A woman with the British Red Cross takes a day away from the office to solicit for donations in front of the Liverpool Street Tube Station in London
A woman with the British Red Cross takes a day away from the office to solicit for donations in front of the Liverpool Street Tube Station in London.

Is 2021 the end of ‘business as usual’ public fundraising models?

Since the pandemic began, fundraising directors around the world have had to rethink their strategies, budgets and models.

In its latest report, NCVO projects a decline across all voluntary income sources in 2021/22, following a year of volatile statutory funding changes, and increased demand for services.

So how are organisations adapting to the crisis? Some have used cash reserves to survive. Some had to furlough team members, others rapidly shifted budgets into online channels, and many did all this without the systems and partners in place to be able to pivot at the speed required.

While the vaccine rollout springs hope and optimism, many are still wondering whether the plan for 2021/22 and beyond really is a slow return to “business as usual”.

As the year unfolds, the reality is that this continues to be a leadership challenge unlike any we’ve ever seen. But in an age of “adapt to survive”, it is also an opportunity to make big transformative changes which reimagine our funding models, sparking the kind of bravery only a few had before.

But not everyone has lost income, and not every organisation is in the same boat – what they have in common, though, is how they’re creating the “new normal” for fundraising from the public.

The end of the planning cycle and budget allocations as we knew them

Fundraisers are trained to plan their year, allocate budget to specific channels, and for the most part, stick to the plan. 2020-21 has shown that nothing follows a plan anymore. And yet many organisations are trying to get back to this model.

Yet the organisations that used budget fluidly, moving it between teams, channels and even between markets and affiliates are the ones that had the best success, with some even growing through the pandemic. For any organisations that work with emergency relief, scaling rapid response campaigns, with flexible investment according to results, should be at the core of budget planning.

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The focus should therefore be on building agile organisational culture and processes, rather than focussing on three-month plans. It’s not easy to make the shift, but it’s worth it, as the organisation can then sustain any shifts in the landscape and adapt the programme in real time.

The end of face-to-face fundraising as we know it

Despite many organisations having to rapidly shift budgets when face-to-face fundraising took a hiatus in 2020, many are now planning to bring their fundraisers back. But why?

The whole sector complained about the leaky bucket / churn and burn challenges of face-to-face fundraising for years. It didn’t work for us before, so why would we reinstate the old normal instead of building a new normal? We need to look now at creating strong and sustainable fundraising models that grow voluntary funding while diversifying audiences and acquisition sources using technology, and leaning into the behaviours of our audiences.

The sector has seen and felt, painfully, the risks of over-reliance on only one or two income streams. Many, like our largest clients, are making the shifts, and making them permanent. This ensures the future fundraising portfolio is diversified enough to sustain further disruption. We wish these digital pioneers were the many, not the few.

The beginning of new global fundraising products, and a decolonised model of fundraising

Alongside the shift to new channels and audiences, many charities and NGOs are pursuing new products and models of fundraising to move away from the traditional propositions.

Whether this is due to an ethical stance and wish to decolonise the way they raise money, or simply to meet different segments where they are, many of our clients are continuously reviewing their fundraising portfolios for how they speak to different people, and how they embed innovation going forward.

We’re seeing a swell of prize-led and value exchange products, alongside identity-based programmes and propositions that use connection and unity with those affected by the pandemic in different countries. These are performing extremely well, and often beating the traditional NGO proposition.

If we now live in a new world, should we keep using old ways of inspiring support for our causes?

Join us for the webinar Fundraising after Covid-19: diversifying income and scaling with digital, where we will explore how the world’s largest INGOs are diversifying their voluntary funding portfolios and growing their income through responsive appeals, channel expansion and product innovation.