How Covid-19 has changed the fundraising landscape for the long-term

Third Sector Promotion iRaiser

Zillah Bingley, chief executive of Rainbow Trust, chaired a panel discussion at Fundraising Week 2021 on what we’ve learned in the past year, how Covid-19 has changed the fundraising landscape in the long term, and how organisations have innovated differently to meet unprecedented demand.

Covid-19 has shown that charities, particularly those supporting the most vulnerable, have never been more relevant. Zillah Bingley, chief executive of Rainbow Trust, set the scene by referencing Charmaine Griffiths, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation, who said: “A crisis crystallises what’s really important to you.” 

Covid-19 forced charities to pivot and prioritise what was important to both their beneficiaries and supporters in the moment, but has also made them re-evaluate what’s important to them as an organisation. For many, ensuring they could ‘keep the lights on’ meant having to prioritise fundraising and be innovative due to pandemic restrictions. How has Covid-19 changed the fundraising landscape, and are these changes here to stay?

The rule book went out of the window

SJ Cameron, fundraising director at Scotservs Ambulance, shared how demand for its services quadrupled overnight, yet its funding disappeared overnight, too, as events were cancelled. The medical transport charity had to become innovative and throw the rule book out of the window to raise money to continue its vital work, in a time when it had never been more needed. 

“Covid-19 challenged us in ways we never thought possible. As a sole fundraiser, I normally have wonderful volunteers to help me raise money and most of our fundraising income comes from the community and the people we help. With lockdown, we had to remove community fundraising and events as an option to support us and instead we had to put all of our efforts in grant funding. For the first time in my career, I had to pick up the phone to funders to get support.”

Strengthening the principles of good fundraising practice

Not surprisingly, the Fundraising Regulator recorded an increase in enquiries and searches on its website about the digital fundraising landscape, particularly in relation to rules on running lotteries, prize competitions or raffles. 

Charlotte Urwin, head of policy at the Fundraising Regulator, said that while Covid-19 has been an unprecedented challenge for the sector, the principles of good fundraising practice, such as being legal, honest, open and respectful, still apply when it comes to fundraising online.

“These principles become even more important when the situation is changing and the need to engage with donors is changing, too. The structures and processes that have been put in place by fundraisers over the past year to ensure that they’re compliant with Covid-19 guidance, guidance from the Fundraising Regulator and the Chartered Institute of Fundraising are all good things to keep on doing. Strengthening and supporting these processes are exactly what we need to be doing as they will be valuable to the sector in the future.”

Social became the main comms channel

The British Red Cross needed to quickly communicate to supporters and the public about how it was helping people during lockdown and the pandemic and this fell to the media team, which incorporates social media. As well as providing information and guidance on how to stay safe, it also had to manage all the requests from people wanting to help by volunteering in their communities. It was a fine balance between communicating the need for support while ensuring people stayed safe and followed the rules. 

With the social channels being highly engaged, the social media team looked for opportunities to fundraise via its platforms. It decided to run a donation campaign on TikTok, which, as well as being about raising money, was also about increasing the charity's relevance on a platform that is increasingly being used by young people.   

It also worked with LADbible and artist Sam Fender on a Facebook Live performance with a Donate button for people to make a donation during the concert. The team worked on the night to interact with the audience and to thank people as they made donations. 

Nana Crawford, social media manager at the British Red Cross, offers this advice: ”If you’re partnering with another organisation on an online event with a fundraising element, don’t just leave it to them to do all the work. Get involved as much as you can and be present. It’s your opportunity to connect, engage and drive donations, while reminding people how their money will help.” 

Traditional barriers in the fundraising world have been broken

Accessibility has always been a significant concern with all forms of fundraising, but particularly events and community-based fundraising. Eoghan Beecher, country manager for UK and Ireland at iRaiser, highlighted that one of the biggest changes we’ve seen from Covid-19, in terms of the fundraising landscape, is that it’s become much more accessible. No longer do you need to travel to London to take part in a big, mass participation event to raise lots of money – you can do it in your back garden. 

“The most prominent fundraiser last year was Captain Sir Tom Moore walking in his garden, raising £32m. This is a sign that traditional fundraising barriers have been broken. As those barriers have now been broken, we as fundraisers can build fundraising products with a blank sheet of paper, putting accessibility, openness and a donor-first attitude at the centre. Covid-19 has democratised the fundraising space.”

Online has changed people’s giving behaviour 

While Covid-19 gave us no choice but to offer online events, whether they were fundraising or informational ones, people’s behaviour has now changed. Beecher says that supporters who were traditionally not ones to raise money or donate online are now comfortable doing so. 

“There are lots of digital tools available for little money, or even free, that allow you to fundraise online. The advantage, too, is that people are more likely to give a higher donation online than in cash. Covid-19 has helped move on that traditional cash-giving audience to online and charities who have more diverse and accessible fundraising products will make more money. It’s a win-win.”

This panel discussion was sponsored by iRaiser, which provides white-label digital fundraising solutions for charities. Download its latest fundraising guide: 10 weeks to promote your peer-to-peer fundraising event on social media.

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