We’re Six Months Into This Pandemic. How Have Most Charities’ Fundraising Been Going? The Answer Might Surprise You.
To all of the fundraisers out there: you have been kicking ass. Maybe it doesn’t feel like it, especially if you are so tired that you need a holiday – which you should take, if for nothing else than to help you gain perspective as you temporarily remove yourself (hopefully also physically) from work and routine.
For the most part, our sector has stepped up to the plate. A lot of charities and organisations working in this space have been stepping out of their comfort zone and quickly attempting to do things they never had done before. Others have been able to pivot and adapt planned efforts.
In case you are wondering: this is true for every single country we work in.
One of our partners, Charities Institute Ireland (CII), has led the way in adapting all of their services to support their charity members, virtually and beyond. They did so quickly, not letting “perfect” get in the way of “good” with clear laser focus on their mission, which is to provide their members with education, advocacy and networking opportunities. To do so successfully, it was imperative for them to listen to their members’ struggles and needs during this very unusual time.
In the early throes of the coronavirus, CII started Huddles – online informal networking and sharing events – for fundraisers, CEOs and other areas of charities so their members could stay connected (which fits with CII’s mission) and support each other in navigating this pandemic, regardless of their role within the organisation. They are now preparing their yearly awards, as well as their annual conference, to be hosted online. Thanks to the learnings from the Huddles and invaluable input from their members, we have no doubt that this will be a success.
In the UK, the yearly International Fundraising Convention also moved online. The Bridge Conference in Washington, D.C. adapted their annual two-day event to a four-hour virtual conference. All over the world, organizers are holding free online conferences to help fundraisers and charity workers through these incredibly difficult times. It is comforting to see so many of us pull together to make things work.
Not convinced? Here are a few other examples, this time from our clients.
We have a client who had to launch their first-ever emergency e-appeal during a pandemic. For reference, previous regularly scheduled appeal emails to this audience raised on average $10,000. So, how did it do? Well it was a rousing success! It, combined with a follow-up email message, raised over $200,000, blowing all prior metrics out of the water. Why was it so successful? Our client stayed true to their mission, which was in danger because of COVID, and they weren’t afraid to be honest with their donors about it. In short, they were relevant and they were honest. Right off the heels of this emergency e-appeal was a campaign that is always launched at the same time every year. There was some trepidation about asking again so quickly after raising so much money. How did that next mailing do? Amazingly…the donors responded with generous levels of support, doubling what the campaign typically raises. How did that happen? Well, the campaign was segmented such that those who recently gave to the emergency e-appeal received a very tailored message. Additionally, the letter to other donors was, again, honest and relevant to what is happening in the world and how it affects our client’s mission and the people their mission supports.
Another one of our clients that delivers services overseas and raises money in the UK had the dubious distinction of launching their direct mail programme this year to replenish their direct mail file via a reactivation and acquisition effort. Now of course they had to completely change their copy at the last minute to make it relevant, but the results were worth it. This was their first direct mail programme, and already it has reached an average gift over two times higher than what was projected and they haven’t even “closed” the campaign. They knew that they had to pivot to not seem tone deaf to what was happening in the world, all while being relevant to their audience. As a result, the donors gave.
We have also heard from other charities who are doing fantastic work during these times and seeing similar positive results. Let’s face it, on our own personal social media channels, we were targeted with your ads and because we give to you regularly, we also got your calls, emails and DMs. Well done! Most of you didn’t stop communicating in general, but most importantly, you didn’t stop asking for support from your audience, which was fundamental during this crisis.
While some campaigns were more successful than others, I think you would agree that having done something was infinitely better than doing nothing. From all of the results/feedback gathered during these last few months, you can ascertain what worked, what didn’t and why, which will help in your future planning.
For those that did something during this period, regardless of how the campaigns perform, you are in a better position to move through the next phases of this crisis than those who didn’t. And if you continue reading, you’ll understand why. If your organisation wasn’t able to do much donor communications and/or fundraising, don’t worry; as you might have noticed, this crisis is not over and will be here through the end of the year if not beyond. You can and YOU ASBOLUTELY MUST start planning for the next few months, and the steps below can help your charity navigate that process.
How to continue (or start) fundraising during this pandemic.
No matter your past level of effort, RIGHT NOW is the time to review data which will help you plan for the future. With that in mind, get with your team to do the following:
- Look at your giving data between March and June of 2020 and compare it to the same period of last year.
- Do the same with your website traffic.
- If you can, analyse your organisation’s giving history and campaign results before, during and after the recession of 2008.
With all of the above, look at your current budget for the rest of the year – expenditures/income – and based on the findings, draw up a plan for the remainder of 2020 AND BEYOND. Include a test ahead of your major giving season, so you can roll out with the most successful tactics during that time. Does this seem challenging? Here is a simple three-step guide on how to approach it. For example, plan an email campaign (ideally complemented by social media) and outline a testing strategy. The example outlined below can be spread out over four weeks or four months – whatever works best for you and your donor communications calendar.
- Email 1 : Test sender
- Email 2: Roll out with the winning sender and test Subject Line – examples of possible test: with vs without emoji; question mark vs no question mark; short vs long
- Email 3: Roll out with the winning tactics of the prior two emails and move on to Preview Text. Many possibilities exist here too, for example: with vs without preview text; preview text vs ellipsis; question mark vs no question mark;
- Email 4: Yup, roll out again with the winning tactics of the previous three emails and move on to the inside of the email. You could test the CTA placement within the email or the wording of the CTA itself.
These four emails DO NOT have to all be fundraising emails. In fact, none of them do. You should communicate what is most appropriate at the time. The tactics and testing strategy are totally separate from the CTA.
If this seems overwhelming, please get in touch with us; we would be happy to at least help you jump start the process.
Finally, your plan for the next several months should take into account different scenarios regarding the pandemic. Will the pandemic get under control? Will there be a vaccine? Or will there be another lockdown? By planning for each of these contingencies, you will be better able to adjust your budget accordingly.
Once you finish all of the above (which is going to take a while), it’s time to start implementing. It may seem daunting, but focus on the mission and your donors, and trust the plan you have put together. We all need to understand that we still need to raise money for our charities. The process may just look a little different these days. Good luck! Keep stepping up!