By Joe Jenkins, Executive Director of Engagement and Income Generation, The Children's Society
Reading through the numbers and analysis in the 2020 report on the Status of UK Fundraising, there is one line that leapt out at me:
“The mindset and culture of an organisation will have the greatest impact on their ability to adapt and continue to raise money, despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Above all else – cause, brand, geography, size, and scale – it is the approach that charities take to their fundraising in the year ahead that will make the biggest difference to their future success. This should be a note of great encouragement: you don’t have to be the biggest, you don’t require the deepest reserves, you don’t need the most fashionable cause. You DO need to lead with confidence and ambition, to lean into the crisis, invest in your fundraising and talented teams, and crucially recognise how your organisation must transform its approach.
I hope charity boards and executive teams will pay close attention to the lessons in this report. Strategy and culture are shaped by leadership. If charities are to navigate this crisis and continue to deliver their mission, we need our leaders to recognise the key factors that will be instrumental to successful income growth: first of all, relevance – to our cause, context and stakeholders; secondly, confidence – to inspire audiences, invest in diverse talented teams and believe our story told well is a story importantly told; thirdly, innovation – recognising that we need to re-think the assumptions that have underpinned our historic fundraising models, experiment with new ways to reach and engage future supporters, and harness technology to build support for our cause.
It is this mindset and approach that I believe has positively guided The Children’s Society through the first 100 days of the UK lockdown and resulted in achievements I would not have dared dream to be possible when the crisis first hit home. In the early days of the pandemic, the executive team considered our options: do we retreat, pause key projects, reduce investment in our communications and fundraising, in the hope we might survive the year? Or do we dig deep and throw everything we have at the challenge, in the belief that we need to keep our eyes on the future – launching an emergency appeal, innovating fast across a range of digital channels, while refreshing our vision, mission, brand, database, and website? I’m proud we took the latter path – and as a result, have far exceeded the stretch income targets we bravely set while learning a whole lot about how to reach, inspire and engage both existing and new supporters. The feedback we’ve had from supporters has been remarkably profound and moving too – people needed to connect and give; we’ve stood together through this crisis and are stronger as a result.
Of course, there is no overstating the scale of the impact that the pandemic has had and will continue to have on the charity sector. Without increased and targeted government support, we will lose many charities, others will be greatly reduced, and this will directly impact on the most vulnerable people in our society. Despite the tremendous fundraising success we’ve achieved at The Children’s Society, we’ve still lost many millions of planned income that creates new challenges for the future. But crucially, the leadership commitment to how we fundraise in the decade ahead is the key factor in the sustainability and growth impact of our sector. It is essential we learn these lessons now – and put them into practice as quickly as possible.