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Into the Unknown: Charity fundraising 2021

12 points to consider as we move into a new year of Covid19.

2020 was certainly a year like no other for the charity sector. From grassroots community groups to larger national charities, everyone felt the pressure of Covid19. A huge spike in need for charitable aid – from foodbanks, to homelessness, to mental health, to education – coupled with a dire drop in income; charities across the UK have just experienced one of the most challenging years of domestic aid ever.

If you made it this far – give yourself a pat on the back.

Now as we move into 2021, the situation is looking as challenging and serious as ever. Covid19 doesn’t look like it is going away any time soon. So, if you are a charity, what can you do?

Now is the time to get a fluid strategy together if you haven’t already. Agile working and contingency plans are essential but there are also some key points every charity needs to consider.


1. Urgency. Conveying the urgency of your need is something that will get a little harder now. ‘Urgent need’ is an over-used phrase in the charity sector at the best of times – reducing the meaning and impact of the ask. All need is urgent, but donors will have become immune to this as a reason to give – especially since Covid19. Therefore, when planning your ‘ask’, you need to give context to the urgency and what this really means. Use data and case studies to emphasise urgency with meaning – collate this information now drawing upon your monitoring and reporting. Explain the reality of what might happen if you can’t raise funds or deliver aid. If you can, a ‘donation journey’ that details how the money from donor reaches those in need quickly, can be useful to create and use within a range of fundraising materials and will instil trust.

2. Change. Be aware of the current situation and how rapidly it can change. Be ready to respond. When planning your fundraising for 2021, it may be useful to have a Plan B or even a Plan C (or D or E!). This isn’t easy because of course we don’t know what 2021 will hold and how Covid19 will play out but incorporating agile principles and ensuring your planning is relevant and ready will help a lot. If the uncertainty of everything seems a bit overwhelming (and who can blame you), try planning in blocks of 3 or 6 months rather than the full 12 months.

3. Donor fatigue. We are all tired of this. And so are our donors. Whilst charitable spending rose a little during the first lockdown and community spirit grew, don’t be surprised if you see donations drop again. It’s not your fault, it’s Covid. Charitable appeals and doom and gloom is everywhere. For some people, switching off from all mention of Covid and need, is the only way to cope and we need to respect that. In addition, research has shown that detailing huge need has less impact on potential donors, than individual need – for the simple fact that when a problem is seen as too big, many of us prefer to bury our heads in the sand. Be aware also that many donors may have made it through 2020 financially, but as we go into 2021, they simply may have exhausted any excess cash and have to cut back to protect their own families. Badgering people to give needs to be done tactfully and sensitively.

4. Donor relationships. It may be wise this year to concentrate on converting existing donors into regular givers and nurturing those relationships, rather than trying to beat the totals of previous campaigns by attracting new donors. Many of your donors will have dropped off and may continue to do so as already mentioned, so those you have managed to secure as direct debits need extra looking after. Don’t bombard them with further asks all the time – make sure you communicate thanks, show where their money went and provide them with support also. Donors aren’t immune to the impact of Covid. To convert one-off givers to regular donors, emphasise the small give – this isn’t the time for large asks. Consider a campaign that targets your one-off donors and asks for just £2 a month. 2020 was all about uncertainty and instability – 2021 will be much the same. But take from that a truth: small, regular donations no matter how small, are extremely valuable.


5. Projects – Covid Response. When looking at how to structure your plan you need to divide up your work. You will undoubtedly have launched or identified projects which are specific to the Covid19 situation and can be identified as Crisis Response. If you are seeking funding for these from funders, be aware that you will need to separate these from your regular work.

6. Projects – Non-Covid. These may have had to pause during 2020 but now you may need to consider restarting them or at least shifting your focus back. Separate them clearly from Covid response work, detail the development and sustainability, but be prepared you will need to discuss how Covid has affected the need and situation.

7. Adaptation costs. Moving your processes online and meeting need via online channels will have cost you money. This new way of working is now THE way of working. Conduct a financial audit of 2020 with a specific focus on new costs never previously incurred, to identify hidden expense or that not immediately obvious. Be clear in how you will sustain the adaptations you have made – be it software, an online licence, digital safeguarding training or adaptions to help your staff work from home.

8. Core costs. Your core costs continue to be your day-to-day organisational costs but as mentioned above, may now include adaptation costs. For instance, you may have need to spend £5k to develop and launch a new online system (adaptation costs) but this may then incur a yearly annual hosting cost of £3k (core costs). Your general and on-going website costs can also be considered core costs since your website is now as important as ever. Staff salaries, including long-term contract staff, can be core costs also. If you have brought on staff for a specific Covid response project, bear in mind some funders will see this as more of a project cost than a core cost so you may need to separate this out. Your core costs are just as urgent and just as Covid-impacted though and when applying to grant funders, or developing donor communications, don’t be afraid to say that. It is the truth for so many charities and needs openly addressing.


9. Grants fundraising. In 2020, the number of applications to grant funders went through the roof with thousands of applications to Covid related funding streams and non-Covid. Many charities applied for grant funds for the first time ever. In 2021, the focus is expected to be the same but competition is still incredibly fierce. Make peace with the fact that you may not secure funding - not because you don’t meet the criteria or didn’t submit a good enough application - but because they simply can’t fund everyone. For 2021 and to increase your chances, hone your bid writing skills and keep on trying. Identify in advance trusts and foundations you could apply to, keep up to date with their social media, and reach out and develop relationships with funders even when their funding streams are closed. Look at your charity competitors and colleagues – where have they been successful in securing grants? Above all else, check the criteria and submit tailored applications as per criteria and need (see above) – do not be tempted to copy and paste.

10. Digital fundraising. Community fundraising should remain a focus for 2021. Now is the time to solidify your online communications and get creative. If you relied upon bucket collections – launch a virtual bucket campaign on social media. Host a cake competition with online judging via Zoom. Look into organising a virtual fun run. You need to offer something innovative to stand out from the crowd, something real, relatable and something which gives an incentive. Community spirit is a big driving force so launch a crowdfunding campaign with tangible (and share-able) rewards. Back it with a social media campaign. On your website, make sure your donate button and landing page is clear, striking and the UX process is easy and short. You will need to take your digital fundraising to your audience – so consider who you are targeting, and which channels you are likely to find them on. Don’t underestimate the power of digital word-of-mouth either – aka WhatsApp – for quick give campaigns and make the most of significant calendar events which will influence charitable giving (i.e., Ramadan).

11. Virtual events. If you relied upon some big annual events such as a gala for major giving and you had to cancel in 2020, your donors and regular attendees will have missed this. Get ready and start planning how your gala could work online now. It doesn’t have to just be in a meeting style, you can use Facebook Live or create online breakout rooms for individual speakers with teams and activities. An auction can work well via Zoom too with a bit of creativity. If it was a black-tie event, keep it as that - we all need an excuse to dress up nowadays and have something to look forward to.

12. Social media. If you are a smaller charity, social media may have been something that you just did as and when you could. Moving into 2021, social media needs to underpin all your activities so incorporate it well into your plans: it’s about the only thing you can be sure of using and needing in 2021. Do a social media audit of your channels and develop a social media strategy and calendar. Create a bank of posts in advance, incorporating your own content (blog posts and updates) as well as that of others. Within your posts, make sure you tag partners, potential and existing funders and other colleagues within the sector. Highlights others’ good work: don’t make it too much me, me, me. Make sure you have a good mix of posts which include an ask and those which simply give thanks to your community and share useful content. Many charities find social media time-consuming, but you can use scheduling tools to take the pressure off. Just be aware that you may need to check and change posts before they go out to reflect the current situation. There’s nothing worse than tone-deaf social media.

Hopefully, these points will have given you some food for thought as you put together your 2021 plan… or look to develop version 654. Wherever you are at in your strategy, there is no right or wrong answer. For every rejected application or missed target, you will have wins and you will meet needs – even if it’s not how you thought it may be. We can only learn from 2020, dust ourselves off and carry on into 2021 with the knowledge that we have learnt and the small comfort that we are all in it together.

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