It’s 2021: Do You Know What Your Funders Want?

A new year brings both new challenges and new opportunities. As we kick-off 2021, a year that promises to once again be full of changes and surprises, nonprofits will want to be prepared to keep their fundraising on track and growing. To assist, here’s a recap from our recent webinars about what funders (corporations and foundations) are focusing on in 2021.

Funders are staying committed to the community and responding to its needs. Since the pandemic is not yet behind us, this means COVID-related funding will still be available.

However, in addition to responding to mostly just COVID needs, funders have turned an eye back towards other community concerns. They are open to new projects that address community challenges of all types and are paying close attention to those that demonstrate they are effectively responding to a community need. While relationships remain relevant, they are also open to new funding partners that align with their organizational goals and mission.


It’s important to stay agile with your programming and your fundraising. Those nonprofits who came out of 2020 best positioned for success did just that and funders were watching. Flexibility is also something we saw and will continue to see from funders themselves. Like all of us, they are re-thinking partnerships and strategies.

In 2021, this will likely result in funders making smaller or single-year vs. multi-year gifts. This approach will allow them to be flexible in responding to needs by not having assets tied up and committed too far in advance. Additionally, funders are remaining flexible with their willingness to provide general operating support instead of the more traditional program or event-specific funds.


Last year highlighted many systemic issues that nonprofits across many sectors are working to correct. These issues – poverty, racial inequalities, healthcare disparities, and the educational divide – must be addressed by working together.  Funders are looking for programs and projects that understand that effectively addressing such multi-dimensional issues requires collaboration across sectors and organizations. Nonprofits that understand this need for collaboration and are actively engaging with other community partners will be best positioned for funding. 


Funders want to feel like partners in your work. Consistent, two-way communication is essential to achieve those strong relationships. With so much ongoing uncertainty and a barrage of changes to how nonprofits operate, communicating with funders is more critical than ever. More specifically, funders have indicated that they want nonprofits to:

  • Be proactive in your outreach. Don’t wait for them to call you!
  • Provide details about how your organization has weathered the storm thus far. Be sure to share what’s new and different across your organization.
  • Start funding conversations earlier than usual. Funding initiatives are changing rapidly, don’t be left behind.
  • Share your challenges and successes. Don’t just focus on the good. Be sure to openly discuss what’s holding you back. Funders may be able to help!

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

While addressing racial inequity has been crucial to funders for quite some time, the tragic events of 2020 highlighted how much work is still left to do. Funders who have never ventured into this space are now setting aside assets to address these issues and those who were previously funding DEI initiatives are doubling-down.

More than just funding DEI initiatives, it’s important that you explore how your organization can embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion as organizational values. Nonprofit leaders need to champion these values and ensure they are reflected in organizational activities, operations, and strategic decisions, like addressing the need for a diverse board. This resource provides information and inspiration on incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion into your organization this year.

Success in 2021

Incorporating these strategies into your 2021 plan will help your organization experience successful outcomes in the coming year. If you need support with your strategic initiatives to make a more significant impact in 2021, you can contact us here. To learn more about Detroit Philanthropy services, click here.

To hear directly from the  foundation and corporate giving leaders who inspired this post, check out these webinars presented by Detroit Philanthropy:

Wishing you a safe, healthy, and prosperous new year!

About Rachel M. Decker

Having spent nearly 20 years in the nonprofit sector as an effective and strategic fundraising and foundation executive, Detroit Philanthropy Founder and President, Rachel Decker is passionate about helping others, making meaningful connections, solving problems and, most importantly, creating impact in our community. With the founding of Detroit Philanthropy, she turned that passion into a commitment to champion philanthropy throughout metro Detroit as a philanthropic advisor, fundraising consultant and speaker.

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