Looking beyond donations: engaging your audiences during the cost of living crisis

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Looking beyond donations: engaging your audiences during the cost of living crisis

With more and more reasons for the public to be tightening their purse-strings, this week we look at ways that charities can get people involved without directly asking for donations.

Peter Dawson

We seem to be in a perpetual mode of crisis. No sooner had we exited COVID than a cost-of-living crisis enveloped the country. Threat of recession hangs over the UK, inflation continues to soar and the public are now experiencing the consequences in the worst way. On top of that we have a leaderless government paralysed by ineptitude, scandal and infighting. To say this country has had better days would be an understatement.  

And charities are once again caught up in the middle of it. Though it has been a tough two and a half years, they have shown a remarkable resilience as they move from one crisis to another. But with public savings being wiped out, wages falling in real terms, and food and energy costs soaring, they are having to re-evaluate what other types of support and engagement so that their voices are heard. 

It’s a serious situation facing the public. Our Charity Awareness Monitor data is showing that the public expect to make cutbacks in most areas of life. For instance, two thirds (66%) say they will cut back on heating / hot water in the coming 12 months, compared to only 41% back in December 2021. Similarly, where 39% of the public expected to spend less on their weekly food shop 7 months ago, this has now increased to such an extent that now 62% of the public are doing this. 

Giving habits are also expected to be impacted as well. Recent data from our Charity Awareness Monitor has shown that over a quarter of the public (27%) say they will give less to charity over the coming year, a significant increase from the 14% saying this back in December 2021. Meanwhile, just 14% said they will give more. However, as the crisis develops into the autumn and winter the numbers of people saying they will reduce their giving may only increase.  

So how can charities continue to rely on the support of members of the public at a time when everyone is feeling the pinch? Given the sacrifices being made by the public, appealing for their donations is a little bit harder than in benign economic times. Making giving more affordable by encouraging sporadic or one-off donations or decreasing the amount they ask from supporters is one strategy, but it’s important to emphasise alternative ways in which charities can rely on the support of their followers. Volunteering is an obvious route to go down, but even then such forms of engagement aren’t immune from the current situation. So, what else can they do?  

  • Alternative use of supporters’ time - Encouraging supporters to write to their MP is another way which charities are engaging supporters. Turn2Us are just one of several charities engaging their followers in getting MPs to act on the real term cuts to benefits. It’s an increasingly popular strategy for increasing engagement, with our research showing that more and more people are now contacting their MPs and national newspapers (from 9% in 2017 to 17% in April 2022). 
  • Stay relevant in the public debate - developing and delivering an argument that is direct, clear and relevant to these times has never been more important. One such charity doing this is Age UK who have set their sights on campaigning for greater government support for elderly people who are less well-off via their ‘It Doesn’t Add Up’ campaign. Its aims are clear and simple – raise benefits and the State pension while also targeting direct payments of £500 to those elderly people on the lowest incomes. By adding their own unique voice to the public debate, highlighting the effects the crisis is having on your cause has never been more important as multiple charities clamour for greater government action.  
  • Storytelling – capturing the experiences of those who are struggling the most during these times is an integral part of keeping up levels of engagement. As part of their ‘Cost of Surviving’ campaign, Trussell Trust is getting their supporters involved by encouraging people to share their own experiences of these tough times. These stories are now forming a core element of the campaign, underlining the importance of narrative and emotional appeal in keeping up momentum and urgency to the work they are doing. Allowing beneficiaries to see themselves, maximising services to their benefit, and advocating their views is vital as we go forward. nfpResearch is now working with a number of organisations who are reaching out to their beneficiaries in this way, highlighting their proactivity in keeping ahead of the crisis. 

The next few months are going to be a challenge for organisations facing reduced income through fundraising. Involving supporters, making voices heard and developing strategies beyond donation drives will be critical in this. And it’s always worth remembering that charities exist for times like these. Many new ones will be established, and plenty will grow. It’s all about how they respond and innovate for the benefit of the people they serve.  

For more information on the research we do with the public, use the download link below.

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