“Hi Sir/Madam, we are raising money for charity. Please donate and help those in need.”
Covid-19 has reinvented the ways of giving and accelerated the adoption of virtual events. However, implementing such technology to cater to virtual events and transferring the donor experience have always been challenging. Some teething problems include transplanting physical events virtually and switching communication channels.
These are familiar refrains heard while walking down the busy streets of Orchard Road. However, with the onset of Covid-19 and the ban of street donations and large scale events, these tried and tested ways for fundraising have seen their last days. Gone are the days people don the bright yellow sticker as a badge of honour, signalling to others soliciting donations that “I’ve already donated”.
Since interning in a social service agency last summer, the non-profit sector has always been something close to my heart. With its lean margins, many non-profit organisations find it challenging to run extensive campaigns to raise funds. Many are often stuck in their old ways of fundraising without a marketing team and find it difficult to reinvent. For smaller non-profit organisations, they are unable to create a wave amid a highly saturated sector.
Having surveyed the landscape on what has worked, here are three best practices for non-profit organisations to consider before planning a fundraiser campaign to secure more impactful outcomes.
1. Scalable and flexible campaigns expand engagement with donors
Campaigns need to be modular and broken down to encourage employees to participate in such events within a nuclear family unit or individually. With Covid-19 and social distancing restrictions, non-profit organisations have to rethink their approach to physical events and leverage the online space to organise virtual events.
Notable campaigns include Relay for Life 2021 and Climb for Mental Wellness who scaled down their campaigns with virtual events and modified them to have longer campaigns days. For example, in the Relay for Life campaign, the campaign was extended to nine days instead of the usual two-day physical event, allowing individuals or teams to complete the 100km challenger. This allowed for more people to be aware of the campaign and participate in it.
Campaigns also need to be flexible in execution. With COVID impacting large scale events, fundraising events like gala dinners were cancelled. However, with technology, Halogen Foundation carried out a scaled-down version of their gala dinner known as mini Halogen Ball to recognise and thank partners for their continuous support. The original Halogen Ball event was then rescheduled to a later time to ensure the quality of the whole experience. The adaptation showed the importance of leveraging technology to carry out a virtual experience with physical elements.
Lion Befrienders’ E flag day also serves as another excellent example of flexibility. The campaign saw the social service agency collaborating with a local fintech firm to have a cashless donation drive. Besides donation through an online portal, donation terminals were placed in participating stores for donors to make contactless digital payments. This innovative move led to a reduction in cash use, which was necessary given the Covid-19 outbreak and improved donation tracking.
Communication messaging needs to speak to smaller units, such as individuals and families. Instead of directing at organisations and pitching to them as a CSR project, the messaging should resonate with individuals to reach a wider online audience. Targeted communications messaging also extends to crafting an individualised and memorable donor experience for users.
2. Fundraising campaigns need to be engaging for smaller family units
With smaller family units, campaigns now need to be sufficiently attractive for participants to rope in their family or do it virtually with friends. Creating engagement ranges from including competitive elements such as a leadership scoreboard to having interactive websites with games for children.
Campaigns such as Hair for Hope and Relay for Life have scoreboards showing the top fundraisers, top individuals and top teams. These scoreboards encourage donors to raise more funds for the cause. Others like Walk for our Children have a virtual photo booth, exciting mini-games for children and a live rainbow target. These components are necessary to captivate the attention of parents and encourage families to do the challenge together. It also provides a visual representation of their effort and reinforces the narrative to do more good.
With smaller groups, different demographics require targeted communications messaging for a call to action. Additionally, older adults have a more significant emotional gain from giving monetary donations. Therefore, capturing highly emotive and nostalgic factors in copies or posts can captivate the attention of this target group.
On the other hand, millennials are most active on social media. With the convenience of shareability and instant virality of these platforms, social media can encourage the younger generation to participate in these causes. Moreover, tagging people to do the challenge after taking part increases the person’s prestige in sharing such philanthropic messages and can lead to the halo effect.
With the increased influence of social media, even the older generation sees it as a way to connect with the younger generation. For instance, to advocate awareness of mental health, Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan Jin and other Members of Parliament did a 25 day Push Up Challenge. With the amplification effect of social media, the campaign’s virality was magnified and reinforced the need for social media as a strategic communications channel.
3. Go digital-first, supported by small-scale physical elements
For campaigns to be organised virtually, there is increased importance in the digital presence of the non-profit organisation. Not having a digital presence lowers the potential of attracting prospective donors and engaging audiences. Since donors use digital media to seek out causes, non-profits need to ensure a cohesive message across the different platforms to tell audiences about their mission and vision. There should also be two-way communication channels online and on social media for donors to clarify questions in real-time.
If there is a scaled-down physical element, this will help amplify the event’s visibility through traditional media channels. A case in point would be Hair for Hope 2021, inviting Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung to shave the hair of a 12-year-old boy during the ceremonial opening. However, with the cancellation of Hair for Hope 2020, it seems that the organisers were able to transition to a hybrid model for the campaign.
With a digital-first campaign approach, non-profit organisations need to ensure that their social media accounts have content that can captivate the public’s attention. Copies need to be bite-size and digestible. Feeds should also reinforce the storytelling narrative of the organisation to portray a consistent brand image. Additionally, as digital-first campaigns rely heavily on earned media and offline communications, they need social media to drive campaign visibility.
To find new and innovative ways to reach out to stakeholders and raise funds to sustain their operations, non-profit organisations need to consider these three elements when planning a fundraising campaign. Campaigns need to have high engagement, high virality and various touchpoints to sustain the traditional donors and obtain new donors who are more comfortable engaging online.
Whether you’re looking to fundraise, volunteer, or participate in a charity fundraiser, do look out for smaller non-profit organisations that need help. Every bit counts. Let’s do our part to make Singapore a kinder and more inclusive place for everyone!