Research shows a positive development for development departments during the last quarter of 2021.
The pandemic brought a lot of bad news for cultural organizations, to say the least. Museums, zoos, aquariums, historic sites, and performing arts organizations of all kinds have suffered attendance declines in the last year and a half. And it’s not just attendance – membership and subscription renewals are down as well.
Last year, development departments may have noticed that raising end-of-year funds was harder than usual. The future of the pandemic – and of many of our personal finances – was very uncertain. During the start of the fourth quarter last year (October 1, 2020), when many entities were gearing up for end-of-year donation requests, many Americans were instead hunkering down for socially distanced holidays. Nationally, we may not have been sure how long the pandemic would last or how we’d continue to cope with its evolving impacts.
However, a year later, the grace of time seems to have aided us in learning to live alongside the pandemic. While we may still be fighting coronavirus variants, IMPACTS Experience has noticed that a critical sentiment surrounding both exhibit and performance-based organizations has shifted.
After an uncertain first pandemic holiday season in 2020, it seems that more folks are looking toward kindness and recovery. This year, a higher percentage of Americans would consider making a gift to a cultural entity than in any holiday season during the last eight years.
More people would consider making a charitable gift to a cultural organization in 2021 than in the past seven years.
Since 2014, IMPACTS Experience has been monitoring the percentage of people in the United States who say they would consider making a charitable donation at the end of the third quarter of each year. This research derives from our ongoing National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study, and contemplates responses from 1,917 US adults to questions concerning charitable giving considerations to both exhibit-based and performance organizations in 2021.
The orange bar shows the aggregated findings from exhibit-based organizations (museums, zoos, aquariums, gardens, historic sites, etc.). The blue bar shows the aggregated findings regarding performance-based organizations such as theaters, symphonies, and ballets.
This chart measures one’s willingness to consider making a gift. It is a measure of potential: Not everyone in the US who considers making a donation actually will…or will even be asked to do so! So why does this finding matter, you may ask?
Well, heretofore perhaps this data has been less insightful, as the findings have been generally stable. Mostly, this research has allowed us to keep a general pulse on the giving potential and willingness of the American public to support cultural organizations. As you can see, there’s been some slight variance over the years (and we like where things were generally heading just before the pandemic) but, again, the findings have remained relatively stable and durable.
Until this year.
The ceiling is higher this year. From a data standpoint, it’s much higher.
The dip in Q3 2020 may have been expected. After all, it was the start of a holiday season at the height of a global pandemic! But even those numbers did not dip dramatically compared to the overall increase in willingness to consider giving in 2021.
Look alive, development departments. We may have a unique opportunity on our hands.
People would also consider making higher-value gifts to a cultural organization.
It gets even more interesting. We deliver a follow-up question for those who indicate a willingness to give to an exhibit or performance-based organization. We ask them – unaided – what amount they would consider giving to an organization. Unaided means that we did not ask them to choose from a list of amounts, which is subject to anchoring and other framing biases. Instead, we ask the open-ended question below about the value they’d consider donating. Aggregated mean values are shown in the chart below.
This change is staggering from a research perspective as well!
Among people indicating a willingness to consider a gift to museums and other exhibit-based entities, respondents would consider giving nearly 52% more this year than in 2020 and nearly 34% more than in 2019 before the pandemic!
People similarly disposed to consider a gift to performance-based entities would consider giving a staggering 75% more this year than in 2020, and nearly 36% more than in 2019!
The people who are willing to consider giving are willing to consider making bigger donations than in years past.
Again, this research measures willingness and potential. It helps us understand the current condition and a measure of expectation surrounding end-of-year giving for the industry on the whole.
People may be feeling more stable financially this year when compared to last year. They may be feeling more charitable given how difficult the pandemic has been for so many. With this in mind, this phenomenon may not impact only cultural entities; it may be that people will be more likely to give in general this year.
But we also know that trust in cultural entities has increased during the pandemic, and museums and performing arts organizations were generally missed by their visitors and patrons when they had to shut their doors. We also know that more people are engaging with cultural entities online than they did before the pandemic, and a key reason for elevated trust in these institutions is the fact that many aimed to “meet audiences where they are” by becoming more active online. For the last year and a half, many organizations have made an active effort to prove that they are relevant beyond their walls by supplying mission-based information, inspiration, and interaction online.
There was also a notable increase in the percentage of people in the US who have seen a news story about cultural entities within the last year. Sadly, many of these stories were about closures, layoffs, struggling artists, and other negative impacts of the pandemic on cultural entities. These news stories may be on people’s minds.
Another factor fueling this increase in the willingness to consider a gift may be that this year is an “off” year in terms of national election cycles. Political giving reached all-time highs in 2020, and many political donors may have opted to invest in a favored candidate instead of their favorite organization.
Whether we are solely experiencing an increase in considering a gift to a cultural organization or a broader trend toward kindness this year, it may be beneficial for organizations to consider that there may still be competition for these gifts. This is not likely a simple “exist and get donations” situation. Instead, this may be a call for development, marketing, and outreach departments to up their game this season due to the increased potential. It’s a call to actively tell your stories, show your relevance, and inspire engagement this season. As always, the quest to demonstrate that cultural entities (yours!) are meaningful and worthy of investment is critical.
It’s been another hard year, but willingness to consider giving has increased. This is a big pat on the back for cultural entities.
The work certainly isn’t over and development departments may be particularly busy this year, but more people think cultural entities are worthy of their hard-earned cash this year – and some kindness.
That’s some dang good news to kick off the final quarter of the year, if you ask us.
IMPACTS Experience provides data for the world’s leading organizations through workshops, keynote presentations, webinars, and data services such as pricing recommendations, market potential analyses, concept testing, and Awareness, Attitude, and Usage studies. Learn more.
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