen Z generation cares less about what has happened in the past, and more about how they can help change the future. Gen Z folks are turning 25 this year, and we will start to see their involvement in family foundations, community foundations, and giving circles, as well as corporate giving programs. When writing a grant proposal narrative in 2021 it’s important to not only let funders know their role in solving the stated problem but also that the solution might have a domino effect and positively impact other issues.

2020 became a nonprofit sieve. Many nonprofit organizations that appeared fairly stable, began to circle the drain, so to speak, as their meager savings and emergency funds were tapped out. What does that have to do with writing your next proposal? Try to make it clear that your organization is financially stable. That you may, and will, take budget cuts if necessary but that your board has a plan in place for how that would affect the work you do. Grantseekers are a little skittish right now about investing in organizations they feel will need a lifeline for a long time.

Besides having an emergency plan in place, grantmakers will be looking much more closely at your sustainability plan. That does not mean they will fund general operating, per se. What it means is they will review your plan to determine how realistic you are being as we move into 2021 and beyond. Ashley Cain, of Cain Nonprofit Solutions, published a blog in December 2020 about key trends in grantseeking in 2021. She said this about planning: "This plan should include a set of contingencies for how you will locate additional funding and keep your programs and services going even when things change and if expected funding or revenue streams dry up. Another nice touch would be to outline how you will communicate with and update funders, sponsors, and donors about changes.” I encourage you to take her suggestion to heart. Demonstrating that you have a sustainability plan in place could be the key to moving your request for support to the front of the line.

Corporate Giving
What does that mean? Throughout the pandemic, it seems as if many businesses have suffered, but we all know some have also prospered. According to The Philanthropy Outlook corporate giving is expected to rise by 1.4% in 2021, and while many factors affect giving tendencies, “experts suggest that corporate philanthropy in 2021 will be impacted most by (1) growth in GDP and (2) growth in corporate savings.

Chart 3

As this chart indicates, corporate giving continues to inch up year after year. But be aware that much of this giving, particularly in 2020, was in-kind donations of products and services, and that may well be the case again in 2021.

What this means for the grantseeker is clear: Ask for product and service donations. The likelihood of receiving this kind of support has continued to grow over the past few years, and 2021 will be no exception. Take a hard look at your general operating budget and see if there are areas where asking for a product or service donation will off-set your operating expenses. If so, this is probably the time to make that request.

In Summary
These are just three of many trends that will influence grantmakers and grantseekers in 2021. Are these the most important ones? No necessarily, but they are trends that I keep coming across so they seem worthy of bringing to your attention.

Good luck in your grantseeking efforts in 2021. Remember, the GrantStation team is here to help you when you need it so don’t ever hesitate to email or call!

Action steps you can take today
  • Take a closer look at NTEN's 2020 State of Philanthropy Tech Survey.
  • When writing proposals, be sure to highlight your financial stability.
  • Schedule a discussion with your team around creating a sustainability plan.
  • Review your general operating budget and identify options for service/product donations.