What next after your COVID-19 appeal?

by Adrian Beney, Rosie Dale and Jonathan May - 24 July 2020


We’ve seen so many examples of successful fundraising during the pandemic. Now fundraising teams are asking: ‘What next?’ Some of our resident regular giving, data and digital experts - who have been working with clients at the heart of these appeals - explore the key questions to consider.

Why did it work?

Jonathan May: In the past few months it’s been amazing to see organisations making much bigger and broader asks of their supporters. And the question is: what was different this time? The answers will be slightly different in each organisation. But it’s helpful to think about the chain of conversations that made your successful appeal possible. A big thing I’ve seen is that fundraisers believed in the importance of the story they were telling donors. Suddenly fundraisers have been talking about something that really matters. This meant that, within four weeks, institutions have launched digital campaigns at real speed, largely without making too many mistakes along the way.

Adrian Beney: To build up on your point Jonathan, I feel that audiences have really opened up, too. At such a raw time for everyone, they’re engaging with the realities of the world and the causes they support. When people are at their most powerless, donating money gives them something constructive to do.

Rosie Dale: We’ve also seen major gifts and regular giving teams come together to fundraise for one cause. The urgency meant that silos came down and teams realised how much more they can achieve if they work together. Institutional hang-ups about raising money were suppressed, giving teams a license to make decisions. People have been thinking: ‘we’ve just got to do this’. It’s been so empowering to see. The question now is how to build on that success – to keep those silos down, maintain the collaboration and avoid going back to the way things were before? For me a lot of it goes back to the story and the confidence of the whole team uniting behind it to ask for money without inhibitions.

What impact has the pandemic had on your fundraising?

Adrian: You need to analyse, analyse, analyse. Look at your data, and examine the impact the pandemic has had on your normal fundraising programmes – for example, what’s the consequence of not being able to phone supporters or pausing a direct mail piece? But you also need insights into the performance of emergency appeals to understand how they may have turned things around. Who are the donors they brought in, and what motivated them to give?

How can you get to know your new donors?

Jonathan: As Adrian says, you will have gained lots of new donors, whether staff, alumni, non-alumni. You might know something about them, or more likely you may not. The fact that you don’t know what to say to large parts of your new audience base is an opportunity to ask them and for organisations to be a little less introverted. Pick a small selection and engage with them digitally to collect their insights. Get to know them. Ask how they would they like to be involved in the future. What updates would they like? What would they like to do next?

How can you look after these new donors?

Rosie: The appeals will have messed up fundraising calendars everywhere. But teams should try to put their fundraising ‘machine’ to one side and get away from: ‘Normally I’d do this in September, and this in December’. Once you know a bit more about your donors, you should think about what they need from you as well as what you’d like them to do. Start designing the journey you will take them on around this rather than which appeal you can fit them into next. Also, try to keep hold of the freedom to use all of the channels at your disposal. The pandemic has highlighted the power of email, which I know has been liberating for some institutions.

Jonathan: Many organisations may have been surprised at how effective their campaigns have been, and now need to think about digital stewardship across different constituencies. As Rosie says, the starting point should be: What would we love to be able to do for these donors? What would the very best experience be for them? For example, we can’t meet every donor. But we can provide personalised thank yous from students to donors, which go down incredibly well. Obviously, this requires infrastructure, time and thinking, and using students as you might for a telephone campaign.

What story do you tell your new donors?

Adrian: You only have to look at Captain Sir Tom to see that the crisis has shone a light on the power of a good story. And it has also shone a light on universities as the places that fix things for society. For higher education institutions, it’s important to keep hold of that narrative. Show your supporters how you have impact on the world, your purpose and your values, and keep telling your charitable story. Your donors care about your role and your contribution to the world. Show them content and stories that demonstrate the difference you make. Show them what matters. Show them what you’re here for.

Rosie: And when you enter into those communications with donors, aim for it to be a conversation, person to person. Because in many ways the pandemic has made human contact more personal, rather than less. We’ve seen into each other’s homes on Zoom calls and many of the barriers have come down. So can we lose some of our institutional formality too? Can we bring more human contact into our communications and talk to our supporters in a much more personal way that makes them feel good about their giving? If organisations achieved that shift in how they communicate, it would be tremendous.

So, what next for you?
To get under the skin of your emergency appeal or learn more about designing and implementing supporters’ journey, you can speak with Rosie or Adrian, and sign up to our award-winning Regular Giving Insight and Benchmarking project.

For more information on how we can help your organisation with digital engagement, you can get in touch with Jonathan, or you can always call us on 01382 224730.

About the authors
Adrian Beney is a Partner at More, and specialises in building strategy on data-driven evidence.

Rosie Dale is a Partner at More, with a focus on developing successful regular giving programmes.

Together, Adrian and Rosie have run the Regular Giving Insight and Benchmarking project for the past 10 years with over 50 universities and Oxbridge colleges, as well as recent strategic reviews with institutions such as Imperial College, the University of Leeds and the V&A.

Jonathan May is an Associate Partner at More, and founder and CEO of Hubbub Fundraising, which has supported hundreds of digital giving campaigns for charities and universities, including dozens of recent COVID-19 appeals.