Chloë Amstein: Original propositions are fundraising’s biggest opportunity as recession looms

There is an open goal for charities that take the creative messaging challenge seriously

As the UK public holds their breath for the next chapter of the coronavirus crisis, fundraisers’ thoughts are turning to what the economic impact will mean for people’s ability to donate. 

There one thing we can be certain of: fewer people will donate. In the last recession there was a 4 per cent decrease in the number of people giving, according to figures from the Charities Aid Foundation

This time around the decrease is likely to be more dramatic, with unemployment levels forecast akin to those we saw in the 1980s.

Even for those who do not lose their jobs, the economic uncertainty will see most households cutting discretionary spend, including charitable giving.

So, what proactive strategies can fundraisers take to address this?

The temptation is to double down on your core supporters - those who have supported your charity for many years. The issue here is that they are also the ones most likely to keep giving. 

Instead, I believe we should be focusing on those most likely to stop - people who I refer to as the "swing donor". 

Swing donors are your distracted mainstream. They are people who care about your cause but give less frequently. They are the audience for whom charity must fit into their world, rather than they fit into ours. 

But it will take more than the latest mechanic to persuade swing donor to donate.

The sector’s attention has largely been on modernising how people give, whether TikTok or contactless. 

But people connect with the cause first, and the mechanic second. We must focus on our proposition: the message that emotionally connects people to the cause.

This is where most fundraisers would reach for the harder-hitting emotive human stories. However, for swing donors, there is a sense that while those stories matter, alone they are not enough. 

I believe the key to persuading the swing donor is using original propositions that invite people to create the world they want to live in: propositions like the NSPCC’s "Cruelty to children must stop, full stop", and WaterAid's less well-known "Be the change you want to see in the world". They inspire and excite. 

I was proud to put "Be the change" out into the world when I worked at WaterAid during the last recession. Tested as a newspaper and magazine insert, it outperformed the banker creative, or best-performing advert, by 45 per cent in response rate, transforming our performance. 

Imagine if every charity got that a phenomenal results improvement like that with a simpe change of message!

In fact, in my recent Institute of Fundraising Convention talk, I observed how most charities still talk in a very similar way, using clichés like "help us be there".

This presents an open goal for charities that take the creative messaging challenge seriously.

Nonetheless, crafting original propositions will take a significant shift in mindset. 

Firstly, charities must accept that the proposition is all about the donor. Organisational announcements will fall on deaf ears. We must speak their language.

Secondly, charities need to embrace the power of lateral thinking. The university degrees most fundraisers have encourage analytical, literal thinking which rarely bears any original creative fruit. 

Finally, charities must consistently apply their proposition across all activity - and that’s across both brand and fundraising. Consistency wins the attention of the distracted individual. 

The silver lining from the coronavirus crisis was that the sector finally gained some much longed-for relevancy.

But keeping a place in people’s hearts will not be easy as we all feel the recession bite. It will take some bold and original creative thinking to make sure people keep giving. 

Chloë Amstein is a fundraising strategy consultant


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