3 tips for charities to navigate an unparalleled fundraising challenge

Fundraising and Marketing Consultant Jamie Perry offers three key areas for charity fundraisers to focus on amidst a perfect storm of external challenges. There’s never been a better time to take a step back and look at your fundraising efforts, in order to weather the storm in the short-term crisis, and emerge stronger for the years to come.

A guy dressed as a banana with a charity collecting tin, talking to other people in costumes at a local carnival event

Times are wild. There probably isn’t a single charity in the UK right now that’s not thinking about its financial stability.

Having personally led income generation over the past 18 months for a conservation charity, I know first-hand how difficult it is to accurately forecast and deliver financial projections amidst the perfect storm of COVID, economic meltdown, inflation, strikes, energy pressures, environmental catastrophe and warfare.

You can look at what statistics, local and national trends and your own data is telling you about what to expect, but with so much uncertainty and change, it’s really hard to make accurate predictions about the future. And it’s even harder to rely on ‘comparable’ data from previous years.

As a recent example, when the UK emerged from the COVID crisis, it was hard to know what would happen. Would people run for the hills if face-to-face fundraising teams approached them on the streets? Would digital income streams decrease because people weren’t stuck in the house on their phones? And would a door drop be more or less effective for a liberated audience who were no longer worried about touching post?

Our sector had lots of questions, but no playbook, because nothing like this has ever happened before.

With challenge comes opportunity

There’s never been a better time to take a step back and look at your fundraising efforts, and perhaps even to reach out to agencies to get an external perspective.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve encouraged the charities I’ve worked with to focus on three things:

1. Review processes. 

When we looked at member attrition, we could see we were losing income, but it wasn’t clear why. Processes were not yet in place to provide enough detail, present regular snapshots, or to inform decision-making. With a nip and tuck here and there, we were able to improve the charity’s processes to provide the vital information we needed. For the first time, we could see why people were leaving and take action to halt the slide.

We implemented a bold campaign to promote the message that member support had never been more important during these tough times – and attrition dropped by 25%.

Other process wins included speeding up membership onboarding, ensuring enquiries were responded to swiftly, and making our comms more responsive across the board.

2. Diversify income streams.

If you can’t be sure that your magic door drop is going to be effective this time around, or whether the corporate income you rely on is about to drop off a cliff, then it’s best to spread your risk, in the same way an investment banker would. In the COVID example we mentioned above, we had no idea how face-to-face, digital or direct mail might perform, so we invested in all of them.

Give all your income streams some love and attention and remember it’s not all about investing money, it’s also about giving your time. Then why not add something new into the mix? Because whatever happens, you’ll learn something.

3. Focus on the short, medium and long term.

Digital fundraising now offers some of the best ROI for membership growth and individual giving, and enables you to target the right person with the right creative at the right time. If you aren’t investing in testing and improving your digital fundraising, you need to.

You need to be able to compare the revenue your different income streams provide over the short, medium and long term. For instance, legacy income often doesn’t show returns for at least seven years after you have delivered. But it’s always one of the things I activate, because the return on investment for the charity and my successor will be huge. Of course, you’ll need to complement that with short-term revenue raisers to compensate for the delay.

Rebalancing your income streams based on proven returns is a great way to uplift performance.

Food for thought

I hope this gives you a little food for thought in such trying times. Remember, the actions we take today won’t only decide how long it takes our charities to emerge from this short-term crisis, but will also shape the years to come.

I encourage charities to focus on three things: Review processes, Diversify income streams, Focus on the short, medium and long term.

Jamie Perry
Associate Fundraising and Marketing Consultant