How can fundraisers harness the passion the general election created for their own causes?
Elections are a lightning rod for nearly all of the issues that charities work on, and as a national event raise emotions and energy like little else. Daniel Fluskey, Head of Policy and External Affairs, says the week after a seismic election result, the challenge for fundraisers is how to keep people engaged with these issues.
It’s almost a week on from what was a pretty seismic election result. Combined with the season of Christmas parties, end of year fundraising, and present buying, it probably feels to many that the seasonal break cannot come soon enough (although of course so many colleagues, particularly in the social care sector, will be working and volunteering all through the next two weeks).
While it is of course too soon to tell what exactly the new Government under Boris Johnson, and the now inevitable withdrawal from the EU, will bring for the charity sector, there was an immediate reaction that caught the eye. Following the polls closing, a marked rise in donations was reported – food banks and homelessness charities have seen a spike in gifts, as did Refuge which reported a 52% rise in donations since election day. We saw something similar in the US with the election of Donald Trump, where donations to organisations like the ACLU quadrupled membership and raised $120m dollars following the Presidential election.
Elections are a lightning rod for nearly all of the issues that charities work on, and as a national event raise emotions and energy like little else. With the system creating winners and losers, it is not surprising that the stirring up of this emotion needs to find somewhere to go, and in many cases it is channelled into support for a charity. If the party that you support hasn’t succeeded, then the ability to effect change on an issue that you care about might only be able to be realised through a charity that works on that cause.
'We don't want to just be ANYBODY's POST-BREAK-UP REBOUND ONE-NIGHT stand'
The increase in donations following elections shows the passion people have for the causes they care about; we should of course welcome the generosity and thank those who have given. But for fundraisers it also creates further opportunities: how can we harness that support so that it is more than a one-off and turns into longer engagement and support? We don’t want to just be anybody’s post-break-up rebound one-night stand – although if that’s how someone wants to give, then so be it!
What it brings home to me, again, is that moments matter. We’ve seen it time and time again, and this year was no exception: donations spiking within 24 hours of the election; the response to Notre Dame; the Amazon Rainforest fires; or donations to help after floods in Yorkshire; people are inspired and care – the challenge is to get their attention, and it’s hard to replicate the urgency of those appeals in ‘business as usual’ fundraising. Which is why ‘business as usual’ needs to be a phrase we push to the sidelines in charity fundraising – every appeal should delight and inspire; be fresh and say something new. It’s a bit of a daunting prospect, especially for stewardship of regular donors, but it has to be what we need to move towards, as we see the trend of spontaneous, supporter-centric relationships on their terms (not our internal email schedules) continue.
It is also what the sector as a whole needs to pivot towards as we confront the reality that is on the horizon for charities over 2020 and beyond – we need to find new supporters. Over the last year or so, charities have concentrated (not exclusively, obviously) on improving the experience of their current supporters – partly driven through regulatory changes as they tackled with GDPR, partly as a cultural shift in the sector as a whole. It was needed, and is working – figures from CAF show that those who give to charity are giving more. It was a strategic realignment of priorities for many, requiring investment and behavioural change. But we now need to start talking about that elephant in the room – how we capture the attention of people that aren’t close to us now, engage them with compelling content, stories, and experiences, and inspire them to donate. That’s the challenge for 2020 – a big ask perhaps, but one that I know our members are up for, and can deliver.
Daniel Fluskey is Head of Policy and External Affairs at the Institute of Fundraising.