How has your fundraising changed because of coronavirus?

AGATHA MORRIS, Appeals Manager, Oxfam Australia

In March, when almost overnight many of our fundraising programs were turned on their heads, we saw a concerning decline in income compared to the previous year. In April, however, things turned around. While we adapted our programs, the fundraising fundamentals remained the same.

We changed channels. Our in-house face-to-face team quickly became our in-house outbound calling team. With this new resource we were able to communicate with donors, rather than by email or SMS, through meaningful conversations over the phone. The results have been incredible. The team, for example, were able to save countless regular gifts by getting a huge response rate when updating expiring credit card information over the phone. While the team found themselves operating through a different channel, with retention rather than acquisition targets, their ability to engage, inspire and build rapport with donors remains the fundamental reason for their successes.

We launched a new product. Our in-house creative team came up with a great concept for a product in response to new supporter needs in a changing market. Humankind is more than a gift card, it creates moments of connection in a time of isolation, while raising funds for Oxfam. The Humankind team leveraged our innovation framework to quickly design and launch a minimal viable product. Putting our innovation framework to the test, there will be learnings from Humankind applicable to both future fundraising and innovation projects.

Our conversations with donors changed. Our Key Supporter Team have a ‘transparency first’ approach, maintaining open, regular communication with our most generous donors. Through this crisis they are keeping our major donors up to date with both our programmatic response to coronavirus and the economic impacts felt by the organisation through emails, phone calls and webinars. Changed circumstances meant their asks had to change; we urgently needed more unrestricted donations. The result was our wonderful donors giving larger, unrestricted gifts, earlier than planned.

We launched two appeals. Like many INGOs we’re responding to coronavirus in our programs around the world. More than ever the water and sanitation (WASH) work that Oxfam does is essential for saving lives. And this is exactly what we’re communicating to our donors. We’ve launched an emergency appeal for our Coronavirus response but we’re also emphasising our WASH work in all our communications. We brought forward our tax appeal direct mail in which WASH is the central theme. We weren’t sure what to expect but it appears isolation has resulted in a strong response rate to direct mail.

We’ve been humbled by the solidarity and generosity our supporters have shown. There’s still a long way to go until the coronavirus crisis is over but we believe that continuing to communicate meaningful information through the best channels will only strengthen our relationship with supporters, ultimately making Oxfam a stronger organisation.

MAEVA FREEMAN, Head of Fundraising, ActionAid Australia

The shift to working from home, managing teams remotely and staying connected to colleagues in Australia and abroad has been challenging. As a single mum with 6-year-old twins, juggling work and home schooling was even more so! Fortunately, ActionAid Australia has been very flexible and supportive. It’s been amazing to see the organisation rising to this challenge. Our team is committed, meeting deadlines, and coming together for virtual staff meetings, morning team huddles, lunch and learn sessions, and Wednesday afternoon wines!

It is a very challenging environment to fundraise for international issues right now when so many Australians have been impacted by the bushfires and this global health and economic crisis. We began 2020 fundraising for ActionAid’s work with women facing the impacts of climate change and disasters. Coronavirus forced us to shift our fundraising (as well as campaigning, programs and operations) very quickly. As an organisation that responds to humanitarian emergencies, all our fundraising (from institutional to individual giving) pivoted to respond to the Coronavirus crisis and raise awareness of ActionAid’s approach to ensuring women are central to the humanitarian response.

As we adapted to the rapidly changing context, we reviewed our whole strategy from individual giving to philanthropy. Government assistance programs had not yet been announced; economic uncertainty was impacting our telemarketing campaigns and the CPA was too high. We decided to pause regular giving acquisition and our two-step campaign to focus on retention by optimising supporter journeys. Showing supporters the impact of their donations is so important, no matter how small or large the gift. Our communications included newsletters, campaign asks and updates from the field. We learnt quickly how to host and moderate live webinars and invited donors to attend panel discussions, meet Country Directors, and hear first-hand how COVID-19 is impacting refugee populations and communities in Vanuatu dealing with the aftermath of Cyclone Harold.

Our fundraising umbrella message is “Women on the frontlines of crisis.” All our appeals (DM and digital) address different aspects of the pandemic, highlighting the triple threat of health, climate and economic crises that women face. Digital channels continue to be so important as we test messaging and creative on social media and SMS. We are also exploring fundraising on WhatsApp for the tax appeal. We added an emergency appeal to our direct mail schedule in April. In May, we restarted our reactivation and upgrade telemarketing campaigns and with a new COVID-19 related script. The positive results so far have given us confidence to kick off another test for regular giving acquisition and a new two-step campaign.

Navigating the past few months has been intense and stressful but we know that this pandemic will impact the Global South and the most vulnerable. As lockdowns mean loss of livelihoods, more extreme hunger and poverty in countries that have no social protection, our work raising awareness of these issues and fundraising will be more important than ever.

ANTHEA IVA, Director, Redstone Marketing

The end of March saw us all become participants in a mass work-from-home experiment imposed on us by coronavirus. We scrambled to meet WFH demands; getting a zoom account, upgrading wi-fi, buying a proper desk chair, a desk … And alongside this we all managed new stresses that came with living through a pandemic.

Needless to say we have all done extremely well because restrictions are lifting and, after speaking to many fundraisers, it looks as though fundraising has faired pretty well.

Donor retention pays dividends

Firstly, organisations are seeing how much donors really care about the causes they support. Organisations who have invested in donor engagement in the past are hearing from concerned donors who are explaining to them that they will give again or give more or re-start their regular giving plan once their financial situation turns around. Some charities have even seen a spike in community fundraising as donors initiate fundraising because they understand that giving may be down during the pandemic.

A tax change and more

At the start of lockdown, the greatest request for Redstone was to turn current tax appeals into emergency coronavirus appeals. It was a sudden adjustment to working from home with staff in three different locations, remote client collaboration and tight deadlines. It went surprising smoothly and we even got to know our clients a whole lot better. The pandemic has reminded me why I love our industry – there is a genuine level of care, understanding and flexibility to make sure we all get it right.

Tax appeals are seeing good response rates and good average gifts. Some fundraisers are saying that gift size is similar to past appeals and this is also true for organisations that didn’t have an emergency appeal. Some charities say gifts are smaller but their donors are saying they will give more when they can. Mid-value gifts are holding steady, however there is a spike in regular giving cancellations, which is the case internationally as well.

One university has had their most successful tax campaign ever. They combined online and offline but skewed strongly towards digital to reach more alumni than ever before, which has resulted in more new first-time donors and reactivation of lapsed donors.

Fundraising in the midst of a pandemic is proving that the work everyone has done on donor engagement has been invaluable – it has created donor trust and loyalty that will get them through this upheaval.

The digital uptake

We also swiftly expanded client’s digital fundraising capabilities. Online strategies were adapted, tweaked and in some cases created to leverage the opportunities this channel offers. This has resulted in some great fundraising and donor retention efforts and moving forward this channel will become a ‘new’ normal in fundraising. It has also been a good reminder to gather different donor contact information.

A journey for life

Fundraising budgets were reduced but there remained plenty of interest in donor journeys and determining the best spend for donor retention. We have seen some great planning and creative ideas come out of these talks and the strategies organisations put in place now will bond donors to their cause well into the future.

Our experience from the pandemic has shown people feel a bit helpless and they look for ways to remain in control and to help others. I think the reason fundraising has continued during this time is because charities value their donors and genuinely engage with them.

Hopefully as we arrive at a new normal we continue to value working from home. Many people I chat with say that they have been able to find a better work/life balance, so imagine the benefits if this continued without the pandemic – it would have to be a good thing for everyone.

Talking Point:  Want to get involved or have your say? Please fill out this quick survey.

Read Agatha Morris’s article on why fundraisers needed to stop talking about supporter engagement and start talking about engaged supporters.

Read about ActionAid’s bold charity campaign.

Read Anthea Iva’s article on getting (and maintaining) good donor retention.