Fundraising trends you’ve got to know about to survive tough times

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By Matthew Schulz, journalist, Our Community

In a tough fundraising environment, we asked the experts what not-for-profit and community leaders can do to keep funds flowing.

In short, they suggested:

  • Know your ground – keep up with the latest studies
  • Cultivate your greatest supporters, because giving is down overall
  • Borrow the best ideas you see in the sector and get creative with campaigns and collaboration
  • Embrace digital fundraising tools (more than you do already)
  • Brush up on your grantseeking and other fund-finding skills
  • Support campaigns to slash fundraising red tape
  • Arm yourself with the best free and affordable resources available.

Our Community’s Institute of Community Directors can help you with all these tasks, and in part one of this special series, we take an in-depth look at the first three points. (Tap here if you want to jump straight to part II)

As Fundraising Institute Australia chief executive officer Katherine Raskob says, “Fundraising (is) an investment that needs to continually be made for today and the future; it will be so critical that charities continue to see it as such, and not as a cost. This includes investment in people and professional development as well as technology.”

Know your ground: What we know about the pandemic’s effect on fundraising and what’s next

JB Were study
Katherine Raskob
FIA chief Katherine Raskob

Multiple studies have traced the effect of the pandemic on charities and not-for-profits, including Our Community’s June 2021 Covid-19 Community Sector Impact Survey, which highlighted the “trilogy of terror” affecting not-for-profits: rising demand, a slump in donations and a “catastrophic collapse” in volunteering.

The JBWere Charitable Giving Index looked at banking transactions to produce its July 2021 study, which showed that donations plummeted in February 2020 and didn’t plateau until December.

The report found “the decline in giving seen during 2020 has been unprecedented since ATO donation data began to be collected in 1979”.

Ms Raskob said the slump meant that giving was “back to 2016 levels … at a time of increasing need for charities and the work they do as a result of the pandemic”.

Our Community's impact study
Our Community's impact study

Social Ventures Australia, in a joint study with the Centre for Social Impact, suggested much greater government support for the sector was needed in its May 2021 report Vital Support, with the withdrawal of JobKeeper leaving organisations vulnerable, just as demand spiked for services.

Our Community compiled many of these NFP impact studies for a research hub which highlighted similarities in findings across the sector.

Glimmers of hope for canny communities

The pandemic’s impact has not been uniform, with some NFP sub-sectors generating more support for their work.

Community Directors Council chair Susan Pascoe AM was swift to note the trend last year, highlighting the fact that frontline services providing food rescue, for example, had been buttressed by increased donations, while sectors such as the arts were hard hit.

Susan Pascoe
Community Directors Council chair Susan Pascoe

The Our Community donations platform GiveNow – which tracked millions of dollars in donations over the past year – showed strong support for organisations involved in mental health, domestic violence and animal welfare.

Whether hard hit or not, not-for-profits should be ready to reactivate their fundraising at short notice, according to intelligence from the Commonwealth Bank, an Our Community partner.

CommBank chief economist Stephen Halmarick told NFPs in a webinar this year that its forward analysis showed that overall, households were generating significant savings during the pandemic. Its latest estimate of cash savings showed that nest eggs would grow to nearly $230 billion by the end of 2021.

"Given the size of the savings pool, given the strength we expect to see in the Australian economy this year, it would be nice to think that some of that (expected spending) will go to charitable organisations ... I’m optimistic that we might see more money flow to the community and charitable sector," Mr Halmarick said.

Organisations wanting to rethink their fundraising strategy are well served by The Big Rethink: Fundraising in the era of Covid-19, published last year.

This practical guide looks ahead to the strategies organisations should adopt to maintain and grow income streams. The study provides suggestions about how to approach priority markets, respond to shifts in donor interests, and build digital capacity.

Co-author and Community Directors Council member Catherine Brooks said key tasks and traits for not-for-profits are community engagement, persistence in applying for grant funds, and developing funder relationships.

Anyone developing a new fundraising strategy should also look to GiveNow’s comprehensive summary of giving data, Giving Facts. The package presents compelling information with great graphics that organisations can use to back any campaign. It shows for instance that:

  • 66% of charities earn less than $250,000 a year
  • women are more likely to claim a tax-deductible donation than men, but their donations are smaller on average than donations by men (as is their income)
  • chief executives and managing directors are the most generous donors (they are also among the highest income-earners). Authors are the second most generous profession. Police officers are more likely than other occupations to claim a tax-deductible donation.
Give Now stats
Source: Give Now donations 2019 to mid-2021

Donation platform GiveNow bucks the trend

Cathy Truong
Give Now's Cathy Truong

GiveNow executive director Cathy Truong said the platform had not witnessed the slump in donations others had tracked or predicted, and said the trend was linked to “strong grassroots support”.

“The stability of support on GiveNow is quite striking,” she said.

While there was a drop in the average value of donations between March and December 2020, there had been a spike in the number of overall donors, leading to a 5% increase in the total value of donations over that time.

Since then, donations had dipped in April 2021, while pre-EOFY June giving saw a surprising 12% increase in total giving compared to the previous year.

Ms Truong’s interpretation of those figures was that organisations had “stopped asking for donation support (in April) … but when they did ask (in June), the community responded”.

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Regular giving can pay greater dividends in the longer run.

Cultivate your greatest supporters

Ms Truong said support levels on GiveNow were highest for organisations with regular donors.

“For organisations that had developed a regular donor campaign in the past, they are really very stable.”

She said average regular donors gave $46 per month and maintained that support for an average 22 months, which meant that every regular donor could add an average $1012 to a not-for-profit’s bank balance.

Ms Truong said grassroots donors had been more “sticky” in the past year compared to larger – but less reliable – private ancillary funds (PAFs) or foundations, for instance.

Asked about the implications for NFP leaders, she suggested hosting a targeted campaign to shore up an organisation’s “core base” would encourage crucial supporters.

“If there is any way to come up with a six-month online campaign, I would do it.

“Draft it now, so that you are communicating well with your core base and asking regularly –say every two months – for whatever is needed, until the beginning of 2022.”

She said organisations clearly needed to shift away from in-person fundraisers and towards online campaigns.

Some campaigns can take off online.

She suggested deploying matched campaigns with the help of larger sponsors, online challenges and events, peer-to-peer crowdfunding supported by community leaders using CrowdRaiser or other tools, or inventive online campaigns such as the “poorly drawn pet portraits” campaign by the RSPCA Victoria.

And she suggested that while PAFs were harder to win funds from, many trusts and funds would be sympathetic to approaches from groups that had previously won their support.

McAuley Community Services for Women, a Melbourne-based organisation which helps support women and children facing family violence and homelessness, is thankful for its small army of loyal backers – including private funds – as well some newer supporters.

Jocelyn Bignold
Jocelyn Bignold

McAuley saw donations and bequests increase in the past financial year.

CEO Jocelyn Bignold said the organisation’s regular donors and workplace givers provided “consistent, reliable and regular income”.

“Our regular donors are continuing to support us where they can, which we’re extremely grateful for. We are very aware that many are facing their own challenges at this time.”

Asked for her fundraising suggestions for other organisations, Ms Bignold said, “My greatest tip would be to keep up communications with your existing contacts. Tell stories where you can, provide updates and opportunities for contact.”

And finally, Ms Truong said that cultivating supporters means, “Say thank you to every donor. Always.”

Top treasurers rely on a little help from their friends

Australia’s top community treasurers, recently crowned in the NFP Treasurers’ Awards, agree that members and long-term supporters can be your greatest asset in tough times.

Portuguese Australian Women’s Association treasurer Liliana Almeida said the volunteer-run organisation encouraged members to pay their dues on time in a move that maintained its cash flow.

“We asked everyone to pay their memberships on time and in full, while also inviting donations – some through direct deposits,” Ms Almeida said.

RTR-FM treasurer Catherine Pazvakavambwa said the organisation relied heavily on its regular listeners for support during the pandemic.

And Perth community radio station RTR-FM treasurer Catherine Pazvakavambwa said it was rusted-on listeners who came to the rescue during the pandemic, with the station’s 2020 annual membership drive “giving us the confidence boost that people cared”.

“It’s been one of the strongest ones we’ve had.”

While the station initially budgeted for 25% of normal takings and forecast a “best case” scenario of 50%, its members’ pledges vastly exceeded those forecasts, promising $60,000 up on previous years.

The organisation was hoping for a similar response from its 2021 radiothon.

In Sydney, The Sanctuary – The Hills Women’s Shelter was surprised by a 10–20% spike in donations by supporters earlier in the pandemic, including “large cash donations” during the first lockdowns.

Treasurer Harry Edwards said the pandemic prompted the shelter to make it easier for its supporters to make contact-free donations. It used Facebook and other social media to call for gift cards and financial donations, used the Our Community donations platform GiveNow to seek regular donations from supporters, and created secure drop-off points for in-kind donations at the local shopping centre.

Platypus Flickr credit Klaus
A collaboration between UNSW, WWF-Australia, Taronga Zoo and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service aims to return platypuses to wilderness areas where they've not been seen for decades. Picture: Klaus on Flickr (licence CC BY-SA 2.0)

Borrow the best ideas from the sector and get collaborating

Fundraising Institute Australia nominated three examples of innovation and collaboration that have worked in the most challenging fundraising environment for many years.

“We’re seeing an increasing willingness and even desire for innovation in collaboration as a sector, in fundraising, and in service and program delivery as well,” FIA chief Katherine Raskob said.

Emergency Action Alliance combines forces

The Emergency Action Alliance has combined the knowledge, expertise and resources of 16 of Australia’s leading humanitarian charities to respond to major disasters. Launched in August 2021, the group allocates funds to the charities best able to deliver aid in each emergency, allowing those charities to rapidly scale up operations on the ground, and help more people.

“Importantly, for a very generous nation like Australia, it helps to eliminate the confusion about what charity to donate to when disaster strikes and provides a single, trustworthy way to make an impact,” Ms Raskob said.

UNHCR and Islamic Relief

In another joint effort during 2021, Australia for UNHCR and Islamic Relief Australia worked to maximise the impact of the charities on the needs of displaced people. Their first project was to assist in the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

Taronga Zoo, WWF with UNSW and NSW National Parks and Wildlife

In this collaboration, UNSW researchers are teaming up with WWF-Australia, Taronga Zoo and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service to bring platypuses back into the Royal National Park, where they haven’t been seen in almost 50 years.

Include a Charity campaign

Gifts in wills account for nearly 20% of the value of all fundraising, but the advent of covid-19 has seen the value of gifts steadily dropping. More than 100 charities and the FIA have combined to stem the trend with a social change campaign – Include a Charity – to remind Australians about the importance of their legacy. This year the campaign deployed a quiz to highlight the issue, titled “What Kind of Legend Are You?” It’s a forward-looking campaign, given that the value of gifts in wills is expected to recover strongly in coming years.

“Gifts in wills play a very important role for the longevity of Australia’s charities, many of whom have experienced the impacts of COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in a decline in donations and other support, despite the increase in demand during this time,” said Ms Raskob.

Consider a readymade campaign, such as Giving Tuesday

The FIA has backed the Giving Tuesday campaign as a great way to surf onto an existing wave of generosity. The campaign is a global effort with the backing of some of the world’s biggest digital platforms, philanthropists and celebrities. The date was first conceived as an antidote to the US pre-Christmas spending sprees known as Black Friday and Cyber Monday and the event raised more than $US3 billion in 2020.

This year, Giving Tuesday falls on November 30. Here are the Funding Centre’s tips on making the most of it.

Giving Tuesday is largely a social media campaign, which brings us to our next recommendation: "embrace the tools of fundraising". We'll look at that in the next edition of Our Community Matters.

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