In recent years, charities have come under increased scrutiny relating to their fundraising methods, the salaries of CEOs and the behaviour of charity workers (as in the case of Oxfam). Indeed, some sections of the media have been quite hostile; and so it is important that charities do whatever they can to maintain their focus and good reputation. Getting your fundraising message right is part of this process.
Your overall approach to fundraising
To write this article, I’ve used a number of key points taken from the excellent NCVO publication Telling A Better Story About Charities. NCVO offer some key insights, based on their research into public attitudes towards charities; and what is needed to restore confidence:
- Acknowledge concerns about charities e.g. pay of CEO.
- Be transparent in a proactive, accessible way.
- Give examples of behavioural change (e.g. how you make sure vulnerable groups are not hounded for donations).
- Demonstrate collective impact.
- Don’t just rely on facts and figures to make your case.
- Use simple, personable language, not ‘management speak’.
Your choice of images
Hard-hitting images can raise awareness and evoke concern, but they should be balanced with images showing the positive impact that donations are having. In other words, don’t just show the problem, show the solution too. Also, distressing images that could be seen by children are likely to raise concerns with some audiences.
This is the story you want to tell, about what you are doing or about a particular issue. An agreed narrative provides clarity and consistency across all external communications. Your aims should be to raise awareness, invoke concern, and encourage engagement, hopefully then leading to action from your audience (e.g. giving a donation).
If you want people to act, then acknowledge how vital they are to your work. Show that your audience matters (e.g. “Because of you…”). Put messages in terms that speak directly to your audience. Be interesting, be inclusive, and address their concerns (e.g. how they can make a difference) rather than making the message about your particular organisation.
Also, repetitive calls for donations can be off-putting. Giving to charity is not the only way that people can help; and NCVO found that it is important to reference the variety of other ways that people can lend their support.
The messages you choose in order to bring the narrative to life is likely to vary. Consider the following:
- Personal stories (beneficiaries, fundraisers, donors).
- How public support is helping.
- Good news related to your sector.
- Talking about and demonstrating the impact of your work.
- Tips and guides (e.g. a skin cancer charity might want to provide information about staying safe in the sun).
- Quotes from beneficiaries.
As mentioned above, you need to resonate with your audience. So look to build trust. Be consistent and empathetic; and use every-day language that people will understand.
Fewer words, better sense
You can convey an awful lot of your message with carefully selected images (photos, videos infographics). So avoid lengthy messages. Keep it short and simple; and avoid cluttering posters, social media posts or web pages. Also, avoid over-using statistics. Facts and figures are important, but too many at once can put people off.
Your campaign, whether online or not, needs interested people in order to succeed. So involve your audience. Raise questions, respond to comments, encourage involvement. Also, seek out ideas, information and creativity. Finally, ask your volunteers to help with fundraising activities and challenges (e.g. to enter a sponsored run), and online to share your social media posts and blog articles.
Finally, demonstrate integrity. Good governance and regulatory compliance are essential, but charities also need public trust. This only comes through transparency and good communication. The fundraising message is a key part of this process.