Fundraising is one of the most important activities that a charity undertakes. How can you ensure that your fundraising campaigns reflect your ethics?
Fundraising is one of the most important things that a charity does. Without the vital revenue that fundraising campaigns generate, charities would not be able to run other operations or deliver services.
In the last six months, many charities have moved their fundraising operations online. In most cases, this was done quickly, without the time to plan in advance. In many cases, it has been a success.
But now, as organisations begin planning the next phase of their digital campaigns, there is an opportunity to assess your fundraising strategy and to make sure that everything you are doing in the new realm of digital fundraising aligns with your organisation’s code of ethics.
There are three main areas to consider: Content, Messaging and Data. Taken together, they can provide a framework of accountability that allows charities to build more effective fundraising campaigns without compromising their principles.
We’ve all seen ‘that ad’.
A starving child. Limbs wasted away, belly distended, flies buzzing around. They, personally, need help – your help.
And they’re not asking for much. It’s well within your means, surely, to spare the little they’re asking for.
We’ve all seen this ad. Where once it lived on our TV, it has since made its way onto our timelines, making it harder than ever to escape this picture. And so, it has stuck with us.
Emotive campaigns like this persist because they work. They are proven to spike donations.
But are they the most effective way of raising funds? Or do they prioritise a one-off, short-term response over building a long-term supporter relationship?
Do they turn off more potential supporters than they encourage, leading people to feel defensive? Do they entrench troubling white saviour narratives?
In short - do they do more harm than good?
Emotional stimuli, and humanising the people you work with, can be a successful fundraising strategy.
Charities frame appeals in a way that seeks to maximise donations. Decision makers must weigh the costs and benefits of potentially negative imagery against a pressure to raise funds.
But this approach can backfire. People often become overwhelmed and lethargic when faced with insurmountable issues. They may also demonstrate symptoms of what researchers have termed ‘compassion fatigue’ - something which has led political scientists David and Jennifer Hudson of University College London to conclude that the ‘unrelentingly shocking and dehumanising framing of global poverty’ has undermined ‘people’s sense of efficacy in addressing global poverty, and consequently their engagement.’
People may experience complex and conflicting feelings when faced with a direct emotional appeal in this manner. They may feel irritated or defensive in the face of what they view as ‘emotional blackmail’, or can feel guilty for feeling suspicious of how much of their money will actually go to help those in need – when in fact all they really want is more information, and an understanding of how their money can help.
We create narratives to help us build empathy and drive engagement. These narratives allow us to get across our aims and foster identification. This is the central principle of content marketing, and it is at its most acute in the charity sector, where much of the connection supporters feel with their charities stems from these narratives.
But they can have complex and potentially harmful legacies. These narratives often position the relationship between donors and beneficiaries as a binary dynamic of ‘Powerful Givers’ and ‘Grateful Receivers.’
This perceived relationship robs beneficiaries of their agency, and can entrench biases with racial, gender and intersectional connotations. Effectively, this serves to ‘other’ the very marginalised communities that charities aim to work with, which can create a further barrier to achieving empathy between supporters and beneficiaries. It is no wonder that the alternative of community fundraising is on the rise.
It can also lead to a feeling of apathy on behalf of the donor – as the amount of money required to ‘solve’ the problem seems impossible - therefore the situation seems hopeless and engagement drops.
These narratives can sometimes build a case against donation. Shelter’s ‘Missing Millions’ campaign used homeless families to record their experiences, including a number of poems written by children about their feelings surrounding their experience. This was a variation of traditional fundraising approaches that gave a voice to those directly involved in the campaign.
When information is not easily accessible, support is sometimes described as ‘a mile wide and an inch deep’. Meaning that many people are aware of their lack of understanding on issues relating to development and aid.
They may want to hear more complex stories of change and progress and could benefit from gaining a better understanding of how progress actually happens.
This allows supporters to feel a sense of investment in project - whilst tangible results help offset ‘compassion fatigue’ and a feeling of lethargy and depression in the face of seemingly unsolvable problems.
When framed in terms of output (i.e. children sponsored, schools built, sanctuaries opened, etc.) supporters have a better sense of where their money goes and are able to feel a stronger sense of engagement with the project.
Like many other charity activities, fundraising is based on trust.
Supporters of your organisation must identify with your cause, sympathise with your mission, and agree with how you propose to achieve it.
Donors require further assurance. They will want transparency. Yes, this applies to how their money will be spent. But they will also want to know that their data is being processed securely and used properly.
GDPR regulations set out the legal parameters that all organisations must comply to when it comes to data processing. But charities may face deeper scrutiny.
Charity fundraising drives are run on a basis of accountability. If we are to define accountability as the giving and demanding of reasons for conduct, then it is clear to see how this applies to charity fundraising. People working in this area must be accountable to stakeholders (whether trustees, governmental funding bodies or private donors) to justify where and how money is being spent.
In the charity sector, impact is measured by engagement with service users and by meeting targets set by trustees. These stakeholders require information to measure whether operations are succeeding or not. Because donors are not involved in the day-to-day running of the organisation, they must be able to quickly and easily see how their money will be spent. The information is vital for governance, and often directly impacts a charity’s chances of securing further funding. In the wake of COVID-19, this is more apparent than ever. Charities that cannot provide detailed, accurate and timely financial reports are at a clear disadvantage when it comes to applying for much-needed funding.
This need for accountability extends to the protections afforded to personal supporter data – particularly financial data. There have been devastating examples of how a breach of supporter financial data has led to a complete loss of trust in organisation – leading to a massive shortfall in funding.
In order to benefit from a high level of support trust, charities must be able to prove that they have taken every available step to keep personal financial data secure. A solution like Skurio BreachAlert, that provides automated breach monitoring can provide this level of peace of mind without taking up large amounts of staff time.
As fundraising activities become increasingly virtual, content marketing and digital financial processing will become even more important than they already are. And they are already very important.
Charity fundraising is built on a foundation of trust and connection. By extending your organisation’s ethics into the realm of digital fundraising, you can strengthen these feeling sin your supporter base and build campaigns they will be proud to take part in.