Navigating the Cost-of-Living Crisis for Heritage Fundraisers

16th March, 2023

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Making the Case for Support

There’s a big question out there, ‘how is the Cost of Living Crisis affecting fundraising’? It’s an interesting one.

Recently the DEC’s (Disaster Emergency Committee) Ukraine Appeal has topped £400M; in the first two weeks their appeal for the Turkey-Syria Earthquake reached £100M. This shows that people still want and are able to give when they care deeply about something – the question is how do we, as heritage fundraisers, tap into those feelings.

Most heritage fundraisers aren’t working on something as emotive as war or disaster, nor receiving as much attention in the media. Nevertheless, there is scope and potential: if people and organisations care about your heritage and feel that there is a good reason to support it, then they will.

Therefore, we need to make our case for support. This means communicating our message as clearly as possible and explaining exactly what help from our supporters will accomplish, in real terms. Tell them what you will achieve, how will it positively impact communities, people’s lives and the heritage they love

As part of this appeal, we also need to tap into motivations and address the ‘what’s in it for me?’ factor – a question often at the forefront of people’s minds when confronted with a request.

Spread a Message of Hope

These days you can’t open a newspaper or listen to the news without encountering the Cost of Living Crisis in some form.

Whilst your charity may well be struggling due to the Crisis and its associated challenges, rather than sharing a message of doom and gloom, it is more appealing to share stories of hope that give your community’s spirit a boost.

People are Still Giving

While it may seem like people are tightening their purse strings on all excess spending, surveys indicate that this may not necessarily be the case for charitable donations. As other expenses – such as subscription services and memberships – get whittled down, donations to charities tend not to be at the top of the savings ‘hit list’. Therefore don’t stop asking on account of the false presumption that people can’t or won’t support you!

Keep Your Donors and Funders Close

It’s important to make the people and organisations that support you feel special and valued. Translating this into the world of fundraising: you need to ensure that you steward and look after those who furnish your organisation with the financial resources it needs to operate. Without funders and donors your work would not be possible, so give them the recognition they deserve!

Stewardship does cost time and money, so make sure you budget for it. In the long run, it makes good business sense to keep your funders close. Statistics show that this is a cost-effective and sensible use of funds as it costs around five or six times more to recruit a new supporter than to retain an existing one.

Give people options and think about turning donors into active fundraisers for your cause (or other types of income generators), or one-off donors into regular givers.

Offer Other Avenues for Support

Costs are rising not just for individuals and families, but for everyone: companies, statutory bodies, trusts and foundations and of course heritage organisations. But individuals’ and organisations’ situations are everchanging.

If a past supporter can’t donate to your organisation today, don’t just drop them off the mailing list. Keep in touch. They may be in a position to help you again in the future.

Also, offering non-financial ways to get involved is an excellent means of continuing your relationship without asking for more than they are able to give. Whilst this may not increase funds in the short-term, in the longer-term it may bear the fruit you’re looking for.

Remember that if people want to help but can’t afford to donate, then volunteering is a perfect alternative – the gift of time is a great contribution as most heritage organisation need more pairs of hands than they can get their hands on!

Volunteering also fosters deeper engagement and builds a long term commitment to an organisation. Don’t only think of long-term volunteering options, but also one-off or occasional volunteering opportunities. S.P.A.B.’s ‘working party‘ events are a great example of these.

Offer Value for Money

Value is a key aspect for success when cash is short, as is engagement.

Consider a corporate entity – they want to keep their brand at the forefront of people’s minds. However, cash may be tight for them so instead of an advert on a petrol pump, on the back of a bus, on the local radio or an ad in a newspaper, sponsoring something for you could give as much, if not more coverage, for much better value.

Not only this, but your organisation could help them to reach new audiences, in addition to traditional ones.

There is a lot of evidence to support the fact that businesses want to work with charities, so focusing on the potential to build mutually beneficial partnerships with companies is something you should definitely consider.

Tempt Them with Bargains, Deals and Special Offers

Many individuals and families are also looking for value for money, so think about ‘buy one, get the second half price’-type deals.

Yes, this works well for entrance fees, but what about memberships? You may get a new member because of the deal who may, when they come to renew, do so at full price because during that first discounted year they came to appreciate what you do and have valued their contact with you.

Some people will still give straight donations, but do make sure that you Gift Aid as much as you can and share this with people as it looks efficient and proves that you are making the most of every contribution you get.

Whilst fundraising through events and other activities may seem like hard work at a high cost, remember that people still want a day or an evening out now and again. They want to amuse their children during holidays. They want a gift for a birthday or mother’s day. While the money they have available to spend on these things may be reduced, the desire and motivation to spend is still there.

What about gift cards, so that people can easily give their friends and family a day out at your musuem, a cream tea in your tea rooms, or a private tour of your historic house?

Adoption schemes are another great optionr for gift-spending. A variation on this is a ‘pay for a day’ scheme, which works with individuals, corporates and community organisations. What a great way to remember a special date!

Value can also come in the shape of a chance to win back more than the cost of a donation – what about holding a raffle or starting a lottery? Many organisations are finding great success in these at the moment. It doesn’t need to be a huge affair like the Omaze ‘win a house’ we see advertised on the TV, but it could take the form of a 100-club. Do check out the guidance and legal requirements at Fundraising, raffles and lotteries – Gambling Commission.

Make it Easy

People like to support charities via the charities’ own websites – this way they know the money is going directly into the right hands.

A recent survey by Enthuse found that the average direct donation is £57.67, compared to £40.78 via giving platforms – this is a noticeable difference of 32%. So take a fresh look at your website and check out how easy (or otherwise) it is for your supporters to donate.

There are still some people – and always will be – who have plenty of money. You may also wish to consider opening a major donor programme to attract wealthy donors, making it easy for them to put their ‘spare change’ to good use. The BBC Radio 4 Christmas Appeal resulted in a philanthropist giving £0.5M at the tip of a hat.

Measure Your Success

Using supporter-centric metrics alongside ROI (return on investment) can help fundraisers determine if a project was a success.

These metrics may include engagement rates or if someone has gone on to support your organisation in a different way.

Last Word

One final point: grant-givers know that times are difficult, with rising inflation steadily diminishing what you can accomplish with the cash you have.

If you have a multi-year grant that appeared to be fixed at the time the offer was made, e.g. £15K a year for the next three years for something specific, share with them that your costs have increased and by how much. Include the fact that you need to pay people more. You may be surprised – many funders will increase their grant for the remaining years.

Grant-making trusts and foundations increased their support during the Covid pandemic and many feel they have a similar responsibility to help out during the Cost of Living Crisis.

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