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Innovative fundraising: What we can learn from the charities pushing fundraising forward

19 January 2021

Twenty-twenty was the year that charity sector innovation changed from a nice-to-have to an essential. As COVID-19 forced fund-raising online, hard-working teams were challenged to embrace fresh ideas as donations from IRL (in real life) events disappeared.

Here’s how they did it, and how you can replicate their success. 

1. Samaritans: Launching The Feel-good Book Club

Forward-thinking charities are looking beyond traditional fundraising appeals for fresh ways to engage donors. For Samaritans that meant investing in a new paid-for subscription service.

“We wanted to connect with new donors in a creative way,” Says Ella Geraghty Innovation Project Manager at the charity. “As a result we decided to launch The Feel-Good Book Club in April 2020. Subscribers pay to receive a carefully curated book and wellbeing gifts with all the proceeds going to Samaritans. It’s an opportunity for us to think outside the box (excuse the pun!).”

Top tip

Doing something new meant seeking support outside of the charity, as Ella explains.

“We focused on developing relationships with outside contractors with specialisms that we didn’t necessarily have in-house,” she says.

2. SpecialEffect: winning donations through Twitch

Attracting young and passionate donors has always been a worry for charities. But thanks to the necessity of staying at home, online streaming platform Twitch came into its own as a way to super-charge donations by connecting with young gamers.

For the uninitiated, Twitch is similar to YouTube, but focused on live-streaming and featuring an easy-to-use donation mechanism. It has the power to pull in big numbers. In February 2020, disability charity SpecialEffect raised £140,000 through a gaming marathon live-streamed on the platform, highlighting its potential for good.

Top tip

Make it easy for gamers to get what they need to stream for your charity on Twitch. Mind has online resources providing gamers branded collateral to help them connect with your cause.

3. Guide Dogs: reframing events online

With live events cancelled, shifting activities online seemed a smart idea in 2020. Yet, fundraisers were faced with a challenge beyond the tech: how could they keep energy levels high among a community weary of spending all day on screens? 

In response, Guide Dogs decided to reframe their annual tea party fundraiser. By turning it into a Guinness World Record attempt for the world’s biggest virtual tea party, they were able to tap into a challenge element that gave the day a new focus. More than 5,000 people posted images of their parties online and made donations, helping to pull in invaluable income.

Top tip:

Rather than translating an event online, think about how it could work in a new context. Challenges add energy while sharing experiences digitally gives people a chance to come together around your cause.

4. Crohn’s & Colitis UK: Energising online quizzes

During lockdown, online quizzes came into their own. Crohn’s and Colitis UK won quite a coup by getting Chris Tarrant to host theirs in May 2020.

“That early lockdown period felt like a real leveller in terms of accessing celebrities,” says Paul Allen, director at creative agency Lark, who helped the charity produce the quiz alongside Havas Faze.

“There was a strong connection, as a member of Chris’s family lives with Crohn’s – and he created a personal JustGiving page so the charity could fundraise through his networks too.”

The quiz, which was broadcast over Facebook and YouTube, raised over £10,000, with a suggested donation of £3 per player.

Top tip:

“Making the quiz accessible is so important,” says Paul. “That’s about taking the time to think hard about the audience experience, and how easy it is for them to engage with your content. The charity also decided to pre-record the quiz rather than have it totally live. I think that led to a much better experience for supporters.” 

Looking to the future

The post-vaccine world (and Zoom fatigue) may lead to a partial return to IRL fundraising. But it’s worth thinking about the new supporters charities are now reaching through innovative initiatives.

‘Business as usual’ may be a huge relief, and a chance to rebuild, yet it will be essential to capitalise on new ideas to reach the donors that aren’t currently being engaged by traditional fundraising.

Image: Vinícius Vieira ft on Pexels


Matt Chittock

copywriter, freelance

Matt Chittock is an experienced copywriter, journalist and proofreader working in the not-for-profit sector.