In Times of Crisis, Clear and Present Thinking is Critical

‘Charity begins at home’ is a phrase ordinarily given a wide berth – it has an uncomfortable air of selfishness about it. 

As we find ourselves battling another involuntary year of health misery, war and now recession, the roots of its meaning may well be worth reconsidering against the harsh realities that people find themselves in. 

When Sir Thomas Browne wrote the phrase in 1642, inspiration was drawn from a verse in the bible¹ which advocates learning to practice piety at home. It doesn’t necessarily mean  prioritising loved ones’ needs above others though; it teaches to be there when someone needs to talk, to share food, and comfort them when they are feeling unwell. 

So how does this help when your Chief Marketing Officer or Board of Trustees wants you to equal your previous year’s fundraising income, or worse, surpass it, when all charities are going after a severely dwindling supply of donations from the same pockets? Add to this the pain of soaring energy bills and the need to tighten belts, and you can’t blame people for naturally thinking about their own home and loved ones first. To respond effectively you must view your acquisition and retention strategy through a new lens. 

Here’s what Tracey Bowden, Marketing Consultant working across both the commercial and charity sector thinks: 

“There is no doubt the cost-of-living crisis and the turbulent times we are living in will continue to impact charitable giving but I don’t think it changes the fundamentals that need to be in place for a charity to optimise its potential. It still needs to be able to demonstrate its relevancy and urgency, and for some charities the cost-of-living crisis should make them even more relevant than before and create the platform to demonstrate their urgent need for support. Cutting through the noise will only get tougher as more organisations (of all shapes and sizes) pile in on the human issues caused by the rising cost of living. To cut through effectively we need to be able to interrogate data quickly and uncover real human truths and motivations to be able to ‘meet’ existing and new supporters where they are at now, with relevant propositions. For me, having a clear strategy and plan that all teams are bought into and understand the role they need to play to support is critical. But in these changing and challenging times any plan needs built in flexibility to address the unexpected when it arrives.” 

There is a natural tendency within the third sector to lean into ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ but when the going gets tough is the time to think like organisations in the private sector; how can we innovate to enable people to keep giving in the way they want to give; sate their natural desire to help others but be mindful of their needs and altered situation? 

If that all sounds like hard work well, it is. Product innovation in the third sector is incredibly difficult; it takes time, it’s expensive and the leap in how to be appealing needs to be huge. There’s no more room for walks, bike rides, subscriptions, marathons and coffee mornings in the saturated fundraising marketplace. That’s where working with a trusted and experienced agency familiar with both non-profit and fast-moving sectors provides immense value. 

So how do you innovate to keep up with dramatically changing consumer behaviour whilst keeping the lights on with existing programmes and services that your charity offers? Make sure you ask the data. Are you asking the right questions of all the information you have at your fingertips that your customers willingly provide? They want you to know them better and still want to help in times of need but on their terms not yours currently.  

Although you might not have a charity synonymous with giving at Christmas, a change in channel, creative, or a variation in who you send your adapted message to could be the nudge to give your charity the financial boost it might well need at this time of year and particular point in time; all through turning valuable insights into rewarding actions.  

Take the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association who found themselves in similar circumstances. They needed to raise funds to build a new centre to support people with sight loss and families. Our challenge was to increase donations whilst not alienating supporters by asking too much. Through multivariate targeting we tripled ROI and beat revenue targets by nearly 800% which you can read more about here. We helped the RSPCA navigate the effect of the Covid crisis on their fundraising efforts through a test and learn approach using partially addressed mail. This change in channel yielded incredible results with direct mail delivering 150% of additional donors. – Read more 

But back to the original conundrum of how you can persuade prospective or existing donors to help others in need whilst recognising their own anxieties. You must change your thinking, put aside the institutional way charities have traditionally done business (driven often by internal agendas and objectives) and truly put yourself in the shoes of those who want to give but are conflicted by this latest financial kick to the stomach. Ask them what they would like ‘giving’ to charity to look like in the future, how it can fit into their daily lives and how it makes them feel, so that they can continue to care for everyone and share their charity.  Most importantly don’t forget to tell them in plain words the good they are doing and the difference their donation makes. 

Use insights and ask the data how to build new propositions and products; don’t assume you know what people want or give them something that is essentially playing catch up. Who knows what next crisis is just around the corner. What I can tell you for sure is there is one,  Tracey’s advice should guide you,  have a clear strategy and be prepared for what is inevitably to come by adapting and innovating your way out of it.  

If you need support rethinking your strategy, then get in touch with Tom at hello@edit.co.uk   

By: Rachel Piggott – Strategist at EDIT Salocin/Join the Dots 


¹ New Testament: 1 Timothy 5:4 

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