Fundraising news, ideas and inspiration for professional charity fundraisers

Why we, as fundraisers, have a DUTY to engage with our supporters

Why we, as fundraisers, have a DUTY to engage with our supporters

On Monday I took part in a webinar, organised by the Institute of Fundraising’s Supporter Experience Special Interest Group, entitled “Why right now supporter experience matters more than ever”. 2,600 people signed up, but because it was so over-subscribed, only 1,000 were able to participate.

If you missed it here is the video (audio only):



The problem

Charities are reporting huge losses in fundraised income.   The postponement of the London Marathon is reportedly having an
enormous financial impact.   All is doom and gloom.

It just isn’t right.

It seems that many fundraisers are still thinking about fundraising as an activity, not about inspiring supporters and giving them a good experience. And the supporter experience is not just about ‘customer care’, it’s all about how we make donors think, and feel.

There is some muddled thinking out there.


Five caveats

1. Some fundraising will be lost, and we must not underestimate that. So much fundraising depends on people being able to get out of their homes. They can’t. That has never happened before. So nothing I write here is a get-out-of-jail-free card.

2. We must be very careful in our use of words. A huge number of supporters will be financially affected, and we must acknowledge that.

However, a huge number of supporters will not be adversely financially affected.

3. Different charities need to interpret what I write here in a different way, according to what is right for them and their supporters.

4. Each charity must have a clear definition of what a supporter is. Ask yourself: would they see themselves as a supporter? Or else people will be overwhelmed and that would be counterproductive.

5. Small charities have particular challenges which are not easy. Some may be at fear of going bust. It’s awful. I’ll come back to them.

General thoughts

Amid the overwhelming feeling of despair and helplessness caused by this virus there is a human response that brings out the best in all of us.

There is a spirit of altruism out there. We see it every day in our community. The children’s rainbow paintings in the windows as you walk around; the offers of help from the other residents of our flats; I have asked several people, even older than I, if we can be of help. This generosity of spirit is almost unbelievable.

And yet charity supporters also want that same altruism to make an impact more broadly, to those helped by the charities they support.

Your charity is the “vehicle” to enable that to happen.


Which charities are affected?

I can’t think of any charities whose services aren’t being affected by Covid-19. Some are very direct and obvious. There is going to be increasing demand and it is likely that at least 20% of their staff and volunteers will be unable to work, either because they have the virus or they have to self-isolate.

But the NSPCC? Less obvious, but many families NSPCC is helping won’t be able to cope, and will turn to NSPCC for help. And there will be 20% fewer of them. I know their Helpline and Childline are receiving more calls. Yet there are 20% fewer people to deal with them.

And the Royal Opera House? Can you imagine a charity less affected by Covid 19 and with less of a case to make to its audiences? Yet it is asking ticket-holders whose performances are cancelled, not to ask for their money back, so that they can pay their staff. And the response has been phenomenal.

And so on.


Compassion is spreading


But, as Beth Kanter observed: “Compassion is spreading as fast as the virus.”

When philanthropic muscles are stretched, as they are now, they become stronger.   We must ask ourselves: how can we harness the philanthropic muscle of our supporters?

In my 30 years at the NSPCC the country faced a great many challenges, some of them huge ones.   In every single case, voluntary
income was significantly up, not down. 


Because in a time of crisis, those that have the ability want to do something to help those who don’t.   It’s the very essence of ‘charity’. 

And so of fundraising.


So, what should we do?

The key fundraisers in all charities should be drawing up a simple Case Statement:

First. How Covid 19 is affecting your charity and its beneficiaries.   The need. Right now, and what you expect in two weeks’ time. 

And in two months’ time. 

This will be hard, given how quickly things are changing.   But although we must hope for the best we must prepare for the worst.
Secondly. The likely reduction in your able-bodied staff and volunteer numbers.   These are the people who will help to meet that need. 

Now, and what you are anticipating in two weeks’ time, and two months’ time.

Of course, no-one really has a clue. But your charity must have thought-through some scenarios. Put them in the Case for Support. Supporters will be impressed by your candour.

Thirdly. The inevitable loss of some sources of income.   (List them, with careful thought as to why they are obviously inevitable.)

Fourthly. What your charity wants to do to help meet this need. And why even beginning to do that needs money, and now.

That’s your Case for Support.

(I didn’t know whether it was crass to mention this.   Many of your supporters are actually going to be better off.   No restaurants.   No cinema.   No holidays. Why shouldn’t that money be coming to you?)



So, come back to the Marathon.   I believe it should be raising more money than usual, not be considered a disaster for charities. Why? If each intended participant went back to each of their sponsors (by phone or email, of course, not door-to-door), explained the situation using the content of the Case Statement above, and then asked the sponsor to give their sponsorship, right now, would many refuse? 

Would any refuse?   Indeed, wouldn’t most give extra, if asked?   To me it seems like a no-brainer, but that’s not the way most fundraisers and charities are thinking.

Then take a gala event, with tickets at £200, that is cancelled.   Of course, you must offer to give people their money back.   But, if you did what I suggested above, how many would refuse to give to you, and demand their money back?   Very few.  


And then donors of all sorts

Engage the donor.

Be outside in, not inside out. Start with them, not you.

Start off by talking about the supporter. Acknowledge the huge challenges all of them are facing. Perhaps, you could offer regular
donors, now unemployed, a holiday from their monthly regular payment? They’ve been there for you. Now, you be there for them. at their time of potential need. If you do, they won’t forget you.


And then, talk to those that can afford to help you. Make your case.

Charities must be totally transparent about their challenges.

I said I’d come back to small charities that might be facing the possibility of going bust. You must give all your supporters the opportunity to avoid it. Whatever your CEO says, you must include all your Trustees and their networks. What are they there for? ‘Governance’? Piffle.

If my favourite small charity went bust, and hadn’t engaged me, I’d be livid. And I’d want answers from the Trustees.

Let me come on to how to ask

I normally promote softer asking. ‘Giving donors the opportunity…’ and ‘asking the donor to consider…’

The game has changed – so have the rules – donors know that.

Now, I urge you to ‘ask’ very directly, very powerfully but very carefully.

No agency creative overkill. No fifteen ‘asks’ on the first page. You don’t need that. You need very carefully crafted words. Litotes.
Understatement for the sake of effect. But urgently, without any embarrassment or hesitation.

The world has never been like this in our lifetimes, or our supporters’ lifetimes. If there was ever a time to appeal to our supporters to give as generously as they can, and then a bit more, it is now.

They may well be prepared to give a lot.   Maybe twice their usual gift?  

Maybe 10 times?   Why not?   Right now, people want to help others face this crisis.

If you inspire them to give two, or ten times more than they were expecting, they will have an unimaginably better experience. I promise you. Because I’ve seen it so often, myself, personally.

And then go even further.

You want to communicate a message that, with all possible care, creates an expectation that they will respond, because they choose to, and then will have a great experience.

Of course, they must have the opportunity to ‘opt out’. But don’t ask them to ‘opt in’. Be creative in your use of words.


Our duty to ask

As a fundraiser you have a duty to ask.   We, as fundraisers, must give our supporters the opportunity to give to those in greater need than them. We have no right not to. We are empowering them, not twisting their arms.   By being empowered they will have a great experience. 

To be blunt, it is not for you to judge that your donors wouldn’t want to give. Let the donor decide. Some fundraisers need to change their mind-set. Much of what you feel is inevitable, isn’t inevitable. Not today. None of your supporters could possibly complain that you were asking too much or too hard – as long as you choose your words carefully.

I have heard of many fundraisers ‘protecting’ their supporters. Not wanting to bother them when they have so much else on their minds. It’s quite wrong.

I have made a lot of enquiries and not found a single supporter who has complained about being contacted. Some declined to give. The only complaint was from one person receiving a cold mailing, not connected to Covid-19.

The only complaint you will receive is if you are facing a crisis, and haven’t engaged your supporters to be part of mitigating that crisis.


Other types of supporter

Then Trusts.   Companies.   Community fundraising volunteers.   They’re all about people.   They all like good experiences. Use exactly the same thinking.


Before I finish

Don’t allow your trustees to cut your fundraising budget, as I know some are. Tell them to invest in your fundraising.


Call to action

Fundraisers: we have a job to do. We need to step up and be great at what we do to leverage this wave of compassion, empathy and altruism.

You have the opportunity, more than ever before, to make a difference.

Because you are the connection between your charity and your supporters.

You may be able to help stop your charity having drastically to cut its services.

You may be able to help stop your charity going under.

You are the fundraising expert. Your charities are relying on you.
So, keep on fundraising, and stay safe.

Giles Pegram CBE

As Appeals Director of NSPCC at 29, Giles set up the Centenary Appeal which was a record at the time. Giles grew NSPCC’s voluntary income from No. 15 in the CAF table to No. 3. The FULL STOP Appeal raised £274,000,000. This remains a record.   Giles was vice-chair of the Commission on the Donor Experience, an initiative aimed at transforming fundraising, to change the culture to a truly consistent donor-based approach to raising money. He is now working to implement its recommendations. He has also re-launched himself as a consultant. Giles was ‘UK Professional Fundraiser of the Year 1994’ and received the ‘Lifetime Achievement in Fundraising’ award in 2002.

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