Stephen Cotterill: Returning to 'normal' would undermine some great advances

10 May 2021 Voices

We have been outside our comfort zone for over a year and the danger is that we will rush to embrace old habits, writes Stephen Cotterill.

There are a few positives to take from the unrelenting chaos of the last 12 months, including the ability of many fundraising teams to switch to virtual and digital channels. OK, so it’s rare that these adaptions have entirely replaced the income streams or new donor acquisition rates of traditional channels such as face-to-face and event fundraising, but they have gone some way to protecting against the worst that Covid-19 has thrown at the sector.

Virtual challenges and campaigns, for example, have been a big win for charities of all sizes. They are quick to roll out, cost-efficient and, with the right stewardship, enjoyable and rewarding for the participants. Many charities have also allowed individual fundraisers to express their creativity by inventing their own challenges, giving them a sense of ownership and empowerment, which drives engagement of course.

In many cases, not only has the rush to digitisation helped to patch leaking finances, it has also opened up new audiences by extending reach and tapping hitherto unmined seams of wealth – such as those held by younger demographics or harboured in underexploited channels such as gaming.

The question now is how to assimilate these new-found benefits into the fundraising fabric as restrictions lift and we return to more traditional channels. We have been outside our comfort zone for over a year and the danger is that we will rush to embrace old habits, forget what we have learned, fail to follow-up on new leads and stop testing ideas.

For fundraising managers, navigating the coming months might be tough. Although teams will no doubt be desperate to get back together in-person, there have also been advantages of having space and time working remotely. People will experience the upcoming adjustments differently and will need managing appropriately. Now that the tech infrastructure is in place, a rush back to the office full-time may be unsettling, unnecessary and counterproductive.

The world is changed and is changing. A hybrid approach may be the best way to help maintain momentum, be that how we work or the nature of fundraising campaigns. Returning to “normal” would undermine some of the great advances the sector has made in recent months. It would be a shame to throw the digital baby out with the bathwater.


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