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Fundraisers look to the future at FIA Conference

8 June 2022 at 12:16 pm
Danielle Kutchel
A panel of expert fundraisers reflect on the lessons learned from COVID and where face-to-face fundraising could be heading.

Danielle Kutchel | 8 June 2022 at 12:16 pm


Fundraisers look to the future at FIA Conference
8 June 2022 at 12:16 pm

A panel of expert fundraisers reflect on the lessons learned from COVID and where face-to-face fundraising could be heading.

If COVID proved anything, it’s that nothing is certain. That doesn’t help though when trying to plan a calendar of fundraising activities. 

At the 2022 FIA Conference, a group of five fundraisers came together to discuss how face-to-face fundraising has changed thanks to the ongoing pandemic. The panel included moderator Jenny Kearney from Cancer Council NSW, Lauren James from Cornucopia Consultancy, Adam Watson from Fundraising Partners Pty Ltd, Julia Cameron from Peter MacCallum Cancer Foundation, and Lauren Jenkins from Royal Flying Doctor Service Victoria.

With decades of fundraising experience between them, the experts reflected on the “pivots” their organisations had had to make as the COVID pandemic and, more recently, natural disasters brought face-to-face fundraising to a stand still.

“Between the bushfires, the global pandemic and the lockdowns… and most recently floods, face-to-face fundraising and the people who run it have demonstrated, and in many cases have been forced to demonstrate, incredible resilience and flexibility,” Kearney said.

“Being a state based organisation, at Cancer Council we didn’t have the option to relocate our fundraisers when the lockdowns hit or when the floods impacted different parts of the state.”

She said the Cancer Council experienced a slight drop-off when COVID hit as its fundraisers quickly moved to digital and virtual events. Fortunately, the Cancer Council’s well-established regular giving program helped to “keep the organisation relatively stable”.

Cameron said Peter MacCallum, though also a state-based organisation, was able to continue face-to-face fundraising in other states during Victoria’s marathon COVID lockdowns. In fact, the organisation’s fundraising and regular giving “continued to grow throughout the pandemic”, she said. Money was also reinvested into regular giving retention programs.

“I think [COVID] really showed why it was good that a few years ago we had started to diversify, and it also proved why we needed to continue investment in those smaller acquisition channels relative to face-to-face,” Cameron said.

“But it also showed why face-to-face was so valuable, because the income stream that we get through our face-to-face recruited donors allows us to have smaller tests to diversify on the side and grow alongside face-to-face.”

Over at Royal Flying Doctor Service Victoria (RFDSV), Jenkins said their face-to-face program was halted for two years as a result of COVID, a move that was “devastating” for the team. But the donors that they had acquired to that point were largely retained, which helped to mitigate the loss. With two digital campaigns already underway and a diverse portfolio of regular givers, RFDSV was able to try and make up for the loss of face-to-face.

Representing Cornucopia Consultancy, James said Friday 23 March 2020 would forever be etched in her memory as the day she had made the call to pull the pin on face-to-face fundraising. Once again, earlier diversification helped Cornucopia survive while the organisation waited to be able to get out on the streets again.

Many face-to-face fundraisers were moved into telephone roles. Not all survived, James said. But Kearney noted that the sector had shown great innovation in order to survive.

Speaking on the point of innovation, Watson said the fundraising sector had always showed a “hunger for innovation”, and said the response during the pandemic was “remarkable”. He recalled face-to-face fundraisers being retrained in the skills needed to work the phones and the way contactless technology, like allowing donors to follow a link sent to their phone to complete the donation process, rose to prominence. 

Jenkins and Watson also recommended that face-to-face fundraisers continue to communicate openly about what does and doesn’t work, in a bid to help each other and enhance the process for donors.

Lessons on how to connect with donors

To help retain donors, Jenkins said it was important for organisations to create a  “really compelling donor journey” with small “one percenters” – the extra little things that help make the experience more personal for donors. This could be as simple as reporting back on the difference their donation has made or sending them a birthday greeting in their birthday month, she said – the smallest things can make the biggest difference.

Cameron added that little things like optimising the donation process and understanding who your donors are by delving into the data, could also help to maximise giving opportunities.

At Cornucopia, James said donor experiences were all-important as they helped inspire donors and encouraged them to stay connected.

“I don’t want the donors remembering my fundraisers’ names. I want them [to remember] how they felt about the cause that they’re going to be supporting, ideally for a lifetime, or until they’re old and grey,” she said.

Where are we going?

With so many innovations in fundraising over the last few years, the panel was unanimous in their view that fundraisers had had to move quickly to keep pace with the changes in the world. And while nothing is certain, there were a few truisms to come out of the event.

The panel agreed that managers should know their teams and know the strengths of their team members, and trust them to run the fundraising program. They said data and metrics were key to success and to knowing what was happening across the fundraising portfolio.

Connecting with donors and equipping face-to-face fundraisers with the stories that will impact potential donors and encourage giving is also important. While not all donors will become regular givers, every donor needs to be nurtured, even if they’re only a one-off, Cameron said.

So what is the future of face-to-face fundraising? It’s “continually optimising”, Cameron said, finding the one percenters and diversifying as well.

At RFDSV, Jenkins said she was “all guns blazing in face-to-face”.

Watson said the future of face-to-face was “not VR headsets, it’s not immersive technologies, it’s not augmented reality. Nowadays, it’s doing the basics a lot better”.

And James warned the audience to expect the unexpected – after so much uncertainty, she said it was likely things would change again. Her advice? “Hold steady.”

Danielle Kutchel  |  @ProBonoNews

Danielle is a journalist specialising in disability and CALD issues, and social justice reporting. Reach her on or on Twitter @D_Kutchel.


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