Fundraising and Communication 

by Gemma Pettman

September 9,  2020

Fundraising may seem like an unusual topic for a panel discussion for comms pros, but those of us who work alongside fundraisers - or have income generation as part of our role - will know how intricately linked the disciplines are. 

Having received a raft of questions from members about fundraising comms following an event earlier this summer, the CIPR Not-for-Profit committee assembled a panel of experienced communicators and fundraisers to share their knowledge and tips. 

The current fundraising climate

We began by looking at the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on fundraising and Mike Zywina, Director of Lime Green Consulting, spoke about trends he had noticed. While many people have been adversely affected, Mike advised against assuming everyone is struggling with money problems. This is backed up by a recent Opinium poll which indicated a third of people who have supported a charity during lockdown have donated more money than usual while 15% are volunteering more of their time. 
Mike felt it was important that we “keep being sensitive about asking people for money but don’t project our own concerns and discomfort onto donors as there are plenty of people who are keen to do something to help.”

The benevolent fund, Foothold, starting proactively fundraising in the middle of lockdown. Fliss Rook, the charity’s Fundraising Manager, found segmentation be important. Foothold excluded people in receipt of support from the charity from its crisis appeal ask and instead encouraged them to lend their voice and stories to the campaign. 

Foothold took a traditional direct mail approach but for many, reaching new donors via digital means is both appealing and essential. Fliss Rook encouraged charities to focus on refining their approach, be clear on their unique selling points and look at how they can add value to their audiences to create relationships that will benefit fundraising efforts longer term.

Digital fundraising

In less than six months, and during a global pandemic, the British Red Cross grew its following on TikTok to more than 380,000 followers. In doing so they reached younger audiences and raised over £90,000. 

Nana Crawford, the charity’s Social Media Manager, urged charities not to be scared of new channels explaining: “they can help you to understand what your audience wants to know” and that knowledge helps you to connect better. 

Nana’s team initially experimented with different types of content, including creating a video of a dog being pushed around in wheelchair to highlight the charity’s wheelchair loan service. The video generated lots of positive comments; regularly reading comments can provide a guide as to how well content has been received.
When British Red Cross joined Tik Tok it was a case of ‘giving it a go’. Nana said: “The original goal was to get on the platform, have a bit of fun and see if people want to know about us. If it had gone the other way and didn’t work we could have paused, taken a break or moved on. It doesn’t really matter.” 
The content that took off was the charity’s myth-busting approach to coronavirus; one video had 42 million views. Having grown their audience, the charity trialled Tik Tok’s donation button and then had to focus on their strategy to keep the channel exciting and give people a
reason to donate. You can read more about the British Red Cross’ Tik Tok success here but Nana offered three top tips for reaching new donors via digital platforms: 

Don’t fear trying something new – either experimenting with a new platform or a new tool within that platform
Try not to take content creation too seriously – there is often room for humour
Listen to feedback and use it to create more of the material your audience is interested in

The relationship between comms and fundraising 

Fliss Rook explained how comms staff can enable and empower fundraising staff to support them by, for example, making sure templates and brand toolkits are available and there is clarity around key messages. Practical support might also include guides on taking videos for social media and tips on creating relevant and useable content for social media channels. 

Mike Zywina added that where fundraising fails it’s often because the fundraiser is left to get on with the task on their own. He advised sharing impact data with the wider staff and volunteering team and encouraging them to share leads for potential case studies or stories, posting details of the charities events on their own social media, volunteering at events and celebrating success as a team. 

In most non-profit organisations, storytelling is crucial both in explaining need and sharing impact, but it comes with a duty of care to the person who is sharing their story. Fliss Rook explained that frontline workers can often – and rightly - feel protective of beneficiaries and suggested: 

Making storytelling an organisational priority and part of the strategy
Helping staff to understand the value of stories and why they need to be told
Having ‘storytelling champions’ from different parts of the organisation who can help to highlight stories and leads

Learning from the last few months

In the final segment of the panel discussion we asked the panellists what they had learned from the last six months.

Mike Zywina felt that while it had been a challenging time, it hadn’t been without its opportunities and good news. He said: “The organisations that are going to do best over the next few months are those who won’t just rush back to normal and instead reflect on what they have tried and how that has enabled them to reach new people in different ways.”

Nana Crawford said: “We’re scared to dip our toes into new water and we’re too hard on ourselves when things don’t work which means we take fewer risks.” She felt the period had reaffirmed that there is no harm in trying new things and learning from them. 

Having launched a fundraising campaign during lockdown, Fliss Rook said: “It would have been very easy to not do that but it has us to keep asking, to do that sensitively and to give people different ways to get involved.” She added: “Position everything as a test and keep learning.”

Gemma Pettman is Vice Chair of the CIPR Not-for-Profit Group and an accredited independent PR Advisor.

CIPR Members can log 5 CPD points for attending or watching the event. Search ‘fundraising’ on the CIPR CPD ladder to watch the webinar on demand and log your CPD points.