How is giving changing during the coronavirus crisis?

28 April 2020
StrategySupporter Stewardship
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Lizzie Ellis, Policy and Information Officer, looks at the key pieces of research about giving published during the COVID-19 pandemic, and what this insight means for your fundraising strategy.

We’ve all heard the word unprecedented an unprecedented amount in the last five weeks. If I was going to play coronavirus bingo for the workplace, ‘unprecedented times’ would be right up there with signing off emails ‘stay safe’. Events have been cancelled, community fundraising curtailed, public fundraising made impossible, and as a result, fundraising plans and strategies have had to be thrown out or revised in very short timescales.

To inform decisions to pivot (another bingo word!), fundraisers need as much information on donor behaviour and attitudes as possible; but, the *unprecedented* nature of these times means that we don’t exactly know how people will respond to this particular crisis, how their attitudes will evolve or what this means for how we’re engaging supporters and how they might choose to support us. Fortunately, in recent weeks we’ve seen some crucial research and insight being made public on how supporters and donors are reacting to the current crisis. Looked at together, this can start to build up a picture of the trends and themes that are emerging and help give an overview of what donors and supporters might be thinking at this time.

The frontline and the...backline?

According to the first batch of data from About Loyalty’s weekly survey, 30% of people said they would stop or reduce support for an existing charity if they thought it was not directly helping those affected by coronavirus. This is troubling for those charities not considered to be providing frontline support or those furthering causes which simply cannot be so easily linked to the crisis. This trend is clear in the sheer level of donations to ‘the NHS’, with 40% of people saying they are likely to donate to a charity which supports the NHS in the next three months because of the crisis. In this vein, we’ve seen some immense generosity from wealthy individuals and corporates creating ‘coronavirus emergency funds’. These are vital to sustain those frontline services, but do leave the possibility of entire causes and services falling through the funding cracks because they are unrelated to the impact of this crisis.

I’m finding it hard to come up with a new way of saying that the situation is fast-paced and changing rapidly; but it is, and attitudes are changing along with it. About Loyalty’s second week of data shows that the percentage of those who said they would stop or reduce support for an existing charity (if they thought it was not directly helping those affected by coronavirus) has dropped from 30% to 17%. While this could be because some surveyed have already cancelled support, it could also be that this knee-jerk reaction no longer reflects how people feel. The public’s perception of which charities are important is not stagnant either. Homeless and armed forces charities have seen the highest growth in importance, with the elderly, health and disability charities registering as the most important, and still increasing.

Donors are not a monolith

We’re seeing age groups respond differently to this crisis: younger supporters are more likely to donate to a new charity as a result of coronavirus, older supporters are less likely to switch support. People aged 45 to 54 are the most concerned about their income in the next six months and are the most likely to say they will donate less than usual because of the crisis. That said, Bluefrog research tells us that while “some people are frightened about the impact on their finances...others are spending much less on themselves and can afford to give much more”. CAF finds that 22% of people say they will likely donate more than they usually do over the next six months in the wake of the outbreak, with 14% saying they’ll likely donate to charity less than usual.

This shows that it is more important than ever for fundraisers to put themselves in the shoes of their donors, to communicate empathetically – charities are not alone in experiencing financial strain or social distancing stress. A higher proportion of people are feeling scared, isolated, not in control, and 1 in 3 people believe that coronavirus is the hardest challenge they have ever had to face. But, in better news, Bluefrog tells us that people see charities as part of the solution and understand that there is an increased need to give.

People want to be able to feel more in control, to feel a sense of agency from their giving, and charities have responded by launching some incredibly open and honest appeals laying out how they too are affected by the coronavirus crisis and showing donors how their money will make an immediate impact – regardless of how close they are to the frontline. The research collated here is by no means an end-point; people’s priorities and attitudes continue to be in flux and so fundraising plans and communications must remain flexible. Ultimately, fundraisers know their supporters better than anyone, this data merely reminds us that we can’t take their loyalty for granted.

Lizzie Ellis
Lizzie Ellis
Policy and Information Officer at the Chartered Institute of Fundraising
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