Changing Face Of Fundraising

When talking about the changes that we’ve seen in fundraising the first most people seem to talk about are the economic and political factors.  The financial crisis had the obvious impact of not only hitting corporate fundraising but also Trust funders as there was less money around for fundraisers to target in the corporate world, so charities were turning more to Trusts and Foundations to the fill the gap in budgets but who in turn had reduced funds they could make grants with as income from their investments began to shrink.

But the biggest impact of the recession in my mind however, was that it accelerated existing trends for more demanding relationships with funders as they wanted ever more to maximise the RoI for every £ invested. I’ve no figures to substantiate this, just my experiences since I first entered the fray as a fundraiser.   Whether it was companies wanting CSR investment to increasingly also provide brand benefits, or for Trusts and Major Donors to look less at the organisation and more at their outputs before making a donation funders have followed human nature in wanting more bang for their buck.  The scarcity of funds following the financial crisis plus the changing the political climate as subsequent change in Government brought about even more commissioned services added to this and accelerated the shifting of focus onto outcomes over outputs.

However, for all the impact of the recession, it was the Ice Bucket Challenge (IBC) started me thinking about how Fundraising has changed in recent years.  The challenge, or rather its basic concept isn’t that new in itself.  Once upon a time people were ‘challenged’ or sponsored to sit in baths of baked beans or custard and local PR and private word of mouth networks were the tools to maximise its impact.  Today Social Media has changed the world for fundraising just as it has for news, social commentary and telling people what you’re having for dinner.

To start with charities were using Social Media very effective for campaigning and awareness raising, using it to reach and engage new audiences you had been previously hard to engage with via traditional channels.  But very quickly charities started to see that, just like face to face fundraising was before it, Social Media was the perfect was to engage with young people especially, who previously had been hardest to engage with fundraising messages.    Given the main medium, its main users and the charity’s beneficiaries its perhaps not surprising that Kids Company moved quickly to use Social media for fundraising.   They have been using use online content via apps such as Vine to engage and secure instant donations.

But it is the Ice Bucket Challenge that has shown the real potential of Social Media.  It kicked off months ago and after a gradual start it accelerated exponentially until we hit ‘Peak Bucket’ around mid-August and in this time most donations went to the US charity Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association and, in Britain, to the Motor Neurone Disease Association.  Both have benefitted from a massive spike in donations and in awareness and a number of other charities have also come to benefit, sometimes contentiously.  Macmillan, for example, came under criticism for promoting the challenge to their supporters.  For my part, I made a spontaneous donation to the Stroke Association when the entire Under 18’s age group at my rugby club did the IBC following the sudden passing of a man who had given a lot to the club over the years.  Whatever the origins ALS certainly were the ones who used Social Media to its maximum effect and showed what is possible.

Yet the more things change the more they stay the same because the things we are seeing now in fundraising, whilst new, could be said to be the continuation of trends that have been around for many years.  Social Media is like all fundraising and all marketing (closely linked disciplines in my mind but that’s for another day) – get the mechanic, message and medium planned properly and you maximise your chances of cut through.  Planning and responsiveness is key.

One final thought – for all the power of social media and for all the planning, those in themselves might not have seen such a massive surge had the celebrity element not been involved, which brings us full circle emphasising the fact that some basics don’t change – it greatly helps any fundraising if the cause is engaging, a degree of humour is involved and society’s obsession with celerity will help ensure interest.