A few weeks into the re-launch of face-to-face fundraising, Dominic Will, Managing Director of PFS (Personal Fundraising Services) summarises how the public are responding with four take-aways from today’s face-to-face market.
To say that the past year has been up and down for face-to-face fundraising is an understatement. As the pandemic swept across the nation in waves, charities had to retreat from high streets, from doorsteps, malls and other venues time and again, in line with government restrictions. And while a global pandemic may not seem to provide the ideal backdrop for public fundraising, this personal fundraising approach has never been more needed.
We’ve been fortunate enough for a number of our fundraisers to have been working throughout lockdown, supporting local government in surge-testing programmes for COVID-19, so you could say that we had a head start. But fundraising is a completely different mission, and – having re-launched with six charity campaigns running across the country – it’s been all the more important that we keep our ear to the ground and monitor public response.
What does the first few weeks back out on the field tell us?
Despite all the challenges, face-to-face fundraising (F2F) is striking a chord. As we found when we resumed F2F after the first lockdown last July, it’s clear that people really do want to talk. What’s more, they want to help. After weeks in lockdown and – with the sun starting to peek through – there’s a sense of optimism and hope, that we’re all in this together and if people can help, they will.
Not only are sign-up rates healthy, but supporters seem to be more likely to stick with it. If the past year is anything to go by, we can expect an uplift in retention from pre-COVID times. 20,000 supporters signed up via PFS last year and early retention is up by 3-4%. Still, the new environment is not without its challenges.
Being a F2F fundraiser can be hard work; the need to stay upbeat, to tune into different people’s motivations and inspire them to give, let alone being on your feet all day. And doing this during the pandemic – at a distance, with a face covering – can be even more challenging. After all, fundraisers normally use their whole selves to communicate, not least their faces. Wearing a face covering takes some adjustment, but it’s becoming easier all the time.
All of our fundraisers have been through in-depth training into the new COVID-19 health and safety procedures and they are well used to all this by now. Positive feedback we’ve received tells us that the safety measures such as strict social distancing, regular hand-sanitising and visors all provide reassurance to the public.
Usually, a face shield (clear visor) is the preferred option, as it allows people to see each other’s faces and to communicate clearly, it doesn’t muffle their sound or require them to raise their voices, while masks with plastic windows can steam up. But life is changing all the time, so we keep on reviewing and trialling what works best, gathering feedback from fundraisers and those they interact with to ensure we understand what works best for everybody.
When it comes to all the changes driven or accelerated by the pandemic, the easiest shift has almost certainly been the use of new tech and apps that enable the public to sign-up to a donation from their own device, negating the need for exchange of objects. Our use of technology means it’s quick and easy to process and verify donations securely, to monitor campaign progress and to update fundraisers in the field.
But there’s a real opportunity to make tech work even harder for us and build our understanding of how people are feeling, their responses and more. Starting with a solution we deployed for our work on COVID with local government, we could see immediate benefits that we wanted to pass on to our charity clients. Adapting use of the solution for charity work, we can now track outcomes from each visit at a really granular level, using that insight to guide our strategy and maximise future interactions. It enables us to see what variables influence public response to campaigns, such as the time of day, COVID news or more specific campaign messaging. In a fast-changing market, there’s even greater need to continually monitor and adapt what we do, using insight from the public to improve our understanding of this ‘new normal’ and to optimise every interaction.
While digital solutions help us improve efficiency massively, what makes face-to-face unique is the human interaction; genuine encounters that enable charities to build understanding of what really matters to supporters.
People have missed conversation; the feeling of connecting with someone, making them smile, being inspired, needed and valued. Through F2F, charities can deliver those experiences. They can find out how the public feels about their work and the cause now – in this ‘new normal’, what really matters to them and what they are looking for from the charities they support. Capturing that feedback is critical when it comes to building lasting supporter relationships.
The F2F market is not the same as it was pre-pandemic. Nothing is. But the passion, buzz and inspiration that makes the channel so effective remains strong. The pandemic has clearly shown the importance of regular giving to charities, a large part of which has been generated in the last 25 years and more through face-to-face. As we look ahead, F2F is all the more needed and the public’s positive response gives rise to optimism for the future.
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