In-person events are back but every charity’s plan is different

30 November 2021
Events FundraisingCommunity FundraisingStrategyData, Research and Analysis
Standard Content
People walking down a busy street

Through the results of a recent member survey on the restarting of in-person activities, Charlotte Sherman, Policy and Information Officer at the Chartered Institute, looks at how the sector is moving forward.

It’s no secret that Events and Community Fundraisers were hit hard by COVID. Overnight, teams had to translate their offering from an in-person one to a virtual one, often with reduced capacity. Now that social distancing measures have been relaxed and in-person events can take place, they still are faced with the challenge of understanding each Nation’s COVID guidance whilst also managing supporters’ differing expectations.

In collaboration with the Event Fundraising Group, the Community Fundraising Group and the Scottish Community Group, we surveyed our members to understand the rate at which in-person activities are restarting, the challenges Events and Community Fundraisers are facing, and how events will develop in 2022. The information provided by the 58 charities who took part has given us a great snapshot of how the sector is moving forward.

How has income been affected by the pandemic?

The majority of respondents said that events and community fundraising income for 2021 is down by over 20% than before the pandemic. Interestingly, community income was less affected, with only around half of respondents saying income was significantly impacted compared with 70% of events. In Scotland, the difference is even larger, half of respondents reported that community income was about the same (and even slightly more) whilst 90% said event income was significantly lower.

Feelings are mixed about whether income will pick up next year, with very similar numbers reporting they are forecasting more, less or about the same. That said, community seems to be rebounding faster than events, showing us that that close relationships with volunteers and key community groups are crucial in difficult times.

So what face-to-face events have restarted?

Third-party events are resuming the fastest, followed by owned and community events. Given that the survey took place after the London Marathon and Royal Parks, this was somewhat expected. Looking more closely at why charities are now resuming, it’s a mixed bag with most charities highlighting they now feel more confident they could put an event on safely, but equally donor appetite (which is backed up by strong sign-up numbers) and the need to recuperate income remain important.

For the small number of charities who haven’t restarted, their plans mirror those who have. Over 80% are planning to restart third-party events in this quarter or the next, whilst owned and community events are more varied with most expecting to start between now and the second quarter of next year. The most uncertainty is around special events, with 45% still undecided about when they will restart. This only confirms what we have known for some time, that charities need to move at their own pace, based on the needs of their donors.

What COVID safety measures are being used (and why)?

Charities have made it clear they want to keep donors safe and make sure participants feel safe at events, and are therefore using a wide variety of COVID safety measures. At any fundraising event you could expect to see facemasks, hand sanitizer and participants keeping 2m distance. Another way charities are keeping events safe is by limiting numbers, which would explain why most events that have restarted at holding around 0-50 people, although respondents highlighted this does limit income.

Most charities have no plan to stop this or are waiting on government guidance before they make any further decisions. This makes sense given the survey took place when COVID vaccine passports were still being debated in Scotland and there were strong calls for ‘Plan B’. One fundraiser highlighted the situation is particularly challenging in Wales as mass participation events are still not feasible.

What can we expect in 2022?

Even with more and more in-person events taking place, over 60% of respondents confirmed that digital will still play a large role in both event and community fundraising. Many highlighted that digital allowed them to make the event more inclusive and that they are exploring hybrid models. This comes, however, with its own unique set of challenges, as it’s difficult to develop an event that caters to two sets of donors and provides a strong supporter experience.

That said, digital and hybrid are not always the only way forward. Over half of respondents from Scotland said that it will play a smaller role in community fundraising, with over 60% concerned that a digital offering would take-away from the community spirit of an in-person event.

Despite the challenges and continuing uncertainty, the future does look optimistic, and most of the fundraisers who responded are confident they will meet their objectives. However, with donor appetite strong, and innovation into digital still moving forward, investment into staff and technology is only going to become more important. Fortunately, most respondents are planning to invest the same or more into events and community. As we move into 2022, we will hopefully see fundraisers continue to try new things and bring in new audiences whilst keeping that strong sense of community that has kept donors loyal throughout the pandemic.

What our Chairs say

“There is no doubt that the pandemic has heavily impacted Events Fundraising, leading to huge reductions in income, uncertainty in future plans and changes in staffing across charities of all sizes. This year has seen the steady return of a range of events and slowly returning confidence although it is worth bearing in mind that there is no one size fits all to any return to events.

The effect of the pandemic on events is clearly going to be long lasting with many of the adaptations which were so necessary being an acceleration of some of the trends we saw before Covid-19. For many, understanding what hybrid looks like, the place of virtual events and how journeys can become more digital are going to be big questions that will be a big focus over the next 12 months and beyond. I am personally really excited to see where this will take us as a sector as well as hearing about more innovative and novel examples from charities across the sector.”

Jenny Flack, Chair and Priyanka Kotecha, Vice Chair, Events Fundraising Group

“A bumpy ride on the Corona-coaster for community and events, but the Scottish Community SIG recognise how dedicated fundraisers have been to continue to build relationships and give support. It is brilliant to see the importance relationships play in volunteers and supporters feeling safe enough to fundraise for their chosen charity.”

Bronwyn O’Riordan, Co-Chair and Katie Bruce, Co-Chair, Scottish Community Group

“Navigating the pandemic has proven tricky for Community Fundraising teams but on the whole they carried on doing what they do best and this is connecting with people. While nothing can directly replace face to face communication in the all important relationship building, it’s interesting to recognise how the pandemic has opened up the world of fundraising to those who weren’t always comfortable or able to be out in their communities. Community Fundraising has made great gains in adjusting to the new normal and offering virtual, face to face and hybrid events and as always - listening to our supporters is key to the direction of what this looks like. We’re excited to see what 2022 and beyond holds for Community Fundraising, especially using the learnings from the pandemic and lockdown to really strengthen what we offer.”

Hannah Awesome, Co-Chair and Millie Coulter, Co-Chair, Community Fundraising Group

Charlotte Sherman
Charlotte Sherman
Information and Policy Officer at the Chartered Institute of Fundraising
Members Only Content