Charities ramp up digital as mail and phone also return

charityTwo-thirds of charities have overhauled the way they communicate with supporters during lockdown, ushering in a new era of increased social media, and a return to direct mail and even telemarketing which many plan to stick with in the future.

So says a new study by Rapidata, an Access company, which releases new insights into charities’ experiences during the coronavirus pandemic, looking specifically at regular giving and asking how they adapted their fundraising.

The report, Navigating Times of Crisis to Protect Regular Giving, reveals that communications saw a general shift from donor acquisition to supporter stewardship, with increased impact reporting and thanking.

Almost a quarter of charities pre-empted regular donation cancellations by offering payment options such as skipping a month, taking a holiday or reducing their gift.

Use of digital channels skyrocketed, with 71% of respondents increasing their use of social media and 62% email. Online events saw the biggest increase in first-time use, and traditional channels of telephone and direct mail also saw use greatly increased, with in-person fundraising activities out of action.

As well as revealing the extent to which lockdown measures have accelerated charities’ use of digital channels, with 75% expecting to continue this increased use, the report finds that barriers to digital uptake still impede some.

The report also reinforces the importance of regular giving’s cushioning role during a crisis as a sustainable income stream that can afford a charity valuable time to react and adjust; as well as the critical nature of a supporter-centric approach for deepening relationships and protecting regular giving income.

A quarter (24%) of those surveyed increased their use of the telephone to thank supporters and reinvigorate relationships, while social media, additional impact reporting and “thank-you” mailings were the top three activities used to tackle attrition.

Pancreatic Cancer UK saw around double its usual rate of attrition in the first week of lockdown and a higher than usual level of unsubscribes among regular supporters. In response it took to the phone.

The charity’s senior individual giving manager Shannon Pinder said: “We went into high touch communications with the phone, using personal stories to talk about the pandemic and illustrate how the need was greater than ever. We also offered a payment holiday as an alternative to leaving.

“While we didn’t see much take up for that, over a third of those we spoke to upgraded. Through this approach we received a much more positive response than if we’d kept these supporters on the normal charity journey.”

Almost half (49%) of all charities expect to continue using channels they had shunned used before lockdown, with three-quarters (75%) saying their will continue their increased use of digital. However, nearly a quarter (23%) would like to make more use of digital but lack the skills or resources, while just under a fifth (17%) are impeded by lack of budget.

Rapidata lead Scott Gray, who is also head of payments for the Access Group, said: “The past few months have been wrought with challenges for the charity sector. Although it’s been immensely encouraging to find regular supporters mostly sticking with their chosen charities despite their own difficulties. And to see charities themselves innovating and adjusting their strategies to reach out and deepen those vital relationships.

“To protect regular giving for the future, an increased and dedicated focus on supporter centricity and strategic diversification will be essential. Part this is innovative approaches coupled with greater investment in digital transformation. While we all hope to avoid another pandemic, what’s certain is that other crises and recessions will occur. It’s critical then that charities prepare for this by learning from others’ experiences and taking action to mitigate future risk.”

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