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Fundraising Innovation in an Unprecedented Time

Yearly planner opened to January page

On December 10, Spektrix gathered a small group of fundraising managers representing organisations across the US, Canada and the UK to discuss what they have learned and trade tips as they approach the end of 2020. After a year of intense fundraising, we thought it was important to give space to users across regions to share how they adopted and even rethought past approaches during this uniquely challenging year. Strategic Fundraising Consultant Samantha Bagwell shares her key takeaways from the conversation and what they’ve shown her about fundraising in 2020 and beyond. 

Among the many challenges arts organisations have experienced this year, we’ve seen a lot more work fall to our fundraisers in order to maintain budgets with a significant decrease in earned revenue. It was extremely energising to listen to this group of resilient fundraising leaders reflect on the year (and represent a whopping six time zones while they were at it!). The discussion ranged from figuring out Zoom meetings with donors who aren’t exactly tech savvy to completely rethinking benefit schemes, but through it all I discovered some takeaways that seem ubiquitous no matter where we’re based. Here are just a few key ones:

Fundraisers have found new ways to make things personal.

When asked what’s changed the most about fundraising in 2020, the group almost unanimously lamented their in-person meetings. Let’s face it: Zoom meetings can be awkward, impersonal, and a technical nightmare - but having a recognisable face for the organisation helps keep our communication personal. Here are a few inventful ways organisations are offsetting these challenges:

  • Showcasing their administrative staff’s hidden talents before their digital programming - including bartending demonstrations, clowning, and violin performances. This both gives face to the organisation and provides a glimpse into the different personalities that keep it running, allowing donors to make a connection on a deeper level. 
  • Keeping up with their supporters with phone calls - and not just to make asks. 2020 has been isolating for a lot of people and a phone call just to check in to say hi and check on the person’s wellbeing unrelated to an ask can mean a lot and strengthen the relationship. This year has left fundraisers far from the position to give donors access to a majority of their typical benefits. So, for a lot of our donors, the connection is the benefit. 

Giving structures are shifting from benefits-based to philanthropic.

The personal calls I mention above speak to a shift the arts industry has seen from benefits-based giving, which often feels transactional, to giving rooted more in philanthropy. When venues shut and performances were cancelled, a big fear among fundraisers was how they’d provide benefits. But fundraisers in this discussion have seen that donors are giving based on affinity and the personal perceived value they receive from that organisation rather than basing their giving on traditional benefits such as house seats or backstage tours. The more the connection and relationship is nurtured, the perks don’t seem to matter as much. 

It’s time to democratise benefits and gift acknowledgement ...

Traditionally, most organisations acknowledge larger gifts louder and more publicly than smaller contributions, but in reality, every gift at every level matters. As one attendee put it: “We’re trying to get rid of the idea that the more you give, the better person you are.” Monthly giving programmes are a great example of this. They are super simple to set up and maintain, increase donor retention significantly and can be the lifeblood of an organisation - especially in these unpredictable times. But since these monthly gifts often fall in the lower range, typically below £20 per month, these donors rarely receive a personal call thanking them. That £5 monthly gift might be a big financial commitment to that specific donor and a personal thank-you call to them can mean a lot and make them feel truly valued by that organisation.

… and automating those processes can bolster your team’s capacity to thank.

While it’s ideal to make these personal calls, attendees acknowledged that with reduced hours and teams, time isn’t a luxury every organisation can afford. So even if organisations don’t have the capacity to make personal phone calls to each donor, they’re still ensuring every giver is receiving a thank you by using email automation and dynamic content so donors know their gift was received and appreciated. Along these same lines, organisations have made a significant push to humanise their marketing campaigns. Instead of highlighting shows and cast members, organisations have started including pictures and videos of their staff - specifically their development teams in communications that include asks - so donors can make a personal connection to the text and actually see who’s responsible for fostering their gift. 

 

I want to thank all of the fundraisers who joined us for taking time out of their hectic end-of-year schedules to share their experiences and ideas. I always walk away from these conversations feeling so inspired by the community of fundraisers I have the opportunity to work with. If this conversation taught me anything, it’s that fundraisers are an incredibly resourceful and innovative group and can adapt to whatever curveballs they’re thrown - even 2020. 

 

Samantha Bagwell is Strategic Fundraising Consultant at Spektrix. A former fundraiser at prominent New York City theaters, she now focuses on ensuring Spektrix tools, community and informational resources are doing everything they can to serve our fundraising users.