We unpack the results of a survey that showed how charities across Europe have shifted to digital during COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has ramped up the use of digital for charities across Europe. According to latest research, the UK voluntary sector is ahead of its European counterparts in areas such as digital fundraising and in pivoting events online.
However, UK charities are lagging behind countries such as the Netherlands and Germany in other areas of digital fundraising, such as crowdfunding.
The findings have emerged in the European Fundraising Association (EFA) and Salesforce.org report, Impact of COVID-19 on non-profits in Europe. The report involved a survey of around 800 charity fundraisers, leaders, marketing professionals, and policy officers across 26 European nations
Here we outline the key findings from the research and explain why the UK is ahead in some areas of digital fundraising.
While there are differences across countries, there is one common factor among European charities – COVID-19 has had a detrimental impact on their ability to fundraise, deliver services, and campaign for good causes.
Half of the charities surveyed said that they have struggled to reach beneficiaries or deliver services amid lockdowns and six out of ten saw shrinking revenue during 2020. This is particularly the case among smaller charities.
A third of charities said that individual donations have fallen amid the pandemic and that their capacity to deliver services has dropped, largely through a fall in staff and volunteer numbers.
Despite such challenges, more than half of respondents Europe-wide have found new ways to deliver services online. EFA and Salesforce.org’s report adds that digital is also transforming their fundraising.
The report says: “Nonprofits are transforming their future fundraising strategies, embracing digital, and diversifying their approach to use a broader range of channels.”
A key difference is the use of virtual events, which is “much more widespread” in the UK. The survey found that 58% of British-based charities are using this form of fundraising, the highest proportion of any European country.
Some of the UK’s most high-profile recent virtual events do indicate that this form of campaigning is successfully engaging supporters. For example, the London Marathon in 2020 still attracted charity fundraisers despite the mass participation event being postponed – and eventually staged as an elite-runner-only event due to social distancing guidelines.
In April 2020, when the event was due to take place, organisers instead staged the virtual 2.6 Challenge, which asked people to complete their individual events around the marathon distance themed numbers 2.6 or 26 and promote their fundraising feats via social media. The virtual campaign raised more than £11 million.
During the rescheduled, elite-only event run in October 2020, charity fundraisers were asked to once again take part by staging their own run and promoting it online. This generated a further £16.1m from donations via online fundraising platform Virgin Money Giving.
Moving service delivery online is another area where UK charities are excelling.
According to the EFA and Salesforce.org report, the shift to digital services was particularly prominent in the UK, cited by 83% of charities, and in Spain, mentioned by 79% of charities.
The work by charities in the UK benefitting from National Emergency Trust (NET) funding to ramp up their digital service delivery for at risk groups is among a raft of examples of how British charities are embracing technology. This includes using chatbots, video counselling sessions, webchat, and social media messaging. As part of the first wave of NET funding, charities supporting people with disabilities have been distributing tablets to tackle digital exclusion.
Other ways European charities are transforming services amid the pandemic include increasing telephone services, which is most prominent in Spain. However, charity workers in the Netherlands are more likely to say that they are making no changes to service delivery.
While the UK is excelling in digital service delivery and organising online fundraising events, its European counterparts are proving more successful in using other digital channels and technology to transform their work.
Charities in the Netherlands, for example, are the most likely to use social media (87% compared to 75% overall). Web-based fundraising is most popular in Germany (cited by 82% of charities) and the Netherlands (81%), but significantly less common in Italy (cited by only around a half of charities).
Crowdfunding is barely used in the UK, cited by 6% of charities, compared to Spain (28%) and Italy (19%). Meanwhile, text is used by 21% of Italian charities but by only 8% of those in France.
While regional differences remain, charities across Europe share many of the same challenges and can learn from each other.
As EFA President Eduard Marček said: “This survey shows us that nonprofits have not stood still. They have worked hard to innovate, identifying new ways to fundraise, to build supporter engagement, and to deliver frontline services. This demonstrates the resilience and vibrancy of the fundraising community and of European philanthropy more widely.
“The pandemic remains a major threat and, as such, the work of the nonprofit sector will be all the more important as we work together to aid Europe’s recovery.”