In 2022 we experienced the first (nearly) year of post-pandemic fundraising.
If anyone was hoping for a return to ‘normal’ they must have been sorely disappointed. We went straight from the Black Death to a major war in Europe, which was swiftly accompanied by rampant inflation and a cost-of-living crisis. Oh, and the planet’s on fire.
It all makes us in our jobs as fundraisers look rather small and insignificant. But the fact is there is more need of us than ever as pressure on non-profits to respond to the multiple crises continues to increase. And in 2022 fundraisers were severely tested to find ever more resources when all sources of funding have become more and more constrained.
In many ways it has been surprising that fundraising has held up in recent years as most economies have seen falling real incomes for most people. Many charities did well during Covid as existing supporters really rallied to causes that were relevant in the crisis and/or impacted by it.
2022 though, was hard. There is evidence of falling giving. In the UK, CAF’s surveys show significantly fewer people making donations compared to previous years, extrapolating this to four million fewer people donating during the Christmas period compared to previous years. This might be a bit overstated – evidence we have seen has been of charity Christmas appeals doing fairly well, however, results earlier in the year were often pretty dire.
Charities who had rediscovered the value of individual giving programmes in Covid found it very hard to produce anything like the results of 2021, let alone 2020. A lot of money went into digital fundraising programmes that failed to deliver although this was as often because of a lack of the key technical and organisational enablers being in place as it was about the market.
As always there have been big gaps between winners and losers. There has been massive giving to Ukraine – the DEC appeal has raised £390m, the highest since the 2004 Asian Tsunami (and it may exceed it). However, the appeal for the Pakistan floods in September only raised around 5% of that figure.
As with Covid, those organisations that have proved relevant in the cost-of-living crisis have done really well. The UK food bank sector, which didn’t exist before 2010, continues to grow very fast with organisations such as FareShare and Trussell Trust but also many smaller charities raising very significant sums and developing individual giving programmes as a result.
For those charities which are less directly relevant to the causes of the day, the outlook is very challenging. But there is still plenty that they can do to ensure that they can raise what they need to meet the demands on them.
All of the events of the last two and a half years have confirmed what we know about the essentials of successful fundraising.
It is about having absolute clarity of what difference your charity makes in the world and turning that into as strong and emotionally engaging a Case for Support as you can.
It is about knowing the individuals who will care most about your cause and making yourself relevant and accessible to them. We need to stop talking at our audiences and start listening to them.
It is about sorting out organisations to have the right people with the best skills and experience empowered to make the decisions that matter. And equipping them with the tools and technology they need to do the job. The people who don’t have the right skills or expertise need to get out of the way.
There must be a plan, and the commitment to stick to it. And then find all the resources you can to invest in success.
Above all, there has to be a culture that allows people to try stuff, to learn, adapt and succeed.
The world might be on fire (literally), but successful fundraising is still possible. There are some great examples out there. But there isn’t room for complacency or laziness anymore.
2023 will undoubtedly see many non-profit losers but there will be winners too. We know what it takes to be one of them. It is up to the leadership of organisations to make that happen.