Katherine Raskob looks at how fundraisers have come up with creative ways to ensure the money still flows in to help their beneficiaries.

fundraising COVID-19

Cancer Council Australia, Variety – the Children’s Charity of Queensland, RSPCA, The Salvation Army and Surf Life Saving Foundation have successfully changed how they fundraise during the coronavirus pandemic.

Like many countries, Australian fundraising efforts have been hampered by the coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, a recent survey FIA conducted with More Strategic and Donor Republic found most fundraisers think revenue will be down by 20% for the remainder of 2020.

It’s a difficult situation with fundraising income falling and more beneficiaries turning to charities for support in the wake of the economic downturn and job losses resulting from COVID-19.

As a result, fundraisers have been scrambling to change up or replace their autumn and winter programs due to physical-distancing requirements.

We reached out to a few of our members to see how they were meeting these challenges. Some were taking their community events online or switching face-to-face fundraising teams to the phone. Pleasingly, in-house teams and sector consultants have pivoted smartly to come up with some clever concepts that offer inspiration and hope to others. Here’s what they shared with us.

Taking tea online

Usually, people catch up with friends or colleagues over a slice of cake and a cuppa in the office or people’s homes when they fundraise for the Cancer Council Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea. This year, the popular fundraiser went virtual.

Cancer Council asked hosts to continue to show their support for those affected by cancer by using online platforms like Zoom or Skype to hold virtual tea parties. They could also organise small “cuppa catch-ups” with friends and families that respected social distancing.

The goal was still the same if not more urgent: cancer patients require support more than ever, and Cancer Council needed to raise money to continue to run critical support services and programs. Last year, they raised $11.9 million and this year they were hoping to raise over $13 million to help beat cancer.

From a usual nine-month planning time, the team had to create a new campaign in just two weeks to address the COVID-19 issue. That meant changing, adapting or creating new assets as well as evaluating and making quick decisions on all channels and their effectiveness in market, as the landscape had changed completely.

The fundraising and marketing team came up with various new ideas to attract donors such as a virtual bake-off where all participants cook, and people use virtual scorecards to score their baked goods. Another was getting people to donate what they would have spent on commuting or coffee for a week. They also created a guide on how to host a virtual auction.

Comb on into Bad Hair May

fundraising COVID-19

All lit up for a good cause: Melissa McMahon of Variety – The Children’s Charity Queensland sparkles for Bad Hair May.

Variety – the Children’s Charity of Queensland had a challenge. As many of their events had been postponed or cancelled due to the pandemic, they needed a new campaign to continue their impact during this crisis. It had to engage their loyal supporters, attract new donors and help the organisation raise funds for the most vulnerable children in need.

Within a few short weeks, they launched Bad Hair May – a campaign developed with HomeMade Digital that capitalised on all the bed head, shapeless styles and exposed roots that people have been experiencing while staying home during COVID-19.

The concept was simple: our bad hair days can make good things happen. People were encouraged to grow out their hair, embrace “lockdown locks” and then on 29 May, chop, shave, colour or twist their hair into a crazy ‘do. Throughout May and on the big day, participants were asked to share photos and on social media to raise funds.

Although Variety is a federated organisation and the campaign was being managed by Variety Queensland, the team was keen to trial a national virtual event concept and ran the campaign around Australia to help all states attract new supporters. The campaign had raised $34,254 by early June and more funds were continuing to flow in.

As someone who has suffered bad hair days during the pandemic, I found this event idea particularly appealing!

RSCPA holds ‘pawsome’ social distancing event

For the past 25 years, the RSPCA has held its popular Million Paws Walk in about 60 communities around Australia to raise funds to combat animal cruelty. But with coronavirus resulting in people having to social distance and self-isolate, those essential community events were suddenly off the table.

So, the fundraising team quickly came up with a new event – Walk this May – which saw dog owners hit the pavement in their neighbourhood streets and backyards, responsibly walking for 30 minutes a day throughout the month.

For RSPCA, it meant changing up their website and doing some different communications on Facebook to attract peer-to-peer fundraisers that, while challenging with the short time frame, still proved useful for the animal welfare organisation.

Walking inside or outside, people could log their steps in the “pawdometer” to show people how much movement they and their dog had made. This encouraged supporters to donate to help the RSPCA continue their work to care for more than 124,000 strays, abandoned and abused animals a year.

While the event usually raises a couple of a million each year, the RSPCA was still grateful to raise over $700,000 in one of the most challenging fundraising environments ever.

Doorknock goes digital

For its 55th year, The Salvation Army took its well-recognised Red Shield Appeal fundraiser online as the team quickly realised that COVID-19 restrictions would prevent volunteers from doing the traditional doorknock in person. Their willingness to separate their brand from one specific delivery method was crucial, and they brought it to life across digital channels.

The fundraiser saw the Salvos’ famous red and white bucket passed between volunteers, influencers and organisational head Major Brendan Nottle on social media. It featured the tagline: “We won’t be knocking on your door this weekend; instead, we’ll be knocking on your screen.” Users then were directed to the donation site via targeted ads.

The in-house team worked with ntegrity agency to ensure the look and feel of the online campaign brought to mind the traditional aspects of the Red Shield Appeal doorknock. It retained the elements of the offline appeal – the volunteers, community feel and the iconic brand elements like the red and white bucket but reinterpreted them for the digital environment. This came through geo-targeted ads and recruitment of social media influencers who later “painted the web red” by featuring the colour on their posts during the fundraising weekend in late May.

The Red Shield Appeal was supported by 75 high-profile Australians, including TV stars Hamish Blake and Sonja Kruger, and sporting heroes Layne Beachley and Justin Langer, who filmed a personalised video message.

The Salvos hope to raise over $8 million in this year’s doorknock to provide vital services to help those experiencing homelessness, people who need financial counselling and to provide care for those coping with family violence. They also hope to raise $35 million collectively by the end of the financial year.

Off the streets and onto the phones

Events aren’t the only area of fundraising to suffer during the pandemic; the temporary suspension of face-to-face fundraising since March has been problematic for many charities that depend on the channel for regular giving acquisition, including the Surf Life Saving Foundation (SLSF), based in Queensland.

But rather than stand down their internal F2F fundraisers, SLSF quickly switched their street fundraisers to the phone. After solid and thorough training, they were put on the line to check in with bequestors to see how they were going during the pandemic.

The calls were well received, and several bequestors unexpectantly and generously pledged donations and purchased surf lottery tickets during the calls.

The organisation received positive comments like: “I really appreciated the call. I provide a regular donation; in addition, I’m going to include SLSF in my yearly major gift.” “I appreciated the call; I’ll be donating before EOFY.” “I have no social engagements; I’m impressed by the level of care from Surf Life Saving.”

SLSF also had their new telephone team call former single-purchase lottery customers to promote their lottery subscription program. They worked closely with one of their telemarketing partners to employ some casuals to help with the increased demand in tele-fundraising. Five of those fundraisers ended up with casual job contracts.

Instead of face-to-face, SLSF has run targeted activation campaigns for both donations and lotteries with their telemarketers since early April. The activity has seen a lift in the charity’s average single-giving amount per donor – from $64.80 to $76.55 – and an increase in their lottery subscriber base by 2% per game.

The organisation has also implemented a new nurture program for regular giving, ramped up communications during COVID-19 and added personal touches. Their communications program now features appeals from key figures in lifesaving, such as their president and current patrolling volunteer, Graham Ford, and they’ve also been calling all supporters who donated since their April appeal. Regardless of whether supporters gave $2 or more, they have reached out to thank them personally.

Like most charities, many of SLSF’s regular givers and lottery subscribers have had to reduce or pause their generosity due to financial and job impacts. But the face-to-face turned telephone team have been working hard to keep supporters warm and engaged; ready for re-activation of their support when they’re in a position to do so.

Innovation, investment and determination

These are just a few of the great examples we heard about in the past few weeks, and I know there are countless more great stories out there.

While we don’t know how long this pandemic is going to last, we do know it’s going to take ongoing innovation, investment and determination to create fundraising solutions that will work not only now in this challenging time, but long after coronavirus recedes.

Katherine Raskob is the Chief Executive Officer of Fundraising Institute Australia.


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