Fundraising: force for improved wellbeing or yet another cause of social anxiety?
I’ll start with a confession.
When people ask what I do for a living, I don’t say ‘fundraiser’. Notwithstanding my 10 year plus career.
Why? I’m ashamed that fundraising, meant to be part of the solution to the world’s social problems, has unintentionally become part of the problem.
People say their experience of fundraising just adds to a sense of hopelessness and a sinking feeling that the world is going to the dogs.
Charity TV ads in particular can feel like an unwelcome visitor crashing into our living rooms to tell us that without your support, yes, you, specifically, this child may die.
It’s tough to feel we must shoulder personal responsibility for huge social problem, when many of us are already feeling like we don’t have the emotional resources – the resilience, the self-esteem, the optimism – to cope with our own lives.
This undercurrent of discomfort became a critical conversation with the sad passing of poppy seller Olive Cooke. However inaccurate the reporting, public discomfort crystallised into anger about the potential negative impact of charities’ marketing, especially on mental health. That discomfort finally came into sharp focus, forcing every charity to define the word ‘vulnerable’ and take steps to change their practice accordingly.
Since then, the advent of GDPR has forced the sector to reassess other standard marketing practices, with a number of charities cutting down on the frequency of warm mailings to protect data permissions.
Both are undoubtedly positive steps for supporters’ wellbeing.
But sadly both were driven by external events that forced fundraisers’ hands, over a sudden concern for supporters’ wellbeing.
This year, 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem. That so many of us experience this, proves vulnerability doesn’t discriminate by age group, gender or anything else. Charities need to think bigger and bolder than basic good practice. Every charity surely has a natural duty of care to all of its current and potential supporters.
And quite frankly, it’s in our best interests to thinks about fundraising’s impact on supporter wellbeing.
Because if we want to grow charitable giving, which has remained worryingly static over the past 10 years (CAF Giving Report 2018), then we have to convince huge sections of society to engage with us.
So what’s holding us back? The charity sector is still broadly using success measures that work for Finance Directors, rather than audiences, resulting in the prioritisation of immediate income over long-term supporter experience.
Even our precious Lifetime Value Models, however long a view they take, have no in-built metrics for supporter satisfaction, the simplest of starting places for audience-led metrics.
Enriching supporter experiences are the only way our sector will successfully engage the diverse audiences who care deeply about our causes but are currently disengaged.
That means building positive associations with your charity in all marketing activity, both fundraising and brand. It’s all about prioritising how you make people feel. It’s all about improving supporter wellbeing.
How? Here’s an example. We’re proud at GOOD to have developed the ‘Untapped’ campaign for WaterAid, which raised £4.2m in just 3 months.
The fantastic WaterAid team know that making people feel good about their giving creates the ultimate supporter experience. Untapped shares with supporters the real lives of beneficiaries’ in Tombohuaun, Sierra Leone, alongside simple, honest storytelling about the truth of living with dirty water, as told by the community themselves.
Untapped doesn’t shy away from the very real human need for donations. I am not arguing for the ‘solution-only’ creative strategy which has been tried and has failed countless times. We framed the whole story to feel empowering, both for the audience, and for the beneficiaries. By creating a sense of belonging, we build emotional capital, a bank of positive sentiment that pays back over time. Let’s get a measure for that in our lifetime value metrics.
So I’m proud we developed Untapped, proud enough to answer next time “Yes, I’m a WaterAid fundraiser”.
Now that’s definitely a force for good.