2020 - A Year Like No Other

8th December by Tobin Aldrich

Published on


2020 writing

I know we'll all be happily shot of 2020 at this point, but before we do, let’s take stock of where the fundraising world stands at the end of this tumultuous year.

Since March we have, I think, gone through a number of stages in terms of how the charity sector has responded to the pandemic.

First, we had the emergency stage. All organisations responded to the immediate crisis, the new demands on their services, the hits on their income, the pivots to home working and new delivery models. This took most organisations up to around June. It was an exhausting, but an adrenaline-fuelled period with many of our colleagues and clients demonstrating amazing resilience.

Over the summer we had a pause to catch breath, assess the longer-term implications of this crisis and begin to plan for the future. There was a grappling with bigger issues, the asking of more existential questions as many charities begin to think about what their missions and service models looked like in a Covid world. The work was less immediately urgent but in different ways, just as intense.

Many charities were pleasantly surprised by how well their income from the areas not directly impacted by the crisis has held up and in quite a number of cases even increasing, swelled by successful emergency appeals. There was still enormous concern but also the signs of a future that was hopeful, even exciting.

Then the second wave came. For many organisations they were knocked back again, forced to readjust but with leaders and staff now very tired and struggling to retain focus and motivation. Second lockdown and renewed furloughs have slowed or reversed progress in many charities.

So where are we now, coming out into a world of tiers that will take us until the spring (at least)?

Well, we know the vaccines are coming soon and the path out of this nightmare is becoming increasingly clear. The economy has taken a really hard beating and the pain is by no means over. But many people have money and will be spending it soon. As charity Christmas appeals land, we will see how donors respond. Overall, all of us at AAW are optimistic.

Throughout the year, we have seen that those organisations who have responded most effectively to this crisis, have also experienced strong performance in fundraising.

Across different sectors, charities who have made the case for their relevance in a Covid world and executed compelling fundraising campaigns have had really strong results. We've seen this across many of our clients, from the largest international NGOs to small local charities.

We are seeing positive first year ROIs on acquisition, particularly on digital across a number of different causes.

DRTV and direct mail have also often been excellent. Resumed face to face activity, where it has been possible, is also working well.  

And the good news keeps coming. The results we have seen for Christmas appeals that AAW Audience are implementing are very strong, several exceptionally so. My colleague Imogen Ward who sits on the BBC’s Appeals Committee has also seen a significant uplift in donations from appeals on Radio 4 and BBC One and not just from the big charities or the obvious causes.

Perhaps most encouragingly, we’ve often seen charities respond to the crisis by accelerating transformational, fundamental change in how they work and communicate. Since April, we've never worked on so many Big Ideas for non-profits where we are developing major new appeals or completely new fundraising approaches.

We are really excited about the big projects we’ll be helping take to market in 2021.

Interestingly, we are also working with organisations who are looking to introduce fundraising for the first time. And significantly, the timing of these projects is more in response to increased market opportunities than mitigating Covid challenges.

I don’t want to minimise the severity of the impacts on very many charities. There are plenty of organisations struggling and some that sadly have not made it to the other side. Like everyone else, we are working with some organisations who have taken massive hits from the crisis. But often the pandemic has acted as an accelerant to changes that were already long overdue. The business models of very many non-profits were under severe stress well before the crisis. We are helping a number to develop, at pace, new approaches and new organisational structures to enable them to become much more effective in all aspects of their performance. And find the people with the skills, expertise and attitude required to succeed in the new world.

Nobody wants to repeat 2020. Ever again. But as it ends, there are real sign of a charity sector that is emerging with new ideas, new approaches and refreshed missions. This new sector can achieve more impact and make more change happen than the one that entered the pandemic. In 2021 we hope to see the results that we will all achieve together.


Photo: thanks to Kelly Sikkema on unsplash.