As nonprofits, and the people and communities they serve, faced compounding challenges over the past year plus, individual donors have provided crucial support. In fact, increased financial support from individual donors — in addition to foundations and the government — helped nonprofits to fare better through 2020 than nonprofit leaders had expected.[i] Further, a recent report from the Urban Institute found that most nonprofits, especially small nonprofits, say that support from individual donors is very important for their work.[ii]

Given the importance of individual donors to nonprofits, in the spring and summer of this year, the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) surveyed and interviewed nonprofit leaders to understand how their experiences working with individual donors have changed since the pandemic began. (For methodological information, please see here.)

Here is what we learned:

The biggest changes that nonprofit leaders have experienced in working with individual donors are:

  1. Their relationships with individual donors have grown stronger.
  2. Individual donors have provided them with more unrestricted support.

In this two-part blog series, we examine these changes in-depth. This first post focuses on changes in relationships between nonprofit leaders and individual donors.


Nonprofit leaders deeply value their relationships with individual donors, as strong donor-nonprofit relationships lay the groundwork for donors and nonprofits to work together to achieve shared goals.[iii]

Since the pandemic began, more than half of nonprofit leaders have experienced stronger relationships — characterized by more open communication, trust, and respect — with individual donors. About one-quarter have experienced weaker relationships.

Prior CEP research has shown that the two biggest predictors of strong funder-nonprofit relationships are understanding and transparency on behalf of funders.[iv] When funders understand nonprofit organizations and the contexts in which they operate, they are in a better position to work effectively with nonprofits. And when funders are transparent — meaning that they communicate clearly, openly, and honestly — they give nonprofit leaders the information they need to succeed.

Similarly, nonprofit leaders who have experienced stronger relationships with individual donors during the pandemic speak to greater understanding and transparency from their donors.

Read the full article about stronger relationships by Hannah Martin at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.