Zoe Amar: What we can learn from 2020’s best digital fundraising campaigns

After a year that saw fundraising efforts shift from analogue to digital, these three charity campaigns showcase creative ways to engage donors

This could be the year that changed charity fundraising forever from analogue to digital, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic.

So, which charities are fundraising online successfully – and what can we learn from them?

These are three of my favourite stories of charities that found new fundraising approaches and creative ways to engage donors in 2020. 

#Pituitary500Faces

The Pituitary Foundation is a small charity that makes more than a third of its income from events between March and June each year. Undaunted by the strain of the pandemic, it came up with the #Pituitary500Faces campaign, asking 500 of its supporters to donate £100 each. 

In return, donors got their face or an image of their choice added to a dedicated website. The campaign raised more than £74,000, tapping into the charity’s loyal community. 

The campaign succeeded because the charity moved fast.

“The campaign went from ideas stage to implementation at a rapid rate,” says Jay Sheppard, head of fundraising at the foundation. “The idea was on the Friday, the website was ready by the following Wednesday, we had a lockdown fundraising ideas guide made up by the Thursday and we launched the campaign on the Saturday."

Supporters took on fundraising challenges to raise money, from runs to hiking up a virtual Ben Nevis. When your charity has a great fundraising idea, be prepared to mobilise swiftly. 

What I love about this campaign is the enthusiastic, personalised thank you messages to donors. It can be tricky to deal with high volumes of supporter communications online without sounding transactional, but the foundation took the time to make everyone feel valued

A great strength of small charities is that many already know their supporters, and taking a warm, encouraging tone on social media creates a strong sense of community. 

#HikeToTheMoon

The Scouts ran two innovative campaigns this year. #HikeToTheMoon was their first mass participation digital fundraising campaign, launched to support the BBC’s Big Night In charity fundraising event in the early days of the pandemic. 

The campaign asked people to hike a mile or more, and gain sponsorship to support communities.

Amid lockdown restrictions, this campaign focused on what supporters could do, rather than what they couldn’t, uniting people around the common aim of how far everyone involved could travel together.

Online engagement with the campaign was strong.

Chris James, brand and ambassador manager at the Scouts, told me: “The first person to stand on the moon was a scout, which gave us the idea. By the end of April we had hiked 471,843 miles – all the way to the moon and almost back again – and raised £310,000 (match funded to £620,000).” 

The final sum raised, including badge sales, was more than £700,000.

Later in the year, Scouts ran #RaceAroundTheWorld, a sponsored virtual race to help 500 scout groups hit hardest by the pandemic, which has raised more than £220,000 to date (doubled thanks to match funding from a donor). 

These results are partly due to testing the campaign with a mix of scout leaders, volunteer managers, parents, young people and staff, who provided feedback that informed key decisions such as dividing the teams into age ranges, each led by two celebrity ambassadors. 

Both of these campaigns tapped into the need for community and a sense of purpose. Good integration of digital communications, celebrity support and positive press gave the Scouts momentum. 

#Whamageddon

Last, but certainly not least, Great Ormond Street Hospital charity partnered Twitter on an innovative festive campaign called #Whamageddon, in which people have to avoid hearing Last Christmas by Wham! during December – or, when they do, make a donation to Gosh. 

The charity had worked with Twitter on a campaign called Home for Christmas, and in return the social platform offered some innovation budget to help promote #Whamageddon. 

Katrina Cimetta, social media manager at Gosh, said the charity had received more than "1.4 million impressions with an engagement rate of three per cent, which is very healthy for us”. 

This is not technically a fundraising partnership, she added – more of a brand awareness piece, with a donation call to action as a lovely extra. It makes the campaign a creative way for a household-name brand to stay relevant and acquire new donors. 

“We really wanted to see what potential this type of social innovation and partnership has for longer term opportunities,” Cimetta said. 

Whatever 2021 holds in store, I hope these campaigns herald an exciting new era of charities of all sizes tapping into the potential of digital fundraising. 

Zoe Amar is the founder of the digital and marketing consultancy Zoe Amar Digital @zoeamar

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