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Charities adapting in a changing world

There has never been a more critical time to look at things differently than there is now. Our world has completely changed. The Australian 2020 bushfires, floods, and the global pandemic have pushed us all towards our emotional and financial limits as we create new routines, and discover different ways to operate and survive.

As we work through what the pandemic means for our lives, both socially and financially, one thing is certain and that is: Change is inevitable. Every day more and more businesses are suffering from the financial impact of the crisis. We have seen industries grind to a halt, including the travel industry, retailers, restaurants, pubs and cafes, the arts and entertainment sector, small and local businesses, and sporting codes. They have been forced to shut down or dramatically limit their offering.


Innovation is not invention

Innovation is often confused with invention but they are not the same. Innovation refers to coming up with a better idea, method, or integrating a new approach – it is finding new ways to do things, while invention is about creating something new.

Coronavirus is making us push the boundaries of innovation. The biggest change so far is how we engage with each other as we find new ways to work, live and connect. Volunteering has paused, handshaking is taboo, and social distancing is something we are still grappling with. To get around these restrictions we are turning to digital solutions to deliver work, meetings, events and learning.

A crisis can help speed up innovation when it forces us to apply new ideas in a practical way. Some charities have shown innovation by increasing donor value through solutions that meet new, undefined, or existing needs in a new way. These include offering new or more relevant fundraising products (different price points, specific themes etc.), streamlining internal processes (auditing all areas of fundraising to identify duplication, waste and inefficiencies), new services, or new technologies.

Some charities innovated by adapting to the digital world’s constraints and freedoms to deliver their in-person events online and many boosted their traditional tax appeals with rapid and significant digital support. There was an investment in technology to:

  1. Improve website functionality for better donor experience
  2. Enable Working From Home for staff
  3. Deliver more sophisticated digital fundraising


It’s the simple things

Coronavirus is changing our behaviours and motivations. Globally it is being noted that there is a shift in people’s attitude towards consumerism. It appears as though we are valuing the simpler things in life; family remains ever-important, community connections are strengthening and our perception of where we fit in the world is now in constant consideration and reflection.

Kindness, empathy and sympathy led charity messaging and communications throughout the pandemic and this resonated positively with audiences. I know my family’s desire to do something good while in lockdown was heightened. At night on the couch, we went online to donate so that we could connect, support and ultimately feel a little bit better about our place in the world. We gave to the ANZAC day appeal because we couldn’t get out and buy a poppy or chat, while we donated, to the wonderful RSL collectors in shopping centres. We stood in our driveway with a lit candle at 6am, alongside our neighbours, to “light up the dawn” and connect to something greater. We also supported the Victoria Police Legacy online after watching coverage of the horrific Melbourne Freeway accident. And we signed up for the NAIDOC 5km run. Living through the strangest time in our lives we felt an undeniable need to connect to the community and help others.

Maybe this explains why some organisations that I have spoken to recently consider their fundraising, through coronavirus, a success. Some charities achieved the same income as last year for their Tax appeal while others raised more. And although some were below target, they regarded their appeal a success because their response rates were up even if the average gift amount was down. Giving during coronavirus could very well be attributed to people needing to feel connected to others and to get some control back in their lives. Charities that understood this – that people were needing to connect and support others during this time – were able to capture this opportunity.

Organisations that saw the opportunity to create new ways for people to engage and connect with each other during lockdown gained positive brand value. Netflix created online parties to provide a virtual ‘night out’ with friends, brands on social media filled their feeds with wellbeing advice for lockdown survival, FOXTEL released all channels to customers regardless of their plan and TikTok challenges went viral.

Charities understand innovation, but there is probably an industry-wide awareness gap about what is working and how best to begin the process. It’s one thing to agree innovation is needed, but unless it is actioned effectively and measured reliably, actual tangible outcomes with lasting impact are limited. Post-COVID will be the time to trial new things, and look at fundraising from different angles. It could be that fundraising activities which played second fiddle in your program, could now be adapted to add richness in a more innovative and integrated way.


Charities innovating digitally

Working from home has helped quicken the shift towards digital-first. Everyday our ability and willingness to engage digitally is expanding and happening with greater ease. Charities who innovate now to deliver positive experiences online or virtually will keep abreast of changing donor behaviours.

In an Australia Post online article, Brian Budlender, their sales director said “Businesses have had to have a stronger belief in online. Before the pandemic, consumers might’ve been selective about what they would purchase online and what they wanted to go out and get themselves. Now they’ve proven they’re comfortable purchasing anything online and having it delivered.”

The pandemic has forced onscreen behaviours to evolve and strengthen which means all donor segments are online. We can no longer assume that older donors aren’t online, or that they are not comfortable with technology, or that they don’t own a computer. They are online and looking to engage. We are seeing a massive shift in how people shop, work and connect online and nonprofits who have accelerated their investment in technology and turned their focus to ecommerce, online events, and digital campaigns will reap the greatest rewards.

Lynne Webster, the Donor Relations Guru, believes that there has been a forced fundamental shift in the world of Events. The shift has been so polar to what we are familiar with in regards to Events that now we need to rethink what “Events” mean to fundraising, attendees, and organisations.

During the pandemic, we saw thoughtful and fun activities and campaigns emerge. Some great coronavirus fundraising ideas that delighted and connected people were; Virtual games and quizzes, Isolation challenges, Donate your commute, Clean up and find items to donate later, Out of Office email with a donation option, and Zoom backgrounds for supporters to download are just a few. All of these ideas recognised the reality of lockdown and seized the opportunity to provide ways for people to connect and have fun. These games, ideas and products recognised that people had more time on their hands and needed to;

  1. Connect
  2. Break up their day
  3. Do good.

Of course, these campaigns and ideas have not reaped the same levels of income as traditional fundraising but they have strengthened donor relationships by providing donors with a little bit of escapism, a feeling of belonging, and a sense that the charity cares about them – which will ultimately create life-long donors.


Charity stories will become even more important

Authentic, emotional capital will be more important than ever for nonprofits. We have seen many examples of politicians and businesses making transformational decisions based on people’s stories and their emotional pleas during coronavirus restrictions.

During panic buying we heard the distressing stories about the elderly and vulnerable not being able to get supplies during lockdown. This resulted in the big supermarkets banding together to create Community Boxes of essential grocery items for delivery to the most vulnerable. The same supermarkets also allocated key shopping times for frontline workers who were finding it hard to get essential items due to their exhausting shift work.

Creating and delivering change, through personal stories, is what charities do best – but now it will be more important than ever. It is time to innovate your storytelling by utilising digital channels to bring your stories to life. Podcasts, videos and Vox Pops are key ways to further enhance your storytelling in a more memorable way.


Corporates value partnerships

Brand value in society has never been more under the microscope than it is now. Brands that pivoted to deliver equipment and resources for use during the pandemic are showing a commitment to being value-driven but this will need to continue after the crisis has ended. Companies, of all sizes, are looking for ways to survive, while simultaneously learning to serve customers differently.

The pandemic has provided corporates with a clearer understanding of the power and benefits of aligning with the right charity and they are more cognisant of how important it is for their brand to be perceived as helpful in people’s lives, now more than ever.

An online article by CMO listed brands who are teaming up with charities during the pandemic to offer support to people as the crisis continues to unfold. Glen20 released a new national TV campaign in partnership with Meals on Wheels Australia. There was a surge in demand for its home-delivered meals for older and vulnerable people during the pandemic. A spokesperson for Glen20 said “We are motivated by a common goal and we are excited to partner with the Meals on Wheels team and do our bit to support them during this unprecedented period.” Suncorp, another corporate partnering during the pandemic, pledged $1 million to The Smith Family to support online learning for children who lack ready access to computers and internet during the crisis. Optus announced a ‘Donate Your Data’ initiative with the Australian Business and Community Network to provide disadvantaged secondary school students with a free prepaid mobile plan to keep them connected and to support their studies.

Some corporates are keen to prioritise purpose-led partnerships during the pandemic because they understand that consumers, now more than ever, are looking for opportunities to “do good with their dollar.” There has never been a better time to identify a good-fit corporate and develop a value-driven partnership together.

There’s a strange sense of déjà vu as I write this because Victorians are heading back into lockdown until the end of August. Behaviours and attitudes will continue to change every day as we struggle to understand the situation we are in. But once this crisis has passed, we will feel as though we are rushing forwards, as we rebuild teams, knowledge, brand and business. While some nonprofits will be playing catch up, others who have harnessed agile leadership in this chaos will thrive. The world has changed and we all need to innovate so that our comeback is strong.


Fostering Innovation

Possibilities for innovation exist everywhere and to realise them, everyone in the organisation needs to be encouraged to look at things with fresh eyes. Here are some steps to follow to foster innovation in your organisation:
  1. Provide employees with a specific challenge
  2. Provide freedom to innovate
  3. Provide the resources needed to create new ideas/products
  4. Provide diversity of perspectives and backgrounds within groups
  5. Provide supervisor encouragement
  6. Provide organisational support