RNLI’s spring appeal raised double its initial target during lockdown, despite lacking an explicit fundraising ask and focusing on checking in with supporters.
Jayne George, director of fundraising, marketing & media at RNLI, and Rory Stamp, strategic content manager, spoke at Resource Alliance’s IFC Online conference last week about how the charity adapted its fundraising approach to the pandemic.
They said when coronavirus hit, their team decided to scrap the fundraising appeal they had originally planned, and to replace it with a message of support to donors.
Stamp said: “Our spring appeal was well underway. At the time the plan was to have an address carrier, an ask, going out with our supporter magazine that was due out in April. And we were due to send out an email to supporters asking them to support our spring appeal.
“Now what we could have done is carried on with that, or we could have gone out with an instant emergency health crisis appeal. But actually, what we decided to do was be true to donor centricity, and to check in on our supporters, and send them a message to make sure that they were okay.
“We took out that ask from the magazine and scrapped the email. Instead, the messages that we sent out on and offline were along these lines: you're part of the crew, and crew members account for each other. Let's stay in touch in these difficult times.”
‘Really powerful impact’
When the pandemic hit, the charity was already undergoing a long-term effort to refresh its fundraising approach to make it more donor-centric. This made the team more prepared to adapt their plans to the new situation, George and Stamp said. Last Christmas’ Perfect Storm appeal was also part of this work.
The messages sent out in March included a video featuring an RNLI volunteer, who says: “When we answer the call for help, it’s an uncertain time. We don’t know what we’ll face and we don’t know when we’ll see our loved ones again. But the thing that keeps us going is your support.
“And now, wherever you are, you’re probably feeling uncertain about the future too. That’s why I wanted to get in touch and say, today we’re sending our support to you.”
George said: “These communications had a really powerful impact, because although we weren't asking directly as you would do in an appeal phase, the spring appeal actually doubled its target.”
Like most charities, RNLI had to close its shops and suspend its community fundraising activities during lockdown. In April, it announced almost a third of its staff would be furloughed, while chief executive Mark Dowie took a 50% pay cut.
George said that when the charity did go back to fundraising in the following months, it also saw better than expected results – including during a door drop in August, which is normally a bad time for fundraising.
She said: “We've had a year where we've had to face some unprecedented challenges, like everybody. We've been able to really focus on what it is that our donors need. And that has brought immense reward.”
‘Testament to our fantastic supporters’
RNLI wouldn’t say exactly how much it has raised since the start of the pandemic.
A spokesperson for the charity said: “Both our spring and summer appeals did better than we hoped they would, with the address carrier, that we would not normally attribute any income to, bringing in more than £300,000.
“Those fundraising efforts at such trying times are testament to our fantastic supporters and the affection the public hold for our volunteer lifesavers, which we never take for granted, especially in a year which has been such a struggle for so many.”