How charities can use digital technology to boost fundraising during the COVID-19 pandemic

Rapidata, which supports charities with the management, collection and processing of direct debits, published a key report called Navigating Times of Crisis to Protect Regular Giving, which looks at the impact of COVID-19 on fundraising. Charities including Marie Curie, WaterAid, Starlight Children’s Foundation and Prostate Cancer UK were surveyed in June 2020 to find out their experiences of fundraising during the pandemic and discover how they’ve adapted. This is a critical time for charities as regular supporters face employment uncertainty and may cut back on donations. Additionally, face-to-face fundraising came to an abrupt halt meaning charities lost out on the regular income streams that are the lifeblood for many. However, since charities are critical for many vulnerable people, and the lockdown has made issues acute, this positively influenced giving behaviour in some areas.

How charities can use digital technology to boost fundraising during the COVID-19 pandemi

In 2016, 7.2% of overall fundraising was from online giving. During the pandemic, the non-profit sector had to make quick changes to benefit from the increased consumer use of digital channels. Charities are showing great resilience by increasing the use of digital fundraising. Preface Studios works with charities to help boost their digital presence – whether it’s a website, social media campaign or using marketing automation to engage supporters.

We’ve seen the charities we work with adapt quickly to keep money coming in and continue to support users, and digital technology is playing a key role in this. In this article, we outline the key trends affecting fundraising during the coronavirus pandemic, showcase some best-practice techniques being used by charities and talk to local Surrey charity, Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice Care.

Here are some key takeaways from the report:

  • It’s estimated that the not-for-profit sector could see a £12.4bn shortfall in income for 2020
  • 84% of charities reported a decrease in total income during the lockdown
  • The direct debit cancellation rate was 41% higher in March 2020 compared with March 2019
  • The crisis magnified focus on a supporter-centric approach for building relationships and protecting regular donations
  • Lockdown measures have accelerated charities’ increased use of digital channels and reinforced the need for digital transformation
  • Social media and email saw the biggest increases, followed by online advertising and online virtual events
  • Around half of respondents expect to continue using channels they hadn’t used before lockdown
  • 75% plan to continue their increased use of digital but for some a lack of skills, resources or budget may be a barrier to this
  • 67% of respondents changed how they communicate with regular givers
  • To replace planned events, 16% turned to virtual events
  • Charities reported that stewardship has to play an increasing role in retaining donors and nurturing support relationships.


Image from United Nations COVID-19 Response


Digital fundraising in action

We have pulled together a selection of initiatives used by charities during 2020 to showcase the creative use of digital platforms:

  • Online selling for high street charity shops – many of the charities that rely on local donations were hit when they were unable to take donations or open shops. Some, like the British Heart Foundation, already have a big eBay operation and others have extended their offering online too.
  • Online events – online fundraising events and campaigns have brought people comfort and a sense of fun. Comic Relief ran a Dungeons and Dragons live stream in May through Tiltify, which raised £33,000. Other events like GlastHOMEbury adapted and raised money for Mind, NSPCC, NHS Charities Together, Trussell Trust, and Refuge.
  • Going virtual – other regular campaigns had to be adapted to engage audiences online. The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association’s annual tea party moved online and encouraged supporters to post selfies with a cuppa.
  • Sporting events – many charities raise money through sporting challenges, the biggest of these is the London Marathon, which should have taken place on 26 April. In 2019 the event raised £66.4 million for charities; in light of its cancellation this year, the online fundraiser alternative, the #twopointsixchallenge raised more than £11m for charity.
  • Social media – Starlight Children’s Foundation’s hadn’t used digital for fundraising before and it created an urgent appeal using a video, which it shared through social channels explaining the need for its services and the impact on children who are seriously ill. Using hospital footage, alongside a stripped back DM campaign, the campaign results were double the original target. Charities can also reach a wider audience and increase donors through boosting campaigns by setting challenges on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter.
  • Relationship fundraising – to replace its annual Daffodil appeal, Marie Curie Cancer Care ran an urgent appeal to increase giving among current regular supporters. The options for donors were to increase donations temporarily or in the long-term, or to reduce donations for those in financial difficulty. Offering these choices was a great tactic; the charity had a 20% response rate and gifts from respondents were 50% higher than normal.
  • Optimised donation – it’s vital to get your digital infrastructure right. Charities need slick websites that provide a clear journey for both users who need to access support and to enable easy donations. Without optimised donation website pages for one-off payments or for direct debits, charities will miss out. When the Alzheimer’s Society worked on improving the donor journey it researched online browsing habits and reactions and created a tailored, campaign-specific donor journey with different payment options. This led to a 73% increase in donation and conversion rates up from 22% to 65%. Utilising contactless payment when collecting, especially if collecting cash is not Covid-secure, is a fast and easy way to boost income.
  • Marketing automation – regular email sequences combined with online advertising can support stewardship. ClientEarth used social media advertising, alongside PPC, to engage support via a petition and email sign-up to share convincing information sequences before asking for a donation.

Image from United Nations COVID-19 Response


How has Surrey charity Phyllis Tuckwell used digital tools effectively?

Phyllis Tuckwell is a well-established Farnham charity that does some great work. We spoke to Tony Carpenter, Director of Marketing and Communications at Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice Care to discuss how they went about fundraising and embraced digital during the coronavirus pandemic. Phyllis Tuckwell is a Farnham-based charity that has been supporting patients and families in West Surrey and North East Hampshire for 40 years. It needs to raise over £20,000 every day to continue its amazing services.

During the pandemic, the charity had to quickly innovate as its Dash of Colour run, Classic Motor Show and Open Garden events, among others, were cancelled. Instead, the charity hosted regular PT Gets Quizzical online events (raising nearly £10,000). It’s also running Dash of Colour – Do It Your Way and challenging supporters to design their own colourful challenges. Lockdown laughter nights, converting open gardens to virtual garden events and a virtual balloon race, which takes into account real weather conditions, have also addressed cancellations.

Through increased use of email, direct mail and social media, appeals that are sensitive to supporters’ employment and money worries have even increased donations during the past months as supporters see the big events cancelled. Other awareness-raising activities have continued, like the Eagle £1,000 minute and the Tuckwell Chase Lottery, a joint venture with Shooting Star Children’s Hospice Care, which has adapted the way tickets are sold from door-to-door to online.

Tony shared his top tips for using digital:

  1. Take a blank piece of paper and think creatively, be brave and don’t discount any ideas.
  2. Digital is going to be a really big part of everything we do now and the pandemic has accelerated our digital transformation in terms of fundraising and other areas. We’ve learnt to adapt quickly and use tools like video conferencing, which we already used between our two buildings, but now also use it for patient triage and counselling.
  3. Adapt your website resources if you usually raise money or share information face-to-face. Our virtual memory meadow also enables people to buy a flower or butterfly as a dedication to a loved one. We’ve also made resources like bereavement support, videos and prayers available online. And we compiled our educational resources for healthcare professionals about end-of-life care and shared them online for easy access.
  4. If you have a team working remotely on fundraising, digital campaigns, marketing, or any other activities, it’s important to keep everyone engaged daily. I keep in touch with my team through Zoom and WhatsApp and help ensure they can create flexible work settings at home.

Tony told us, ‘It’s been really difficult, and we’ve quickly had to change the way we work. Fundraising is always tough, but we’ve found digital tools have helped us in both donation levels and in adapting our patient care. We are lucky enough to be in a good financial position and the Government grant we received has helped, however, I do think that we may see a bigger impact in three to six months when the consequences for the economy hits us.’

Image from United Nations COVID-19 Response


It’s worth also considering how using digital is a great way of targeting tech-savvy younger audiences too. A recent survey by reports that 32% Gen Z (those born in the late 1990s) donate their own money and have been nicknamed the ‘Philanthroteens’ due to their awareness of issues and willingness to donate and volunteer. As the Rapidata report concludes: ‘Moving forward, charities will need to have a strong presence online, in terms of dynamic websites, email campaigns and digital engagement with supporters through the main social media channels of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and now TikTok and the emerging channels to come.’

Helpful resources

If you’d like to find out more about making the most of digital channels to support your charity fundraising, please get in touch…


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