Guide Brand Strategy Charity Fundraising

How can charities still encourage donations in times of inflation?

By Laura Blackwell | Behavioral strategist

Reflect Digital Limited


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February 24, 2023 | 8 min read

We talk about the cost of living crisis, but who's looking out for charities? Kiran Webster of Reflect Digital advises how they can get people to give, even in times like these.

Man asking for donations

When pockets are tight, how can charities incentivize consumers? / Jon Tyson

With inflation currently sitting at above 10%, we’re all feeling the pinch – the charity sector especially so. Like the rest of us, charities are facing soaring energy bills as well as increasing operational costs, forcing them to stretch and manage their budgets more dynamically than ever before.

Charities are reporting huge increases in demand for their services and anticipate further increases in demand as the cost of living continues to soar. However, nearly 90% of people intend to cut back on their discretionary spending this year, while 60% have already cut back on charitable donations over the past six months. But it’s not all doom and gloom.

People are good

Spending in restaurants, bars and clubs is on the up compared to this time last year, and 61% of people are still planning a 2023 holiday. People can – and will – dig deep in times of need. On a charitable level, last year, the UK public responded to the war in Ukraine by raising £100m in just four days. That’s the equivalent of £1m per hour.

Last year, despite soaring costs and smaller budgets, 64% of charities were able to maintain or even increase their fundraising income. Charities are also becoming more comfortable with digital channels, and 55% of charity leaders believe there will be more opportunities to digitally fundraise in 2023. So, what can charities do?

One in three adults are more likely to donate to a charity if they accept online donations. While young people are most likely to make their donations online rather than offline, online donations are not limited to younger generations, with nearly half of donations from over-65-year-olds being made online.

East is a simple and effective framework for behavior change. It stands for Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely. For digital campaigns to be successful, you need to consider all of these things.

Is it easy?

Review your site through the eyes of a user. Is it easy to understand what your charity does, why someone should donate, and the impact of your work? Is it easy to donate?

Give users plenty of options, but don’t overcomplicate them. Notice how Christian Aid presents multiple ways of donating and suggests different amounts of donations but still keeps it simple and clear?

Is it attractive?

Attract your audience’s attention by connecting with them on a personal level. Personalize any communications to your audience by using their name or any other relevant information you have (e.g. birthdays or pets).

Think about the audience and how you can adjust the ‘messenger’ accordingly. People respond more to messages sent by someone with a name or face rather than someone less familiar. If you’re a pet charity, think about how you can make your message stand out by signing emails from an animal rather than a human.

A word of warning: avoid sharing sad stories about your beneficiaries, as these often spark feelings of sympathy and helplessness rather than encouraging donating behaviors.

Is it social?

Whether we like to admit it or not, humans are sheep-like and love to follow the herd. You can encourage new donors to your charity by highlighting how others are donating. I’m not just talking about getting your donors to share on social media (although you should still encourage that).

When presenting suggested donation amounts, provide three defaults, with the middle option being the average or most common donation amount. To the left, a smaller amount and, to the right, a larger. Most will go for the average donation, and some will want to donate more than the average person and will donate higher. Very few will be tempted to donate below average.

Have you turned on Facebook Birthday Fundraising? If not, why not? You can encourage your followers to ask for donations to their favorite charity on their birthday instead of receiving gifts.

Is it timely?

Did you know that almost half of all online donations are made on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays? And as we discovered earlier, people are more than willing to give in response to crises or significant events.

With that in mind, target key moments relevant to your cause and push when people are most likely to be moved to give. Partner with businesses to offer a Give as You Earn (GAYE) scheme, enabling people to give before tax; increasing their donation amount and reducing the cost to them.

Going back to the likelihood of people donating money in the future rather than today, two ways that you can work with this insight are: encouraging donations through wills and asking regular donors to agree to a donation increase in some months’ time. This is a great way to protect your donation income against inflation as it continues to rise.

Before rolling out lots of new changes to your approach, pick one and test it. Blanket changes could yield great results, but you won’t know which technique garnered the most impact unless you run tests as you go – the insights of which can then be used to inform other areas of your business and marketing decision-making.

Guide Brand Strategy Charity Fundraising

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Reflect Digital Limited

Putting our client’s customers first, we work closely with ambitious global brands and eCommerce businesses looking to elevate their marketing and move towards true customer centricity. We help these companies to unleash their digital performance and grow revenue by leveraging human insights and psychological nudges to optimise strategies.

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