Amy Petterson, Head of Community Fundraising, Royal Air Forces Association shares her experiences of working with local fundraising groups and reveals how the charity, through effective stewardship, has strengthened its bond with regional and community supporters.
Very few areas of the UK’s fundraising landscape are the same today as they were 18 months ago. Some more traditional fundraising methods have been difficult or impossible to maintain during the COVID pandemic. Charities have had to adapt quickly to survive and keep supporting their beneficiaries.
The Royal Air Forces Association is a welfare charity and membership organisation that has been providing support to the RAF community for over 90 years. This longevity means that many of our members and supporters have a long history of contributing many hours volunteering, whether as welfare officers, at events or raising money, with some having been involved with the charity for decades.
Adapting to a rapidly changing world
March 2020 saw everyone, including the charity and fundraising world stop, take a breath to assess the unfolding situation, then race to adapt to an uncertain and rapidly changing world. The majority of what the Association was doing had to change; from welfare delivery to fundraising. Many employees were temporarily furloughed to protect the financial health of the organisation, a difficult but prudent decision to protect the Association’s ability to support members of the RAF community in need.
What did this mean for community fundraising at the RAF Association? Longstanding fundraising methods that our supporters were familiar with, such as street and supermarket collections and face-to-face activities were, of course, immediately halted.
Adopting a hybrid approach
However, the need for income generation became even more acute than ever. Like many charities, we had to adapt our methods to comply with COVID-19 related restrictions. One example of this was RAFA Rides, our annual cycling event held in Leicestershire. The in-person event planned for June 2020 was unable to go ahead, but our participants made it very clear to us that they still wanted the ride to go ahead, as a way of connecting with others in the RAF community. Our solution was to create a virtual event, with riders around the world cycling together online. The pandemic forced this approach on us, but it soon became apparent that elements of this virtual format added hugely to both our supporters’ experience and the overall fundraising success.
Armed with these lessons, in 2021 we decided to combine the best of both our physical and virtual formats. Our hybrid event allowed people from 21 countries and six continents to cycle together, either in person in Leicestershire or by joining the ride online from anywhere in the world.
Promoting wellbeing through sound stewardship
Another positive outcome from our experiences during COVID has been our ability to focus on relationships with our community fundraising supporters and volunteers. The value of effective stewardship has always been recognised at the Association, but the circumstances of the pandemic helped us to simplify our priorities. Very simply, our supporters are our community, and we wanted to make sure that they were ok. We focussed on checking on their wellbeing, supporting them when needed and offering practical ways to feel connected with us and each other.
For those who felt able, we also helped and encouraged them to adapt to fundraising digitally. We supported them to create a digital presence, set up fundraising pages, and take their fundraising online. As COVID restrictions ease, we are all looking forward to being able to undertake in-person collections. However now our supporters have the added benefit of digital skills to support their future fundraising in a society that will become ever-more cashless.
Recognising the value of community fundraising
The pandemic has made so many people aware of just how important community is. Camaraderie, friendship and supporting those in need have been the driving forces behind the work of the Association since it was first formed over 90 years ago. During the pandemic, we’ve been focusing on embedding this ethos even more strongly into every aspect of our fundraising. We found that it has connected our supporters even more closely with our charity and our cause.
We have learned many important lessons over the past 18 months and, as life slowly begins to return to normal, our challenge now is to keep them at the centre of all we do.
Charity numbers: 226686 (England and Wales), SCO37673 (Scotland).