Offline fundraising activities and events shelved; budgets with huge deficits and many charities facing challenges in navigating through these tough times. Tough times to save lives; educate children; protect pregnant mothers; care for animals and conserve the environment among many other causes. But what does the pandemic teach us? The crisis has highlighted the importance and relevance of digital technology—especially for fundraising when charities are unable to gather their supporters, volunteers, and donors through traditional fundraising activities.
With the spotlight now on technology-enabled ways of meeting our objectives, charities have to adopt online/ digital fundraising strategy to connect with donors and enhance the fundraising outreach.
A digital fundraising preparedness survey I conducted recently highlighted 27% of the 51 charities in Singapore were not confident of raising online donations, and another 60% felt only moderately confident.
I have, broadly summarized the digital fundraising opportunities identified by respondents amidst COVID-19 into 3 key points.
1. Effects of COVID-19/Circuit Breaker/ Lockdown Situation
The high level of compassion during this pandemic amongst the public is evident through the numerous acts of kindness to support each other. The COVID-19 situation has reflected a heightened sense of empathy and care for others during this challenging and uncertain period.
Furthermore, the circuit breaker/lockdown measures have resulted in more people staying home. This may also translate to higher ‘screen time’. People can look for opportunities to do good from home i.e. through online giving than in person.
2. Use of Social Media and Online Fundraising Platform
With more people working from home and sharing information related to COVID-19 online, organisations can use social media to engage with their donors and recruit new ones. This method increases the donor rate, expands and builds the donor base through social media and online fundraising platforms.
Online fundraising platforms allow the charity to have multiple campaign appeals simultaneously allowing organisations to reach out to various segments of the population. Besides, there have been specific movements that call for donations through online platforms.
3. Long-term Fundraising Strategy
Nonprofit organisations must develop a fundraising strategy that includes a digital component. The realities of COVID-19 provides organisations with the opportunity to become agile and look at developing in-house expertise and collaborations in digital fundraising.
The digital fundraising challenges faced by respondents amidst COVID-19 can be categorised under 4 overarching areas.
1. Current COVID-19 Situation
Some organisations may fear that asking for donations could appear as opportunist during the current crisis. The public may also prioritise donating to certain organisations or causes which are directly impacted by the COVID-19 situation over organisations which are indirectly affected by the pandemic.
2. Problems at the Organisation Level
The organisation might be under-resourced or lack the necessary software or staff with knowledge, expertise and experience in the area of digital fundraising. Other challenges the organisations face include governance/ ethical issues (i.e. a surge in restricted donations for the pandemic response, data privacy concerns and getting consent from the impacted community to share their story) and having to constantly generate new content.
3. Difficulties of the Online Fundraising Process
Nonprofits have to compete with each other to get the attention of donors on the online fundraising platform and convince them to donate to their cause. The multiplicity of appeals makes it difficult for donors to differentiate between the campaigns. There is also the uncertainty that the online campaign will be able to meet its targets. Organisations may also find it difficult to collect data of their donors, and the lack of data results in them unable to gain deeper insights into their donor profiles or build a relationship beyond the pandemic.
4. Perception of Donors
Donors, especially those that are older and less technologically savvy, may be unfamiliar with the process of donating online, and find the process as too cumbersome. Similarly, these older donors prefer donating through traditional means. Other barriers that prevent donors from donating online include a lack of trust in online fundraising.
So, how do organisations survive during this pandemic? Read on to get inspiration and move on positively to raise funds digitally.
15 tips and ideas to build & enhance your online fundraising
1. Fundraising Strategy and The How-to of Online Fundraising
- Include a digital fundraising component in your strategy. If you do not have have an existing digital fundraising strategy, use COVID-19 lockdowns as the catalyst to start your supporter outreach using digital technology.
- Consider long-term when setting up your campaign – the goal of the campaign can be to provide funding for immediate needs, but ultimately it has to fit in and be part of your organisation’s visionary response.
- Think quick and act fast, especially when responding to current issues. Agility is important, to ensure your online fundraising campaign can leverage on the awareness and urgency created by the larger eco-system. A simple ‘will you pass on your saving on petrol during the lockdown to help someone in need’ has raised nearly $50,000/- in a matter of days.
- Partner with other charities on having a joint-online campaign. This method is one way of going further, faster. Alternatively, join collectives and movements, such as the #wegiveinsolidarity movement created by platforms like Give.Asia, that leverages on the Singapore government’s solidarity payment.
“Evaluate all online platforms and have an overall digital fundraising strategy that gets the best out of the various digital options.”
- Involve everyone in your organization to raise funds. Get your volunteers and board members involved in the fundraising process. Decentralize the fundraising, where the charity does not have to be the only one that is always leading the campaigns. If you can get existing volunteers/donors/board members to raise funds amongst their friends and families, the outreach can be so much stronger and relevant. There is no time like now, to embark of this effort.
- Don’t worry about the 1-5% that is deducted for bank charges and upkeep of the donation portal, and not raised the over 95% possible through online contributions. You would spend so much more on hosting and organizing a Gala or Golf charity event! Most people value the convenience, seamless user experience and understand that there will be a cost involved.
2. Crafting Campaigns & Being Creative
- Share real stories on why your mission is important and how your organisation goes about helping your beneficiaries. While generating new content daily is useful, it is not necessary. This can be stories that you already have, for example stories from your past month’s newsletters of individual or families impacted, which you can repurpose into online content as part of your digital campaign. Put your story out there and your message will resonate with some people who is be inspired to contribute to your cause.
- Share stories of those affected by COVID-19. Underline the challenges they face. Highlight the impact of COVID-19 on your organisation’s programmes and activities and how the funds/donation would be used to impact lives.
- Create multiple ‘mini’ campaigns to test various appeals and reach out to different segments of the donor base with each campaign. This helps to identify what appeals which segments of the donor base. Break down the things that your organisation does into individual campaigns. The campaign that you create does not always have to focus on your beneficiaries, it can target the people involved in your organisation’s programme and service delivery eg: impact on caregivers, social workers or the frontline warriors in this fight against Covid-19. Here is a ‘cheat sheet’ that you may find useful for developing these ‘mini’ campaigns.
- Tailor the message for the masses. The positioning and message for mass marketing is different than when applying for government and foundation grants..
“Charities are not limited by a lack of resources, but a lack of agility and preparedness.”
3. Maintain and Build Donor Relations
- Be honest and transparent with your donors. Share the entire needs of your organisation, cost involved in programme delivery or fundraising and what their donations will be used for. If they donate to a campaign which has restricted use, let them know that any excess of the funds after say, the purchase of goods will be used at the discretion of the organisation and channelled to where most needed.
- Educate donors about your operational needs specially those who expect their donations to be channelled directly and fully to the charity’s beneficiaries. Highlight the fact that the organisation has costs to ensure effective delivery of the programme . If donors cannot accept the fact, then they may not be best suited for your mission. Here is a blog , where I tell you the story of how I walked away from a $10 Million grant and ended up with $12 Million!
- Build monthly donor programmes to raise unrestricted funds aside from the ad-hoc digital fundraising campaign where the funds can only be used for specific purposes.
- Motivate the older generation of donors to get their younger family members to teach the technique to donate online, especially during this lockdown/circuit breaker period..
- Do not close the doors on potential donors if they do not want to donate online. If needed, re-direct them to other channels on how they can contribute.
What are your best digital fundraising tips or challenges that you face? Love to hear from you.
The webinar on Co-creating a COVID-19 digital response can be viewed here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ajWhHojkJ0g . This webinar was hosted by GiveAsia.org as part of our collaborative effort to enhance the ability of charities to enhance their digital fundraising effectiveness.