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Fundraising during Coronavirus – Maintaining and building your relationship with supporters

17 April 2020

Coronavirus presents a huge challenge for charities and their fundraising teams. Events have been cancelled or postponed, many companies are facing financial challenges and individual supporters may be worried about their jobs or investments. At the same time, demand for many charities’ services has never been higher, particularly those working in health, domestic violence or foodbanks.

It’s crucial that charities keep fundraising – and keep communicating with their supporters. Charities need to be nimble and respond to the changing environment but without knee-jerking into rushed fundraising that wouldn’t be as successful.

Three key trends for charities to respond to as we adapt to social distancing

  • Most people respond to a crisis with generosity – they want to help. There’s been a huge response to calls for NHS volunteers, neighbours helping each other with shopping, and now we’re seeing isolation fundraising springing up as people set about raising money for causes they care about.
  • We’re all at home and in need of ways to occupy our time. This gives charities the best opportunity in decades to talk to their supporters by phone, email, post and social media.
  • People want to support charities right now and want to support causes most connected with coronavirus (NHS charities, foodbanks, vaccine research) but also the causes they have always been passionate about.

So how can charities best adjust to coronavirus? Here are six ideas:

1. Keep communicating with supporters as those who are currently committed to your charity are most likely to continue/ or restart their support in future. It’s vital to take them with you by updating them on how you’re responding to the situation and reminding them their support is more important than ever. If your charity is furloughing staff, explain why this is necessary and how it’s being done.

RNLI’s “You’re part of the crew” social media post was a great example of taking your supporters with you.

2. Use different means of communication. As most of us are at home, more of your supporters than ever before can take a phone call, open a letter or read an email. Think about if your staff working at home could do stewardship calls to build relationships with supporters and boost and retain their support. Or depending on your budgets, can you continue or expand planned direct mail activity or invest more time in producing great engaging email content to keep your donors updated.

3. Use virtual channels in an innovative way to engage and cultivate your supporters. Some charities have held zoom meetings or conference calls with their large donors and their CEOs to talk through their response to coronavirus and take questions. Webinars can be a great way to showcase an area of your charity’s work, seeking questions and comments via social media.

We can take an example from other sectors – The National Theatre streamed a recording of One Man, Two Guvnors and raised £50,000 in donations. What content does your charity have or could produce which you could stream or upload?

4. Use messenger and chat technology to engage with your supporters and build long-term relationships. Supporters welcome messenger conversations as they are initiated by them so aren’t seen as intrusive, while chat discussions are low cost and simple to set up. We can also use this technology to seek crucial insight and feedback on how supporters are reacting to coronavirus and how they view their support for charities in the future.

5. Help your supporters organise their own fundraising from home. Charity runners are setting themselves challenges like running a half or full marathon in their back garden. They’ve shared content on their social media feeds with regular updates and are raising five or six-figure sums from these garden challenges.

A great example is James Campbell’s 6 Metre Garden Marathon, which has now raised over £27k for NHS Charities and the incredible amount raised (over £12 million at time of writing) by 99-year-old Tom Moore doing 100 laps of his garden for his 100th Birthday.

Tips on how charities can help their supporters maximise this type of isolation fundraising:

6. Consider virtual events. These can be successful fundraisers, but work in a very specific way and a current physical event can’t be automatically translated into a digital event. Any new virtual event needs to be developed and tested carefully.

Key trends to tap into now are gaming, with gamers raising money through gaming challenges or marathons, or gamers with big followers doing live streams. Virtual events that give people the opportunity to connect with friends and family (such as quizzes) are also proving popular.

While this is a challenging time for fundraising, it’s important to remember that your supporters haven’t stopped wanting to give or raise money – the crisis is preventing them from doing that. Digital technology is enabling all of us to connect in ways, which would have been impossible even ten years ago. By adapting your communications to social distancing, you can keep building relationships with supporters so they can continue to help your charity now and feel closer and more engaged with you when the lockdown eases.

For campaign ideas see – Inspiring virtual charity fundraiser ideas

Photo: Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels

Catherine Miles

fundraising consultant, freelance

Catherine Miles is a freelance fundraising consultant ( She was previously Fundraising Director at Anthony Nolan, Breast Cancer Now and Battersea.