Kathryn Holloway: What do we do when supporters vote with their feet?

In the latest in our Future of Fundraising series, the head of individual giving and supporter care at Friends of the Earth says brand loyalty is diminishing, so charities have to change their models

Kathryn Holloway (left)
Kathryn Holloway (left)

As charities, something we’re already starting to see is that people are not as brand loyal as they were a few years ago – and that’s only going to intensify.

It’s no longer the case that people will set up direct debits and simply leave them running for 25 years without thinking about them much.

People are navigating such a noisy world. While charities shouldn’t exactly be in competition with each other, it’s certainly true that for both potential and existing charity supporters there’s now an overwhelming amount of choice when it comes to organisations and brands.

And there’s not such a clear-cut role for charities because you’ve got corporates who are getting in on the act of being cause-led, so the lines are blurring between different types of organisations. This means they can find the model that best suits them rather than fitting into the organisation’s specific box. They will vote with their feet and find another fit that will create the change they want to see in the world if they don’t think they’re getting that from you.

The public is recognising that it can’t just be about putting a sticking plaster on the problems they see – they know that’s not going to be a long-term fix.

As a result, some charities are looking to shift their model, moving away from service delivery and contracts towards campaigning and delivering the systemic change that’s actually needed in their cause areas.

This means we need to start involving people who are closest to the issue that we are trying to tackle, both potential supporters and beneficiaries. That’s how we can identify the solutions.

For fundraising, it’s not going to be such a clear-cut way of finding an audience as with the traditional model of funding. This presents an opportunity and a challenge, because it opens up different ways of getting involved in the organisation from the traditional model in which you subscribe, get four newsletters a year and don’t think any more about it.

It’s about making people feel a lot closer to the cause and feeling a part of the cause and the organisation itself.

That’s always been a challenge for the sector, but I think that when people can just vote with their feet and they're not inspired by what you are doing and how you’re spending funds, then we have to shape the pathway to change with those supporters.

Some organisations see the idea of opening themselves up to suggestions and dialogue with supporters about what they would like to see us doing as a huge risk, but in an environment where people seem to be rejecting the institutional model of charity, we have to be a lot more open to two-way communication, not just broadcasting to supporters and hoping they agree with us.

It comes back to communication, honesty and transparency, something we’ve been talking about the whole time I’ve been in the sector. We need to ensure we’re being honest and open about what we’re doing, but also genuinely listening to what supporters want as well.

That’s something everyone can start doing tomorrow.

Kathryn Holloway is head of individual giving and supporter care at Friends of the Earth

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