Although every nation is moving at its own pace, we are (hopefully) in the final stages of COVID-19 restrictions, meaning charities and their fundraising partners need to start thinking about how they will adapt their face-to-face activities. Although it is uplifting to think we might have seen the last of large-scale lockdowns, the future is less than certain as we see how the public respond to some kind of return to normality. That’s the case too for public fundraising – charities and agencies have stepped up to prove they can fundraise safely and successfully. Now charities and agencies need to decide when and how they will phase out masks and social distancing measures.
A few months ago, we carried out a survey with our members to understand how public fundraising (in the survey, we included street, door-to-door and private site fundraising) had returned, and how the public had responded. We hope that the results can serve as a useful starting point to gauge the speed at which activities are restarting and the response from the public.
It’s encouraging to see that as of May (when we carried out the survey) out of the charities and agencies who responded, 63% had started door-to-door, 47% had started street and an 70% have restarted private site. Although none of these activities have reached pre-pandemic levels, door-to-door seems to be progressing quickly with 53% confirming that they were doing either the same amount of fundraising than before the pandemic.
At the time of the survey, many respondents confirmed they were planning to restart between July and September, meaning we can hope to see more activities resume in the next few months. Equally, those that were undecided will hopefully be making plans to return in either Q4 or early next year and potentially be considering in-door recruitment.
Budget and capacity were their two biggest barriers for charities returning to public fundraising. Given the huge impact COVID has had on charities’ income and subsequently, how much they are able to carry-out, this is unsurprising. These challenges will not be going away, but investment in fundraising and fundraisers will see charities through this difficult period.
It’s also interesting that staff feeling uncomfortable to restart and public perception were also significant barriers. These are two areas that could improve significantly now that social distancing measures have been lifted, but equally if we see the infection rate rises, they could pose more of a problem. When you couple this with the fact no organisation said they weren’t confident they could comply with social distancing guidelines, or that current guidance is too hard to understand, it would make sense for organisations to keep monitor these areas. So it will be vital they listen to their staff and supporters as they decide how their social distancing measures will change.
The short answer is with overwhelming positivity. Whilst there were only 108 negative complaints (which is comparable to pre-pandemic levels), there was nearly 1000 positive comments. The vast majority of these complaints were unrelated to COVID, showing us the sector can fundraise safely, even in difficult circumstances.
The feedback from organisations that took part is that the public is ready to engage with face-to-face fundraisers. There were a high number of positive comments about all aspects of returning to public fundraising from social distancing and hygiene procedures to fundraiser knowledge and being happy to see charities back in action. This is great news for those who are undecided of whether to restart activities, but we need to consider if part of this trust comes from organisations’ efforts to keep staff and members of the public safe.
We can expect see more public fundraising resume and it will be interesting to see in our next survey if this has accelerated. Although there is no perfect answer to when organisations should scale back their own measures, the sector has proven they know how to grow and maintain strong relationships with the public and have the tools to understand and adapt to their needs.
Beyond COVID, public fundraising will remain integral to reaching potential donors and raising awareness of causes. Contactless payments are now commonplace, making sign-ups easier and more accessible. The next step for charities and agencies is to start thinking about they can maximise public fundraising’s potential. What role will technologies play in making giving more appealing? How can they help us revaluate impact, looking further than income to understand the benefit of educating the public about important causes?
"It’s really heartening to report that the public are responding positively to our return. Most of these were general comments about face-to-face fundraising we have seen an uplift in positive feedback since lockdown ended and only one member of the public specifically mentioned not knocking doors during COVID.
"REAL has also taken the cautious, safety first position of all Fundraisers wearing masks even though guidance is that now people outdoors do not need to do so. This has helped with the perception of safety from donor’s perspective and led to us achieving a safety score from the donors perspective of 9.6 /10 across all welcome calls conducted since the restart."
Liam McEntegart, Managing Director (Client Services), REAL Fundraising Ltd
"Keeping up with government guidance wasn’t easy, particularly as we work in all four countries of the UK, and certainly in the early months of 2020 needed a certain amount of interpretation. The similar, though different, guidance in the four countries meant that at times some teams could fundraise, and others couldn’t, Good internal communications helped keep on top of this, but it wasn’t easy!
"When face-to-face fundraising was able to restart, there was some understandable concerns from fundraisers about their own safety and also how we would be received by the public. We’ve worked with colleagues to support their safety and wellbeing, we have wellbeing champions and mental health first aiders across the whole of the UK. In terms of the public response, well, we’ve been amazed by the support and the renewed interest in nature and the environment and the subsequent support for conservation organisations such as the RSPB.
"It certainly hasn’t been easy or straightforward, though teamwork is what’s got us to where we are."
Lyndon Parker, F2F Membership Quality and Standards Manager, The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds