Daniel Burger, Chief Executive at Magen David Adom UK shares with us how their fundraising approach enabled the team of just seven to deliver £7m of income in 2020.
"By working with our major donors in an even more strategic way, we witnessed a 30% increase from 2019 to 2020 amongst this group".
When everything slows down - it’s time to move fast
Reflections on a year when fundraising changed forever
The start of 2020 was like the beginning of any other calendar year I have experienced since I started at Magen David Adom UK (MDA UK) 10 years ago. We had planned a full diary of fundraising events and initiatives, covering the spectrum of donor events (at multiple giving levels) through to a legacy drive and sponsored ‘challenges’, as well as the completion of a £90m capital project. As a charity that raises funds to support Israel’s official International Red Cross organisation, much of my own time is spent overseeing projects there and we like to directly showcase our work to donors as frequently as possible. However, like the rest of the world, after a hectic first 10 weeks to the year, everything came to a juddering halt.
It would have been very easy to go in to ‘bunker-mode’. Cancelling all contracts and putting the organisation on hold as we waited to see what would happen next. However, in consultation with our highly supportive board and together with our long-standing communications’ agency, we sought to adopt a more positive approach. It was this that enabled our team of just seven to deliver £7m of income in 2020.
The MDA UK donorbase has a long-standing connection to Israel. Many will support a number of Israel-related causes. Our donors love to see the tangible difference their support makes – from bandages in first-aid kits to ambulances on the streets of Israel - it’s vital for us to have something physical to show for where their money goes. As such, the ‘sell’ did not become any harder just because of the pandemic. Many of our donors wanted to support our projects in Israel even more, because of the situation. This was further accentuated by the fact that, as Israel’s only national medical emergency and blood service, our medics, paramedics and volunteers were very much on the front line. Our supporters, and the rest of the world, were keen to hear about how Magen David Adom (MDA) in Israel was combatting the crisis. MDA was and still is making headlines, and we are delighted to share these ‘updates’ with our UK donorbase. Covid-19 made our cause even more relevant.
Keeping in touch
Our donors were interested and, in some cases, fascinated by what was happening in Israel. Many would be frequent visitors to see family and these opportunities to travel had disappeared. So, we brought Israel to the UK through a series of webinars and donor briefings. As MDA in Israel was first central to the Covid-19 testing and then the vaccination programme, MDA UK delivered the experts to our supporters in a way we never would have done previously. Anecdotal feedback has suggested that these awareness events - where we did not ask for money - enhanced our reputation amongst the donor base.
In a similar manner, when we couldn’t go to Israel to dedicate the lifesaving vehicles gifted to us by generous donors, we organised for the dedications of an actual Israeli ambulance to take place here in the UK. We wouldn’t be the organisation we are without our donors, so when travelling wasn’t an option, we found a way to bridge the gap.
Asking at the right time
Incredibly, MDA UK’s year-on-year fundraising income is up 3% (net of legacies). Where we have, of course, missed out is through the London Marathon and other sporting events including our Israel360 Trek, as well as sponsors and sales from in-person events, which make up a significant chunk of our income from the core donorbase who give £100 or less each year. However, by working with our major donors in an even more strategic way, we witnessed a 30% increase from 2019 to 2020 amongst this group. I have no doubt that our improved communications coupled with the trust and understanding from a cohort that give in the £5,000+ bracket, lead to our improved return in this area.
Long-term investment, short-term gain
As the golfer Gary Player once commented, “the harder I practice, the luckier I get.” This is how I feel about our legacy income in 2020. We saw a huge windfall that ‘luckily’ came in at the start of the pandemic when the housekeeper of Harry Fuld Jr, an industrialist who lost everything to the Nazis, included MDA in her Will. The ‘di Paolo’ panels from Fuld’s impressive art collection sold for an incredible £7.5m, of which MDA UK received a 37.5% share. The majority of our legacies, which can account for around 25% of our annual income, are the result of a targeted legacy campaign that we have been running for the best part of twenty years! You never know when a Will will be realised in your favour. But without developing the relevant audience to understand how they can give and how legacies work, these pleasant surprises are harder to come across.
MDA UK also runs a Legacy Mission to Israel, which provides an incredible opportunity to see close-up the work of MDA and how the Wills and estates of our supporters have impacted the citizens of Israel. This was one of our first events to be cancelled in 2020, but we hope to take a group later this year.
The future starts now
2020 (and now into 2021), has taught us all that to be successful you need to be nimble. Magen David Adom UK needed to evolve, and the Covid-19 pandemic was the catalyst to change. We had become too dependent on the tried and tested measures for fundraising. Now we know that, when the world goes back to some kind of normal, we can blend our past successes with our new experiences for an even better fundraising drive in the future.