A Year Like No Other

photo Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash

I know we’ll all be happily shot of 2020 at this point but before we do let’s take stock of where the fundraising world stands at the end of this tumultuous year.

Since March we have I think gone through a number of stages in terms of how the charity sector has responded to the pandemic.

First we had the emergency stage. All organisations responded to the immediate crisis, the new demands on their services, the hits on their income, the pivots to home working and new delivery models. This took most organisations up to around June. It was an exhausting but adreniline fuelled period.

Over the summer we had a pause to catch breath, assess the longer term implications of this crisis and begin to plan for the future. There was a grappling with bigger issues, the asking of more existential questions as many charities begin to think about what their missions and service models looked like in a Covid world. The work was less immediately urgent but in different ways just as intense. While many charities were pleasantly surprised by how well their income from the areas not directly impacted by the crisis has held up, in quite a number of cases even increasing swelled by successful emergency appeals.

There was still enormous concern but also the signs of a future that was hopeful even exciting.

Then the second wave came. For many organisations they were knocked back again, forced to readjust but with leaders and staff now very tired and struggling to retain focus and motivation. Second lockdown and renewed furloughs have slowed or reversed progress in many charities.

So where are we now, coming out into a world of tiers that will take us until the spring (at least)?

Well we know the vaccines are coming soon and the path out of this nightmare is becoming increasingly clear. The economy has taken a really hard beating and the pain is by no means over. But many people have money and will be spending it soon. As charity Xmas appeals land, we will see how donors respond. Overall, I’m optimistic.

All this year we have seen that those organisations who have responded most effectively to this crisis have seen their fundraising do extremely well. Across different sectors, charities who have made the case for their relevance in a Covid world and executed compelling fundraising campaigns have had really strong results. We’ve seen this across many of our clients, from the largest international NGOs to small local charities. Results across fundraising channels, digital, DRTV, direct mail have often been excellent. Restarted face to face activity where it is possible is also working well.  This seems to be continuing, the results we have seen for Xmas appeals that AAW Audience is implementing are very strong, seven exceptionally so. We are seeing positive first year ROIs on acquisition, particularly on digital across a number of different causes.

We’ve also seen charities respond to the crisis by accelerating transformational change in how they work and communicate. We’ve never worked on so many Big Ideas for nonprofits where we are developing major new appeals or completely new fundraising approaches. We are really excited about the big projects we’ll be helping take to market in 2021.

Interestingly, we also have organisations who are looking to introduce fundraising for the first time. For the ones we are helping this is a response more to market opportunities than Covid challenges.

Of course there are plenty of losers and I don’t want to minimise the severity of the impacts on very many charities. Like everyone else, we are working with some organisations who have taken massive hits from the crisis. But often the pandemic has acted as an accelerant to changes that were already long overdue. The business models of very many nonprofits were under severe stress well before the crisis. We are helping a number to develop, at pace, new approaches and new organisational structures to enable them to become much more effective in all aspects of their performance. And find the people with the skills, expertise and attitude required to succeed in the new world.

Nobody wants to repeat 2020. Ever again. But as it ends, there are real sign of a charity sector that is emerging with new ideas, new approaches and refreshed missions. This new sector can achieve more impact and make more change happen than the one that entered the pandemic. In 2021 we hope to see the results that we will all achieve together.

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