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There’s no denying the effects of COVID-19 have been far reaching, but when it came to FY20 tax time, it seems it wasn’t all doom and gloom as first feared.

Wilderness SocietyFrom bushfire appeals and emergency appeals to lockdowns and social distancing, it felt like the world was doing everything it could to stand in the way of the old tax appeal. But, defying all the odds, many of you have experienced an increase in your year-on-year tax appeal giving, painting a picture of the true generosity of Australians in times of adversity.

We reached out to our subscribers to see how your tax appeals went and the results show that we can be cautiously optimistic about the future of fundraising.

Tax appeals during COVID-19

Out of 68 respondents, an overwhelmingly 70% of you had seen an increase in giving compared to your 2019 tax appeal, while 23% of those had seen more than a 50% increase in donations.

Many of you attributed this to being able to ride the coattails of the pandemic, building off the pre-existing urgency to tie in your own stories of frontline workers and increased need.

“We had a very powerful story about a young mother with MS who got much-needed assistance from us. We also explained that most people with MS are already very isolated and that the COVID-19 crisis isolation was impacting them even more. At a time when the world was in lockdown, donors could relate to this, but knowing that people inflicted with this disease are much more vulnerable made the ask very strong,” says Donor Development Manager for Multiple Sclerosis Limited, Karen Ping.

Others, like Dogs’ Refuge Home (WA), moved away from the traditional tone of fear to a more positive message of stewardship.

“We changed tack and instead of presenting the usual unhappy or distressing stories of neglect, we went out with a ‘thank you’ and gave an update of all the support and positive outcomes we had during the COVID-19 lockdown in Perth,” said board member, Lee-Anne Ashley.

Only 20% of respondents had seen a decrease from last year’s tax appeal. And those who did attributed this to a range of factors: from external circumstances (*cough* COVID-19 *cough*) to lack of board support to decreases in internal funding and resourcing (also COVID-19 related).

For Diabetes SA, the decision to send their tax appeal in their magazine to demonstrate to donors they were reducing costs, combined with a delayed lodgement, led to a decrease in income.

Some of the respondents had pushed hard earlier with an emergency appeal or autumn newsletter and scaled back the ‘ask’ at tax time, accounting for the decrease in income seen.

Cancer Council WA ran an emergency appeal across March and April, launching a softer tax appeal as a result.

“Even though [we saw] a decrease, the overall amount raised through the campaigns is up around 30% year on year,” says Donor Development Coordinator for Cancer Council WA, Jess Cant.

Tax appeals during COVID-19

Regardless of whether there were increases or decreases, COVID-19 made many of you rethink and strengthen your messaging.

“We completely reshaped our planned appeal strategy around COVID-19 and the direct impacts on our organisation and the families we support. Historically our appeals are centred around a hero family, however for this appeal the focus was shifted to introduce our essential workers and services. I believe this helped to create unique and timely content to have better cut through with our supporters,” says Fundraising Lead for Very Special Kids, Nadisha Gunatillake.

Many tax appeals were delayed in getting out there, affecting subsequent waves. While this adversely affected income for some, others came through with good results.

“Our appeal was delayed getting to market, which impacted our approach for Wave 2,” says Nadisha. “Instead of our traditional Wave 2, we created a series of eDMs and targeted social activity featuring families and staff with no physical mail component. This resulted in a stronger online presence and helped boost overall income.”

It was apparent that success wasn’t just a result of the current climate, but due to long-term investment in your database and your donors. Fully integrated campaigns across multiple channels, buy-in from senior leadership and the board, and strong donor relationships played integral parts in ensuring that your tax appeals not only weathered the pandemic, but rose above it.

“We had absolutely no idea how donors would respond to this campaign. Strong stewardship for the past three years obviously helped! Our numbers were down because we have not done any acquisition for three years, but our return was greater. This must be linked to relationship cultivation. Positive storytelling in a not-so-positive environment with the health pandemic,” says CEO of Women’s & Children’s Hospital Foundation, Jane Scotcher.

For Ardoch strong messaging across multiple channels and timeliness equated to a highly successful campaign.

“Our tax appeal was run as a combination of direct marketing, digital strategy implementation and a matched giving day. We were able to develop incredibly strong messaging around the impact of remote schooling for vulnerable children and how Ardoch needed support to ensure we could be there for them when they returned to school. This call to action was developed involving emerging research and interviews with school principals. The messaging was powerful, relevant and timely and people responded generously. We had an 80% increase in donor numbers with 57% coming from new and lapsed donations,” says their National Fundraising and Engagement Manager, Amy Coote.

Because of time restraints, and the knowledge that more people were in front of their screens, many of you stepped up your digital asks – some for the first time – or produced entirely digital campaigns.

While the survey showed strong giving in response to, or in spite of, COVID-19, the effects of the pandemic may be delayed. Surprised by their strong results, Australian Conservation Foundation’s Direct Marketing Manager, Coby Hailes, is watching with bated breath.

“The tax appeal reached 220% of target, and to be honest, we’re a little stumped. We certainly think the elevation of climate as a real issue has had an impact, largely brought upon by bushfires. COVID-19 appears to be a non-issue – for now. We suspect this will change over the next 12 months.”

The Wilderness Society

Sending out a tax appeal in the midst of a global pandemic is no mean feat. One success story we can all learn from is the Wilderness Society. Direct Marketing Manager, Loren Pritchard, shared their tactics and results with F&P.

Getting the tone right for their tax appeal was crucial. With the stressful start to 2020, the Wilderness Society wanted to communicate their need with optimism and empowerment.

The theme was ‘Fight for our Forests’ and consisted of a two-wave direct mail appeal sent to 15,800 existing supporters in May and June, asking them to join the fight against logging. This was complemented by emails, Facebook posts and a matched giving offer in June. Their in-house calling team (formed from their F2F team following COVID-19 restrictions) also made reminder calls to their mid donor cohort and thank you calls to all donors.

Wilderness Society tax appeal 2020And, like many of you, they saw great results despite the current climate.

The Wilderness Society saw an increase in income of 58% on 2019’s results and 41% on 2018 with a total of $602,000. This year’s campaign was driven by a large volume of donations, rather than large gifts. This was a trend we saw with other tax appeals: more donations at lower amounts, which could be attributed to the financial stress of COVID-19 on donors, coupled with their feelings of powerless, being stuck at home.

Overall the campaign saw 5,571 donations with an average gift of $108, while the mid-tier donor group had the highest response rate of 46%, garnering the highest number of mid-level gifts ($1000-$5,000) they had seen in the past three years.

This success was due to the multiple touchpoints this cohort received: mail, emails, Facebook posts, reminder phone calls and thank you calls in the months leading up to the appeal.

Across email, they had uplifting results with an increase of 100%, doubling what they had raised the year before. This was attributed to an increase in response rates. The volume of email recipients also grew by 14%, covering a reduction in their mailed audience numbers and generating an increase in net income of $55,000.

Thanks to all our readers who completed the survey. We can only wait and see what Christmas has in store for us!

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