Pandemic has changed the way most charities communicate with supporters, research shows

More than two-thirds of charities changed the way they communicate with supporters after lockdown, according to research conducted by the payment processing company Rapidata. 

The survey report, Navigating Times of Crisis to Protect Regular Giving, which will be launched today at the Institute of Fundraising’s annual convention, says that of 87 charities surveyed, 67 per cent had changed the way they communicated with supporters after restrictions to combat coronavirus were announced, and 49 per cent said they expected to continue using the new channels they had adopted in the future. 

After the UK went into lockdown on 16 March, the direct debit-cancellation rate jumped to 3.09 per cent, up from 2.16 per cent in February – the biggest rise from February to March ever recorded – as people began to worry about their finances.

The cancellation rates dropped to 2.04 per cent in April, the report says, but supporter acquisition declined. 

In response, many charities increased their focus on stewardship, with almost a quarter (24 per cent) pre-empting cancellation by offering payment options such as skipping a month, taking a holiday or reducing their gifts. 

Some 71 per cent of charities increased their use of social media, while 62 per cent increased their use of email to contact people. 

Almost half (46 per cent of charities) increased their use of online advertising and online events. 

Three-quarters of those surveyed said they expected to continue to increase their use of digital channels.

“The coronavirus crisis has prompted a renewed recognition of the importance of regular giving as a  sustainable and reliable income stream for charities,” the report says. 

“Similarly, the crisis has magnified focus on a supporter-centric approach for deepening relationships and protecting regular giving.”

The report concludes that lockdown measures had reinforced the need for digital transformation to be written into every charity’s strategy.

Scott Gray, Rapidata lead and head of payments for the Access Group, which owns Rapidata, said: “It’s been immensely encouraging to find regular supporters mostly sticking with their chosen charities despite their own difficulties, and to see charities themselves innovating and adjusting their strategies to reach out and deepen those vital relationships.”

He said an increased focus on supporters, strategic diversification, innovative approaches and greater investment in digital transformation would be essential to protect regular giving in the future.

“While we all hope to avoid another pandemic, what’s certain is that other crises and recessions will occur,” he said. 

“It’s critical, then, that charities prepare for this by learning from others’ experiences and taking action to mitigate future risk.”

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