Community fundraising is having its heyday, says Beccy Murrell, so let’s recognise the true value it can bring to organisations, champion it and reap the rewards
Community fundraising appears to be enjoying unprecedented levels of interest at the moment as charities seek to invest in and develop this discipline in light of the anticipated impact of the new regulatory climate on other areas of fundraising. And this is really good to see, especially for those of us who have long argued that community fundraising should sit at the heart of the fundraising mix.
The below infographic provides a snapshot of what a typical community fundraising operation in an average UK charity might look like, illustrating the headline results of THINK’s Community Forum benchmarking exercise in 2016, which compared the community fundraising data from 25 member organisations.
It’s a useful tool to benchmark your own community fundraising team against, and to consider how your key performance indicators (KPIs) look in comparison. Most organisations measure community fundraising income, expenditure and return on investment, but indicators such as supporter retention rate and average gift value provide deeper insight into performance and the development of a long-term, sustainable community fundraising function.
This article explores and provides some takeaway tips on three of the big topics in community fundraising today: supporter retention, Do It Yourself (DIY) fundraising and centralised versus regional community fundraising programmes.
There is increasing noise about community fundraising driving supporter acquisition. And while it’s true that community fundraising can acquire large numbers of supporters, as evidenced through the plethora of mass participation campaigns, it should only be considered if community fundraising’s real strength – supporter retention – is in no way compromised by acquisition activity.
Supporter retention is enabled through relationship building and bespoke stewardship. That’s why an effective staff team is a critical and integral component of any community fundraising operation. So, if your charity is thinking of investing in community fundraising, one of the most important things to do is to ensure that your staff are well supported and equipped to build long-term relationships with those supporters who are closest to your cause.
It’s much easier to retain skilled staff who have competitive salaries and benefits and who are given a range of learning and development opportunities than it is to recruit new staff members. And at the end of the day, both staff and supporter retention is far more valuable and cost effective than their continual acquisition.
Top tip: For community fundraisers, a good way of improving supporter retention is by getting back in touch with supporters six months after their fundraising activity, to thank them for their support and explain what impact their fundraising has had on your charity’s mission. Picking up the telephone is an effective way to do this and can really deepen those supporter relationships.
DIY fundraising is a real driver of growth. According to THINK’s benchmarking exercise, DIY fundraising is the most popular community fundraising activity, followed by groups fundraising, then collections, mass participation, corporate, third party challenge and sporting events.
After years of charities responding reactively to supporters undertaking DIY fundraising activities, it is now a widely understood income stream with many charities being more proactive in this area and ‘productising’ their DIY offer – for example, Mind’s Do Your Own Thing and Marie Curie’s Fundraising My Way.
Although the average value of a DIY fundraising gift is £422, the gift range is huge from £50 to just under £1,000, so it’s easy to imagine what the impact of increasing your average DIY gift value could have on your community fundraising income.
Top tip: It’s well worth taking the time to review your fundraising pack and materials to see if they are really engaging and inspiring your supporters. Support for these activities is increasingly levered via social media and online sponsorship platforms, and the supporter having a strong causal link with the charity generally improves the chances of successful fundraising.
Regional versus central community fundraising programmes
We surveyed our 25 Community Forum members recently and found that just over two thirds (68%) have a regional community fundraising programme, with staff and/or volunteers based regionally, away from the head office.
There are some key advantages shared by those with a regional programme, including the ability to build face-to-face, personal relationships, being able to manage volunteer networks and offer bespoke stewardship to supporters to make them feel valued and more likely to engage in deeper and longer relationships, and hearing first hand about supporters’ ideas and concerns, which is priceless insights for charities (who needs focus groups when you have regional community fundraising?).
Other benefits include community engagement, which is so much easier when the person on the ground understands the local area, what’s going on and who the movers and shakers are, and who can link up supporters and spot where opportunities lie. Being the local face of a national brand, which has more relevance to local communities, and having the ability to flex the regional offering to meet local needs and conditions, are also important.
But there are definitely challenges to be aware of. Cost is a big one. It also can be difficult to manage and motivate field-based teams, keep them on track with strategic priorities and deliver a consistent message across a geographically dispersed team.
Top tip: Having a clear community fundraising strategy – one that translates into staff objectives and KPIs embedded in a strong performance management framework – will help to keep staff on track and regular communication. Added to this, a management team trained in remote management will help to identify and prevent staff feeling isolated and disengaged. Community fundraisers themselves can look for peer support internally and externally, through networking, mentoring and shadowing opportunities.
Today, in its heyday, many organisations recognise and appreciate the true value of community fundraising, and value both the long-term, sustainable charitable income that it generates as well as the non-financial contribution that it delivers. As relationship fundraising becomes increasingly important, organisations who champion community fundraising can reap the rewards.
Success requires community fundraising staff to be expert volunteer managers and relationship fundraisers, and organisations must invest in staff and volunteer training, succession planning and career development. Strong strategy needs to be underpinned with sophisticated systems, data, KPIs and reports.
This infrastructure, together with empowered volunteer networks and quality supporter stewardship, all serve to strengthen community fundraising’s offer and put it in its rightful place at the very heart of the fundraising mix.
Beccy Murrell is senior consultant at THINK Consulting Solutions