Following an unprecedented pause of over 100 days, it was fabulous to see our committed fundraisers take to the streets and private sites once again this month – with the addition of PPE and new guidelines to ensure their own and public safety. After several weeks back in the market, closely monitoring public feedback, it’s a moment to look back and assess this trial period, exploring what this could mean for the resumption of face-to-face (F2F) fundraising activity in the UK.
Speculation has been rife around how our attitudes and behaviour will change after months in lockdown, the day-to-day habits and actions that may indeed be altered forever, from the way we shop to our commute and much more. And when it comes to F2F fundraising – one of the most visible and personal supporter acquisition and engagement channels, there was much debate about how the public would react.
One of the notable things for the F2F community during the pandemic has been the sense of a global network of practitioners and charity partners coming together to share ideas on how best to get F2F moving once more, while preserving public confidence and keeping everybody safe. We have heard encouraging stories from other parts of the world, from the Far East, to North America, and closer to home in Europe to inspire confidence that the channel would thrive again, but I suspect questions have remained about whether the UK would differ, how would the public respond and when might be the right time to restart F2F dialogue once more.
The Chartered Institute of Fundraising and Fundraising Regulator worked closely together to develop guidance for the sector, endorsed by Government and Public Health England, and that was an important step to ensure some clarity and consistency of approach across the sector. Still, there is simply no substitute to ending the speculation and getting out there to generate actual results and feedback from interactions with the public. So, what’s it been like for our fundraisers and how has the public reacted?
All in all, the response from the public has been extremely positive. As I write this, just a few weeks into the re-launch of our F2F programme, our network of fundraisers have recruited over 1,000 regular supporters and accepted a significant number of contactless donations.
While there’s less footfall on the street and at most private sites, the public are taking the time to talk and more people are at home for doorstep visits. Across the F2F channels, the general impression seems to be that the public has a greater sense of appreciation for fundraisers due to their dedication in returning to their role and for the new safety measures they are practicing.
From a fundraiser’s perspective, it’s not been easy. They have had to trial and adapt to new protective equipment, to be rigorous when it comes to cleaning their hands and equipment, and ensure they are managing the necessary social distancing requirement in any fundraising situation. There’s been new guidance to adhere to, in-depth training around what they can and can’t do, new forms of data capture and process, and a whole new area of queries from the public to learn how best to handle.
The appearance of fundraisers in face visors and with high visibility armbands is still relatively new and often a conversation point in itself. But rather than putting the public off or forming a barrier, we’re finding that supporters are most likely to comment on how thoughtful and professional fundraisers are with regards to social distancing and that they appreciate the safety measures within the current environment.
We’re conscious that this may well be a honeymoon period, but this initial phase bodes well for the future of F2F. In fact, so far, we’ve had a higher ratio of proactive positive feedback coming back to our charity partners than in pre-COVID-19 times.
While many of these changes are specific to the pandemic, the situation has enabled a re-think around F2F. I have long believed in the need for greater choice and flexibility in the standard F2F fundraising proposition, and during this period of economic uncertainty, this flexibility will be more important than ever. We need to treasure the opportunity to engage with supporters on a one-to-one basis, gather their insights and feedback, and to help them find a way to help the causes they care about, even if a regular donation isn’t on the cards at that moment.
And perhaps one of the most important shifts is that charities and agencies seem to be working together much more collaboratively to find their new path in the changed marketplace. My hope is that this will forge deeper partnerships that will strengthen F2F fundraising for the long-term.
Whatever the future holds, recent weeks inspire a sense of optimism around the future for F2F. Certainly, it will remain an environment that requires creativity, flexibility and – at times – broad shoulders, but it was ever thus! Perhaps this era could in fact herald a watershed in how F2F fundraising is viewed, with more collaboration and exploration of what could be done differently and better.
Anyone involved in F2F loves a challenge and now's the time to embrace that spirit of change and ask ourselves how best we can build on the progress made in recent weeks to continue to engage and inspire supporters at a time when these connections are needed more than ever.