Revival of community fundraising is in view

Charities are reversing a trend by getting more involved with community fundraising to offset threatened falls in other sources of income

Action Medical Research
Action Medical Research

Community fundraising has not been very popular or glamorous in the past 10 years. Some people thought it had peaked, but it now seems to be enjoying a revival as some big-name charities start to pay more attention to it as a defence against the fall of other types of fundraising in hard economic times.

There are no national figures to show how much it brings in a year or whether it has been bringing in more money recently; it's hard to keep track of cash that often arrives unannounced, not only from large-scale sponsored events, but also from raffles, auctions, whip-rounds, cake sales and the like.

But charities such as Barnardo's and Missing People say they are taking community fundraising more seriously than in recent years. Some are attempting to improve professionalism, for example, by designing 'template-sponsored' events for supporters to adapt locally; others are recruiting coordinators in different regions or enhancing events that have already proved their worth.

Richard Lee, head of community and events at Oxfam, says his charity subscribes to the general belief that community fundraising stands up well in tough economic times.

According to Lewis Coghlin, director of fundraising at Action Medical Research, at times over the past 10 years many charities believed community fundraising was on its way down. But he says: "My view is that it offers us real potential as a growth area."

So what sort of community fundraising events do well in tough economic times? "Running and UK challenge events are strong, perhaps because people not going abroad for holidays seek excitement at home," says Louise Richards, director of policy and campaigns at the Institute of Fundraising.

The new breed of 'staycation' events Richards refers to are high-adrenaline affairs, says Tony Edwards, director of trading at Volunteering England: "People want abseiling or the Three Peaks Challenge. The ante has been upped, particularly by the younger generation."

But he claims that big charities in particular must work hard to prove their worth to communities: "It's very competitive, particularly for national names vying with local groups. People want to see what the charity is doing locally."

Tried and tested templates

Action Medical Research raised £1.5m of its £7m income from community fundraising in 2008/09. "That's highly significant, so we're planning more of the same in the next few years," says Coghlin.

The charity recently created a network of 11 paid volunteer coordinators who organise local events using the charity's 'template products', such as bike rides and walks.

Missing People is also increasing investment, with a three-year plan to hire a community fundraising officer in every UK region. Ross Miller, director of supporters and communication, says his charity's response has been to concentrate on promoting Missing People's local services and to encourage the families of missing people to tell their stories. "We have very emotive messages, which is why local champions are key," he says.

Barnardo's, which last year raised more than £3.5m from community fundraising, is working hard to raise the profile of its local work. The charity is piloting local community fundraising pages on its national website, which explain what the charity provides and how local people can fundraise on its behalf. Plans for more city and regional web pages are in the pipeline.

"We want people to make Barnardo's their local charity of choice," says Terence Lovell, head of community fundraising operations.

Oxfam recently set up a network of 10 volunteer fundraising groups, supported by paid staff, and created the post of head of community and events 18 months ago. Lee, who was appointed, says the team helps volunteers promote the Oxjam series of gigs, festivals, and running and walking challenges. "The paid staff did it all before, but the return on investment was small against staff hours," he says.

Social media is key to keeping in touch with young supporters, he adds. "They have more transient lifestyles, so getting lifetime value is more challenging and you have to accept that. But as they become more settled they become valuable, and that's where social networking comes in."

Facebook is useful, he says, but the charity is considering creating its own system: "We haven't cracked it yet, but we want to find a way to stay in touch while supporters go away to do what they need to do, then come back to us again."

When they do, they might find Oxfam is not alone among charities to have taken a previously humble and small-scale income stream to a new level of professionalism.

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