How to keep donors engaged in uncertain times

There’s no denying that the past few years have been tough on the charitable sector, from Brexit and economic uncertainty, to the fundraising and operational challenges the pandemic has brought. It’s at times like these that it is particularly important to keep donors engaged, despite the pressing concerns during economic and political turbulence.

With this in mind, we look at what concerns donors are currently having when it comes to their charitable giving and what charities can do to ensure donors are as engaged as possible to maintain that vital source of funds.

Think local

Both Brexit-related regulatory changes and the heightened attention on our local surroundings during lockdowns have shifted the focus onto local and national causes for both the general public and high net worth donors in recent times. People have become more aware of the loss of EU funding to more deprived areas of the UK, with the pandemic causing existing gaps to widen.

This offers small local and regional charities a real opportunity to capitalise on new interest for particular causes or localities. Charities that traditionally may have seen themselves as too small or too local could benefit from this growing trend if they get their case for support right.  

Strong local movements are taking shape across the UK, including place-based giving. There are also a range of place-based funders and organisations, from well-established community foundations to newer local giving schemes. Charities must make sure that they establish and maintain relationships with these introducers and intermediary organisations.

Look beyond the cash

We’re seeing more and more donors engaging with charities beyond financial support, whether that be by volunteering, becoming trustees, consulting, or even sharing their professional skills, networks or experience.

Charities should therefore consider whether their current plans are suitable to maximise engagement with certain donors. One approach could be to focus on family philanthropy, which can often be a powerful engagement tool. If economic uncertainty is making a donor reconsider their funding altogether, suggest more cost-effective strategies so that they can continue to give regularly and still have an impact on their chosen cause.

Share volunteering opportunities and make sure to be flexible with your options. It’s also important to share information on your organisation publicly; high net worth donors, especially those who are retired, will take the time to visit your organisation and do their homework on your charity. This is a great first step to building a long-lasting relationship with those individuals. Depending on their skills, they could help with finances, corporate partnerships, strategies, etc. They could even open doors to wealth managers, advisors and accountants advising other high net worth individuals – potential donors to your charity.

Planning for the future

The fundraising challenges, resulting funding drop and overall shock to the system that many charities have faced during the pandemic have brought into focus the importance of funding for the future. Getting a long-term financial plan in place is vital for future resilience.

To avoid potential situations of having to respond to crises as they unfold and launch appeals to meet funding shortfalls, where possible, work with funders to build up pots of unrestricted capital and reserves that can be deployed in cases of emergency. Being honest about your organisation’s financial needs, not just in the short-term but also in the long-term, will build trust and confidence in your long-term sustainability and keep your donors engaged with your long-term mission.

It’s also important to look ahead operationally; do you need to invest in better data management systems, online service delivery or even hire particular expertise to help instigate change for future resilience? The investments you make today could well make you better placed to deal with potential hurdles when a crisis next strikes. Keeping your donors aware of potential funding gaps or operational needs may open up doors not only to monetary donations, but potentially new connections, ideas and expertise.

Ultimately, your donors are there because they share your passion for your cause and want to make a difference. Looking for new opportunities, keeping your options for support open, and being open and honest about future plans can go a long way in developing your relationships with donors and maintaining engagement with your organisation and its work.