How to increase your charity’s digital fundraising
In-person events have always been the lifeblood of fundraising for charities. Whether it’s on a huge scale, such as the London Marathon, or smaller events like Cancer Research’s regional Pretty Muddy 5k challenges, nothing engages participants and makes memories to last quite like gathering together in physical spaces. Or at least, that’s what we thought before the Covid-19 pandemic took hold.
For the past two years, charities have had to transform their fundraising efforts. The nation’s stay at home orders limited the ability to run such events, while shop closures and a move towards contactless payments made gathering donations difficult - at a time when service users needed help more than ever.
Data gathered by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) in 2020 found that cash donations fell between March and April of that year, decreasing from 34% to just 13% of all donations. Yet digital donations made through a charity’s website or app rose from 13% to 24%.
Some charities simply integrated digital payment systems into their websites so supporters could keep donating, while others explored the use of content and running online events to replicate their physical campaigns.
Having a strong digital presence is key. It can be a challenge meeting new digital requirements but the majority of charities have been able to keep up. However, making this transition largely depends on the charity and the resources available that helps them get to the point of implementing these digital processes. But now that Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted, what happens next?
Rather than slowing down and taking fundraising offline, it’s important to keep up momentum and strengthen these digital spaces further. Even as schedules for physical events ramp up again, don’t overlook the many benefits that hosting virtual or hybrid events can bring.
As we learn to live beyond the pandemic, we must change our perception of the virtual “stopgaps” that emerged. Many solutions have now moved on from being temporary to the norm, because of the long term advantages they bring. Just because you can host in-person events now, should you forget about the online space altogether?
Hybrid events - which are open to people both online and in-person - are much more inclusive and accessible to a wider audience. When the UK was told to stay at home, hosting fundraising campaigns online meant things could continue as normal. Hybrid events also ensure that anyone who is clinically vulnerable or nervous about Covid can remain involved without having to mix with people.
There may be other occasions where it makes sense to host events online too. When an artist due to appear at the Poet in the City festival was subjected to transphobic online abuse, the organisers took the event online to ensure the safety of all involved. While this might be a rare occurrence, it shows how quickly organisers can respond to change if they’ve got a strong community as well as a digital infrastructure that can seamlessly switch channels.
Location is another consideration too. Some people may not be able to travel due to financial or family reasons, so technology offers an opportunity for charities to extend their target audience beyond a geographic catchment. There really is no limit, as long as there’s an internet connection. And it can even engage the busiest, time-poor donors who want to help, but can’t commit to a full-scale event.
Engage new donors
Charity events are a proven way to boost brand awareness, raise funds and engage others who may not have heard of your charity. At an in-person event, every spectator who’s there to support a friend has the potential to become a donor. The same is true for online - by using your website effectively, those visiting your events page could be steered towards starting the journey to becoming a supporter themselves.
This is an advantage that virtual events have over physical fundraising drives. As digital platforms have matured there are now numerous ways for a charity to share their story, vision and goals, in order to connect with potential new donors.
A video on your home page, for example, could quickly highlight your cause, or explain why a current campaign is so vital. After that, your blog could share stories from service users, before signposting to ways to get involved.
Make a plan for what, when and how you want people to absorb your message and tailor content accordingly. Always keep in mind the user experience of anyone engaging with an online event, and how they might navigate through your website. I’d encourage charities to understand the real motivations behind what will trigger someone to take part in a virtual event, or become a regular donor, and use that to inform your strategy.
There are a number of different theories when it comes to building donor relationships, but I favour the single customer view. Rather than creating streams of mass messaging, the key here is to remember that behind every donor ID there’s an individual person. And thanks to digital technology, they could be engaging with your charity on various platforms, ranging from Twitter to Facebook and your weekly newsletters.
Planning your messaging to make it sound personal is a way to make donors feel special. Automated emails can save time but can lose the unique aspect - it’s important not to just replicate the same material across each channel.
Make decisions with data
There are plenty of tools out there that help to personalise the donor journey, including your charity CRM (customer relationship management system).
With digital systems, you can learn lots of key information about every donor - whether they’re already taking part in a fundraising event, or are a first-time visitor. In-depth analysis such as “relationship tree” tracking and marketing automation that’s triggered by specific events can all help towards curating a personalised, targeted online experience.
As well as enhancing the visitor experience, back-end technology can also transform the way your charity runs events, from initial planning to the post-event follow up stages. Whatever the mix of staff and volunteers and skills, with the right charity CRM you are left with a system that’s easy to update and manage.
As an NHS charity, for the Cheffield Hospitals Charity fundraising was essential during the pandemic, but it had to adapt its normal schedule of events and group activities to abide by restrictions. As it updated its website platform so it could provide the best experience for its staff, service users and supporters, events management was a feature that stood out to the team.
Having a strong website and moving events online, alongside other activities such as retail and fundraising, helped the charity to reach a whole new audience. By giving more people the chance to interact with the charity digitally, they’ve engaged a much broader range of people which, combined with in-person fundraising, is powerful. The charity operates with both in-house staff and volunteers, which made the usability of the system even more important.
Recognising the hybrid factor
While the height of the pandemic has now passed, it’s impossible to predict where the world will head next, or what events might cause another lockdown - only to re-emerge with new, normalised practices. Over the past two years, the wider world has embraced the benefits that digital technology brought it during Covid-19. Right across the economy many companies and institutions as well as charities now encourage hybrid working. Why then, should fundraising efforts revert back to pre-pandemic states?
Of course, there’s nothing like the thrill of waking up on the day of an event, getting ready to meet motivated fundraisers, hand out placards and wave folk off at the starting line. But all year round, you can continue this level of engagement, excitement and connection with your charity by keeping calendars busy with virtual and hybrid events too.