You are not Alone
29th April by Imogen Ward
Mark, Tobin & Imogen have known Sonya Trivedy for many years. She is without doubt one of our sector’s finest fundraising leaders. About 15 months ago, when Sonya was looking for a new opportunity, we were delighted to find her the organisation and cause that was for her the perfect fit – Samaritans!
Now that she is firmly and very successfully in place as Executive Director of Income Generation at the charity, we caught up with Sonya to see how the last few weeks have been for her and her team.
The impact of, and fall out from, COVID 19 is going to be colossal on our mental health and wellbeing. With one in four us already being impacted in any ‘standard’ year we know that a second, arguably even bigger, health crisis is just around the corner post lockdown. The need for organisations such as Samaritans has never been greater. We were so touched that at this time of extreme emergency for the charity, Sonya took some time out for a chat.
How has Covid-19 impacted on the Samaritans’ services?
We are seeing a much increased demand for self-help information on our website and have created a hub of specialist information relevant to Covid-19. We also continue to receive a call for help every six seconds on our helpline that is open 24 hours a day, with one in three coronavirus-related.
We’ve had to think carefully about the services we are offering and the safety of our 20,000 volunteers. Many of them are over 70 or may have underlying health conditions and have gone into self-isolation. We have established social distancing protocols within our branches and continue to work on ensuring deep cleans take places where we can for those branches. We have had to stop offering direct face to face services.
We were recently approached by the NHS to set up a dedicated emotional helpline for their staff.
We pulled our teams together very quickly; something that would normally take 12-18 months to launch, was set up within 10 days, tested, launched and rolled out. This is now available to NHS on their intranet site, with specially trained volunteers working from home. People have worked around the clock to get this ready.
What has been the immediate impact on your fundraising activities and how have you dealt with it?
The main impact on fundraising has been on our face to face events and individuals doing their own events, which can no longer take place.
As soon as the impact of the crisis became clear, we took an immediate assessment of all our activities – looking at what was going to work, what wasn’t, where there would be gaps in income, which areas were at risk; in effect we have had to reprioritise all the work we were doing.
We then carried out scenario planning around different reductions in income to understand how we could respond effectively. Our Treasurer, John Tennent, has taken a really active role and we continue to meet on a fortnightly basis to reassess the situation.
What fundraising activities have you prioritised since the start of Covid-19 and how are they performing?
The fact that Samaritans has a mixed portfolio of income has really worked in our favour, as we are not overly reliant on one fundraising activity, and we also have a strong innovation pipeline.
Two things were clear from the outset:
We knew immediately that we needed to continue asking for funds and that it was important we connect with and update our supporters.
We also needed clear messages about the impact this situation is having on our callers now and potentially into the future.
We launched an emergency appeal integrated across all our audiences including individuals, major donors, corporates and trusts. For many domestic charities, crisis appeal mailings are new territory and we are no exception, so we needed to craft it carefully. We looked at best practice across the sector as learnings for doing our own emergency appeal.
In the end, and using learnings from a previous campaign, we based the appeal around a strong human story as we know this approach resonates with our supporters; in this case a message from one of our volunteers just before lockdown. She was glad she could be there to help callers.
Stewardship and the ongoing journey have also been vital at this time to connecting with donors. We now send out a short informal and warm film from our CEO to donors thanking them for their donations.
Telemarketing is also an important part of this work and we’ve been having deep, engaging conversations with our donors to understand why they are supporting us. We have found that conversion rates and our upgrade results are much better than we could possibly have hoped for.
What is helping us now is the investment we have made in innovation over the last two years. Last year we tested our first Samarathon – a virtual marathon that can be run, walked or jogged in the month of July. Last year’s event was a huge success, smashing our targets.
So, when we were looking at our plans and the impact of Covid-19, we knew that this activity would be really important to us when people were in lockdown. We are currently fast-tracking our online marketing and hope that in this crisis we are going to have some really strong results again. Not only does it feed into the guidance around daily exercise, it supports health and wellbeing, all whilst raising money for Samaritans. Win, win, win!
Another activity already in our pipeline that we knew we had to fast track, was a monthly subscription Feel Good Book Club, to help connect people through the joy of reading with an online community. We launched the website a few weeks before lockdown and we’ve already had 1,000 people sign up. We’re now testing fulfilment options and listening to feedback from those early adopters ready for a launch next month. We are also going to be part of the upcoming BBC Arts Big Book Weekend.
Our commitment to innovation is something that will help carry us through this crisis and also help us in our thinking about the medium and long term as well (we’re already thinking about our 2020 Christmas Appeal). That means that continual testing and learning from our activities is key now, more than ever.
Last year, we started to invest in digital acquisition, adopting this test and learn approach. We first tried this integrated approach with our Christmas and Spring appeals and extended this to our emergency appeal with really, really heart-warming results. The return of investment, cost per acquisition, etc again has been really strong. So, we are looking to roll that out more.
We have also created a range of tools for our 201 branches across the UK and Republic of Ireland with advice on how to access local emergency funds, what contingency plans can be put in place if they were planning an event, what fundraising can be done at this time, etc.
Alongside all of this work, we have been collaborating with other mental health charities. We know we are all going to be really stretched in the coming weeks and months. We are working together to consider collectively approaching companies to seek matched funding for the recent £5 million provided by the UK government for mental health frontline services. This is quite exciting for us, forcing us out of our comfort zone.
How have you looked after your team during this time?
We have been working hard to get the balance right between the urgency of our fundraising and what’s happening in the external world, and making sure our team feel safe, supported and know that we’re thinking about their health and wellbeing.
It’s important that they understand our direction of travel and what we are trying to deliver. We’ve created guidance for them around things like buddying up and doing face to face video calls (although also not to be overwhelmed by them – just picking up the phone is sometimes easier).
We’ve suggested people should sometimes have a remote cup of tea and conversation with someone they might not ordinarily talk to at work. We’ve also introduced things like Workout Wednesday and the One o Clock Bop on a Friday, to help people feel connected and engaged – human connection is one of the key values of our organisation.
The Income Generation team have worked tirelessly and stepped into action over this period. It’s so heart-warming to hear their feedback from their chats with our supporters and how that in turn is inspiriting our activities. We are constantly innovating, testing and learning… there is so much rich stuff coming through right now. It makes my heart sing.
It’s not just our income team, this is going on right across the Samaritans’ staff and volunteer teams and in fact the whole not for profit sector.
We all need to come together to work out the best way of collaborating to get us through this crisis and I couldn’t be prouder of the Samaritans role in helping make this happen.