Picture credit: Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash
2020 has been a year of unparalleled change in the way that nonprofits approach fundraising. Fundraising Europe interviews three nonprofit representatives about the changes they have made behind the scenes to strengthen their fundraising programmes and drive success.
Nonprofits have adapted fast this year, reframing the fundraising world and taking the reins to trial new digital channels, deliver supportive messaging to donors and reaching out to new audiences for funds. And while the shift in fundraising channels is often what’s most visible, nonprofits are having to transform their approach behind the scenes; from the way teams interact to how projects are managed, and supporting staff as they adjust between office and home working.
As is so often the case in times of crisis, nonprofits are revolutionising their approach to team management for fundraising, finding innovative ways of working and – despite the challenges of the pandemic environment – achieving positive results.
Agile working practices centred around a common set of values
At Plan International Sweden, agile working practices were embedded across the fundraising and communications department at the start of the year, changing the way that teams are structured and how they manage the organisation’s branding, marketing, communication and fundraising. This meant that the charity was ready and able to adjust its work programmes when the coronavirus reached Sweden.
Mariann Eriksson, CEO of Plan International Sweden, says: “I’m conscious that in Sweden the pandemic hasn’t had such a heavy impact on our economy as it has in some other parts of Europe, but it’s certainly meant that we’ve had to change how we work.
“We’re incredibly lucky that we introduced a new agile way of working before the virus took hold. Taking inspiration from the IT sector, we adopted new working methods and tools, and we have been really impressed to see how efficient and how well they work for us. Then, when the pandemic hit, it was so much easier to take these working processes into the digital meeting rooms.”
She explained that their new processes included daily catch-up sessions and a weekly ‘sprint’ plan for project planning, along with opportunities for everyone in the team to contribute ideas.
Eriksson adds: “Having these structures in place, along with managers that continually reassess our priorities really helps.
“We restructured our teams so that, rather than having a siloed approach, we now have four value streams for our communications and fundraising department. One focuses on public affairs and media, another on recruiting and engaging donors, the third on retention while the fourth is a supporting stream, analysing data and using digital expertise to advise on how to develop the work of each of the other teams.
“All the managers’ roles changed. Rather than having responsibility for campaign development, they have a long-term strategic role, looking at what values each activity will bring and how to prioritise that activity. Within each team, we have a range of competencies, from media and digital fundraising specialists through to journalists and graphic designers.”
Asked what has been the outcome of this new approach, she says: “It’s given us clarity of focus and engaged co-workers across the organisation. It’s been great for personal development, with everyone understanding how they feed into the organisational and team goals.
“Although we budgeted for a decline of 5% in private fundraising this year due to COVID, so far, we’ve managed to grow our income and increase donor retention. The ability to move and change what we are doing quickly and confidently has been absolutely critical.”
A new generation of omni-channel fundraisers
In 2019 alone, Unicef recruited over half a million new supporters via face-to-face. Daniel McDonnell, Unicef’s Global Fundraising Specialist, describes the channel as ‘hugely important’ for the charity.
McDonnell says: “We’re always exploring how we can strengthen what we do, particularly when it comes to motivating and supporting our F2F fundraising teams. And yet, it was 2020 – with a global pandemic in our midst – when we really stepped up our approach to retention and improving our bottom line.”
As national markets shut down for weeks at a time, there has been huge amounts of uncertainty among fundraisers, particularly around what it means for them and their role.
He says: “We knew we couldn’t afford to lose good people or to have fundraisers sitting idly by. So, we transformed our approach to focus even more strongly on personal development, giving our fundraising teams a greater sense of purpose, while creating a more agile and risk averse fundraising capability.”
Asked what has been changed, he adds: “We’re investing heavily in training for fundraisers, while giving them opportunities to try their hand at new channels, campaigns and skills.
“This might mean trialling different sub-channels from the doorstep to street to shopping malls. Or it could be a case of transferring their skills to other dialogue channels of telemarketing and digital and, in many cases, outperforming their peers with better contact rates, higher conversion rates and average gift values.
“The plan is that, at any one time, 10-20% of our fundraisers are working as ‘explorer bees’, developing and testing new skills and techniques.”
What has been the impact of those changes?
McDonnell says: “It’s too early to say if this has boosted our team retention or our bottom line, and we’re yet to roll this out globally, but the general vibe across our fundraising teams is really positive; a busy, engaged and motivated team. And it’s certainly breaking down silos.
“Our fundraisers can see how much they are valued and that the skills they are developing are widely transferable. They are a new generation of omni-channel fundraisers and they know we want and need them to be a big part of Unicef’s future.”
This topic will be discussed further at this week’s free F2F Global Summit – Facing the Future on 5 November.
Unifying the organisation around a singular fundraising mission
For the Fondazione Sacra Famiglia Onlus, a foundation that runs assisted living facilities for chronically ill and disabled people in Northern Italy – the pandemic was a unifying force, giving everyone across the organisation one priority; preventing the virus from breaching its sites.
This wasn’t just a case of protecting their own, which include 11,900 people with some 1,700 in assisted living facilities (primarily elderly and all frail) and 2,000 employees (doctors, nurses, carers, cleaners and others), but of preventing hospitals in Lombardy and beyond from being overwhelmed. After all, if the coronavirus had spread through any of the foundation’s sites, every resident could have needed intensive care and death rates could have been catastrophic.
Orietta Ferrero, the foundation’s corporate fundraising and partnerships manager, says: “When the Regional Authorities decided to close all such facilities in the regions where we operate to anyone from the outside, we all knew what we had to do. We packed up to work from home with a clear call to action of keeping our residents out of intensive care. That singular mission was critical, and this meant the need to raise funds for protective equipment for all employees and frail people living on the compounds.
“We used every channel we could to communicate our need for funds, from social media to direct mail. Our board activated their own professional network, we reached out to our corporate partners. And, across the organisation, we were intensely focused – everyone knew that they had to support the fundraising drive, from the top to the bottom of the organisation. Even our doctors and nurses played a role in communicating that need.
“It was a democratic call for action. We were all in it together, we all knew people fighting for their lives and there was an incredible sense of collaboration and trust.
“As time passed, the focus of our fundraising needs changed. We had the protective equipment we needed, but we saw how much our elderly residents were suffering from lack of relationships. So, our next phase was to raise funds for tablets and other connecting devices so that they could see and talk with their loved ones.
“Having such a unified approach to fundraising was transformative and we had an astonishing response. We raised EUR 600,000 between March and May and received countless gifts in kind. In Italy, we don’t typically have a strong sense of community – we are family-driven. And yet, we found those within our local community knocking at our doors in response to our social posts, bringing masks and helping to fundraise.”
Asked what this means for the organisation’s future fundraising, Ferrero says:
“This shared experience has drawn our team more closely together and shown how effective we can be when we really focus our approach; one call to action, good planning, integrated tools for fundraising and straightforward communication were the key factors of our success. The challenge now is to take all this learning and ensure we embed it into our future strategy.”
For these organisations and many more, 2020 was not the year to sit back, but a pivotal moment to take the driving seat, to innovate and embrace change. Adjusting their approach behind the scenes gave them clarity of focus and agility, strengthening their ability to fundraise and to navigate such uncertain times.
Undoubtedly, those abilities will be even more crucial in the challenging months that lie ahead.