The pan­dem­ic: where has fundrais­ing been, where is it going and where should we be focus­ing now?

For­mer NSPCC direc­tor of fundrais­ing Giles Pegram and the Char­tered Insti­tute of Fundraising’s Sup­port­er Expe­ri­ence Spe­cial Inter­est Group offer free resources to help you focus on the needs of your donors dur­ing the ongo­ing crisis.

Written by
Giles Pegram CBE
November 11, 2020

The past

Since March the fundraising community has been devastated, with mass redundancies and deep cuts made to services. The causes to which we have devoted our lives have suffered in a way never seen before in our lifetimes. It has been truly awful.

As soon as we believed we were over the peak we began to plan for a new normality. Not the same as before – far from it – but a re-imagination of our services.    

The present

Hope for the future has turned to uncertainty. Confirmed cases of Covid-19 are rising dramatically. A second wave is now upon us, as is a second national lockdown. Until there is a vaccine which really works, or a treatment or cure, we are going to have to learn to live with this terrible virus. Recent research suggests that one in 10 charities will be forced to close within a year.

The future

One thing that’s certain about the coming year is – uncertainty. The only sure thing for fundraisers is that, as so often, so reliably in the past, we can turn to our supporters. That’s right. You can be certain that your supporters will see you through.

In the first wave many charities were reluctant to ask their supporters for money. They felt that they’d be preoccupied with Covid-19, or that adverse finances would mean they couldn’t afford to give, right now. So, fundraisers didn’t ask. They let their donors be.  

They were wrong then. And they are wrong now. 

Now is absolutely the right time to be engaging and communicating with your supporters. Now more than ever, the experience you give to your supporter will make all the difference. 

So, communications to supporters need to be extra-carefully crafted. They must be outside in, not inside out. What does the supporter want to hear? Not what you want to tell them. Start with the supporter. How are they? How are they feeling? Thank them for all they have done so far. If their finances are suffering, offer them a payment holiday. They’ve been there for you, now you can be there for them. ‘We look forward to hearing from you when things are OK.’  

But the reality, it’s now clear, is that most of your real supporters are better off in lockdown. Those retired or in regular employment have had few places to spend money in recent months. And lockdown looks like continuing. So, they’re saving shedloads by not dining out, going to shows and events, foreign holidays etc. For them, it’s precisely the time to be showing why they’re even more needed now, and showing them the extra difference that their increased giving now can make. Indeed, charities that have done this well recently have seen almost unbelievably good results. And they’re not isolated. 

‘The fastest growth in supporters that we have had in nearly a decade for two consecutive quarters.’ 

‘Our April, June and September appeals consistently hit and excelled targets.’ 

We have just had a record summer appeal for our Poverty Pandemic.’ 

‘We completely redid our lent appeal (schools and churches couldn’t act as channels for collection boxes). Direct donations were over €4.5 million – double previous years.’ 

‘Just had a record summer appeal for our Poverty Pandemic.’   

And, if this seems hard to believe, look at the BBC’s Radio Four weekly appeal. In the period from 1st March 2019 – 10th May 2019 the appeals raised £205,085. In the same period to 10th May 2020, they raised £464,864 (I’ve counted them, week by week). That’s as far as published figures go. What will have happened since 10th May this year?

Compassion is spreading as fast as the virus.

There is hope. We must communicate well. 

So, what exactly do you need to do to immerse your organisation in the supporter experience?

Why a good supporter experience is crucial

This thinking is what the Chartered Institute of Fundraising (CIoF)’s ‘Supporter Experience Special Interest Group’ exists to help with. Several members of that group, with decades of experience and steeped in the supporter experience, have produced an online booklet; ‘Fundraising at the time of Covid: how the supporter experience can help you navigate the pandemic.’ Seven principles with up to six actions beneath each of them. Concrete, practical and very do-able. A veritable ‘How to’ guide at a critical time, entirely free, for you and your colleagues.

How can you start to think about the needs of your supporters, rather than the needs of your organisation? How can you change the mindsets of all staff within your organisation? How can you convince the decision makers that your supporters still believe in your mission – and that they want to give? How can you make the case for investment in fundraising, rather than cuts? Unlike other parts of your organisation, fundraising is a profit centre, not a cost centre. Fundraising can be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

The CIoF’s Supporter Experience Group has given a lot of thought to all these questions and will answer each in turn at a free webinar on Wednesday 25th November, here, and you can access the on-line booklet here.

We’ve put a lot of work into them. They’re free. We want to help you to make a difference.

With thanks to Ken Burnett.

Click on the image below to read the booklet in full.

Fundraising in the time of COVID-19

Click here to discover the great campaigns charities are running in these difficult times, using donor-focussed fundraising to achieve amazing results.

About the author: Giles Pegram CBE

Giles Pegram CBE

Giles Pegram CBE (he/him)

Drawing from an award-winning career in fundraising, Giles Pegram now shares insights as a consultant. You can find him at

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