The View from High Value Fundraising
3rd June by Imogen Ward
When Arthritis Research and Arthritis Care came together in 2017, AAW were honoured to be asked to help this newly merged organisation with its fundraising strategy. Fast forward to November 2019, and now called Versus Arthritis, we couldn’t have been prouder to see the launch of the charities first high value fundraising campaign – the 10 Million Appeal which has so far raised over £2 million.
Developed with the brilliant Head of High Value Partnerships, Anna Cooper, the appeal highlights the plight and pain of an estimated 10 million people in the UK who are living with arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions. Since March 2020, Anna and her team have had to pivot fundraising activities from 10 Million to deal with the immediate impact the COVID 19 crisis has on people suffering with this condition.
Here she talks about how she has led her team during this crisis and how, in the field of High Value Fundraising, it is so important to keep talking and engaging with your donors.
Tell us about Versus Arthritis’s 10 Million Appeal
Working with AAW, we came up with the 10 Million Appeal as a way of packaging up existing and new work the charity was doing and to help increase income quite quickly; we needed to address a significant gap in income versus planned charitable expenditure.
We planned to raise £10 million over a three-year period to start to transform the lives of the 10 million people living with arthritis in the UK. The campaign launched in November last year and got off to a great start – we raised just over two million pounds in six months.
What impact has COVID 19 had on the charity and the appeal?
Inevitably, we’ve had to put the appeal on hold for now and we will be reforecasting income. We’ve certainly moved into a response mode and more COVID-related fundraising. The reason for this is that a lot of our beneficiaries are self-isolating out of choice or self-shielding on the advice of the NHS because they're on immunosuppressant drugs.
We've had to adapt a lot of our support work to provide relevant and up to date care and support to those people in desperate need; we’ve seen a significant increase in demand on our helpline, website and online community. The latter, moderated by volunteers, has seen a 2600% increase in usage, mainly with queries from people around isolation and keeping busy.
As a charity we are quite forward thinking anyway, but we’ve had to expedite our innovation very, very quickly. We’ve redeployed 30 people from across the organisation to support on the helpline – each of those do one shift a week, so that we can increase capacity significantly and so that every single person that calls can get the help they need.
Our biggest innovation in the last ten weeks has been to create COVA – the Covid-19 Virtual Assistant. We’ve used AI technology to build a new tool in record time specifically to provide people with arthritis, relevant COVID related information at their fingertips, whenever they want.
The more people that use the software, the more intelligent it becomes, learning what is the most relevant information to adapt to the user. So if you know anyone this would be useful for, please drive them to our site.
The impact of Covid-19 has meant that our Marketing department had to work round the clock to adapt a big awareness campaign that was planned for the middle of April. We weren’t able to change any of the media slots which had been booked for months, but we could change the message so that it was relevant to the here and now, to show people with arthritis that we are listening to them and provide the support they need. The campaign landed well, exceeded all targets and has had a really good response amongst our audiences.
At a time when all seems doom and gloom, this is slightly different and has provoked conversation.
It has been great to see a lot of innovation coming out of the charity, which has provided my team with different funding opportunities to seek additional income for, especially when some other work is on hold. People are just much more interested to hear what we are doing in response to COVID, which has been great.
Once we get a bit more back to normal, our 10 Million appeal will carry on, we have just had to deviate slightly for a short time!
How have individual teams been impacted? What are you doing differently?
We've been focused on doing stewardship really, really well; looking after our funders, donors and partners, many of whom are connected to our cause. We’re directing them to our helpline and support services if they need – making sure people feel like we’re there for them.
The corporate team initially found that lots of their conversations changed direction or were put on hold. We’ve had a couple of partnerships delayed by about six months. I’m glad to say that some of those conversations that were put on hold initially, have started to ramp up again now.
We have seen an increase in donations from our major donors over the last few weeks which is a great sign. We have been writing to them, having phone calls and we hosted our first virtual event with our Chief Executive two weeks ago which was very successful. Slightly terrifying when relying on tech – but it works well and enabled us to update our supporters as to what Versus Arthritis is currently doing. We’ll definitely carry them on and create a series of events with different topics.
Our trusts and foundation team have been incredibly busy at this time, dealing with existing applications that remain open and the additional workload of the Covid- related emergency funds that we're able to apply to.
So, one thing that's clear to me, and looking at the media about all of the fundraising that's going on at the moment, is that people still want to give. They want to give to causes that are important to them, which is why it's important for us to just look after people really well.
The memo that I gave to the team early on was, it doesn’t matter if we don't raise any money through this time, as long as we retain our donors, and make sure that they feel like we're here for them. It's a difficult call when you're measured on your income, but I’m optimistic that in time, we will be able to convert great conversations into increased giving.
Have you had support from your senior leadership team?
Yes, they have been incredibly supportive.
I'm proud to work for an organisation that has really valued all employees at this time. We have an embedded flexible working policy anyway, but individuals and teams have just adapted to working from home, we have all been provided with additional equipment if we needed it and the charity has been very understanding with people with caring responsibilities or who are parents (like me). The fact that implicit trust is given is amazing.
How have team coped working remotely over the last couple of months?
Alongside the development of the 10 Million appeal, AAW helped us develop the organisational structure we needed to help drive the growth needed in fundraising – so there’s been a fair amount of change and a lot of new faces in our team.
We were nearly all office based previously and we’ve all had to adapt to new ways of working and whilst everyone responded positively and adapted well to using technology to do their jobs, the first couple of weeks in lockdown were really difficult for a lot of us. For me, it was juggling three year old twins with working full time!
Growing corporate partnership income is a big part of our strategy, we do have a fair amount of new business extroverts! You need to be pretty gregarious to be a corporate fundraiser as you gain energy off other people and bouncing ideas off them. So initially it was pretty tough on some individuals. But we’ve adapted well now – we have our daily coffee and biscuit catch ups and weekly wines (whines).
The greatest benefit of this period is the fact that everybody is valuing each other so much more than perhaps we did before lockdown.
Do you have any general advice for people in the sector working in high value?
- Look after the people that fund you because these are the people that care and believe in you. Whether or not they give now, they will support you in the future if you treat them well.
- Naturally, we have to be understanding that some partners and individuals may divert funding to other charities, or the NHS, or stop giving because they can't afford to because of the stock market or just general financial worries. But it is so important to be there for them and to listen and keep the dialogue open. You never know what might happen down the line.
- Look after yourselves – high value fundraising is tough at the best of times. Lots of dead ends, lots of great conversations that fall flat at the 11th hour. It’s hard working from home all the time and it’s hard taking rejection with no one to share it with. I’ve been enjoying my daily runs (good mentally and physically!) – they give me time to process things and transition from work Anna to Mum Anna!