The Courier-Mail - QWeekend

BEGINS ONLINE

Gone are the days when charities knocked on your door. Their search for donors has now gone online, using your data – and it’s working

- Story ELISSA LAWRENCE

In a time not very long ago, charity workers stood outside shopping centres and on city-centre street corners or rapped at your front door. Have you noticed they are gone? The days of cold-calling charity work – in reality it was only a year or so ago – now seems implausibl­e. A lot has happened in the world since then. With pandemic restrictio­ns on physical contact, social distancing and handling cash, charities have had to radically change the way they operate.

Traditiona­l face-to-face and fundraisin­g events are no longer possible as a way to raise donations.

Instead, the charity industry has rapidly gone hi-tech, turning to intelligen­t digital interactio­n on social media platforms to more effectivel­y target donors. And the changes are here to stay. COVID-19 has changed the way charities operate forever.

Since 2014, Brisbane-based company Fansdonate has been at the forefront of charities transition­ing to digital fundraisin­g but has watched as the pandemic has accelerate­d digital adoption by several years.

Last year saw the agency more than double its staff and increase its charity clients from seven to 32, with some of Australia’s leading charities on its books such as Red Cross Australia, Heart Foundation, CareFlight and Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Fansdonate launched operations in New Zealand in April, the UK in September and Singapore in November.

Founder Steve Thirgood, 41, of Ashgrove, in Brisbane’s inner northwest, says there has been an irreversib­le shift in fundraisin­g behaviour.

“Face-to-face fundraisin­g has always been seen as the most important avenue to raise funds for charities,’’ he says.

“It’s always been successful because of the one-on-one interactio­n with someone. From an industry perspectiv­e, that has always been the standard, the way it’s always been done.

“What COVID presented to the charity industry was an opportunit­y to realise that they had not treated digital very seriously.

“In 2020, we were able to get almost 300,000 people introduced to our charities. In 2019, it was 100,000. That was the impact of COVID for us.’’

So how do charities find potential donors

“This is as a direct result of running the campaigns digitally together with Fansdonate,’’ Warnecke says.

“The average gift for those 2500 regular givers has been about $25 per month, so that is $62,500 a month, $750,000 a year or $3.75 million over five years, which is generally an accepted average time frame.

“COVID kind of forced online habits for lots of things and our donors embraced technology and online giving in a way they never have before.

“We had a 46 per cent jump in our online donations in November 2020 from the same time in 2019. It’s incredible … it’s permanentl­y changed the way charities operate.

“For those charities that didn’t progress or pivot quickly into digital fundraisin­g … who kept waiting for the pandemic to be over, they haven’t done so well.’’

Warnecke, who is based in Melbourne, says the writing was on the wall for traditiona­l methods of fundraisin­g.

The costs of employing street fundraiser­s no longer made sense in terms of being a good use of donor funds, especially with a high turnover of the staff, typically aged between 18 and 25, who were paid hourly. There was also considerab­le effort and funds put into training new staff on key charity messages.

“Our average donor base is also 40 years and above,’’ Warnecke says.

“So when a young person comes up to talk about our cause, it’s not psychologi­cally within your lookalike network so it was really difficult.

“We were already beginning to move away from street fundraisin­g because we were already seeing a lot stronger engagement through our digital channels.

“We are very careful and transparen­t about what informatio­n we keep. We don’t hide behind any marketing tricks.

“What Fansdonate was offering was definitely before its time.

“We jumped on board as a bit of a firstmover advantage – an early adopter – and went from there. It was exactly what we were looking for and we went all in and gave it a red-hot go.’’

Barnardos Australia, a leading non-government child protection charity that supports children to recover from abuse and neglect, also enlisted Fansdonate during the pandemic.

The charity’s senior digital growth manager Adnan Shahzad says the pandemic created a new set of pressures within society for vulnerable children and their families, making it a time when the charity actually needed to increase its protection.

“We needed to move quickly onto digital platforms to enlist the wider Australian public to make regular donations to support our critical services,’’ Shahzad says.

With positive results and “tangible out

IF YOU KNOW WHAT A PERSON CARES ABOUT,

YOU ARE ABLE TO CONTINUE THE CONVERSATI­ON.

Fansdonate’s Steve Thirgood says charities need to rethink how they fundraise. comes’’, Barnardos New Zealand are now also partnering with the agency.

Thirgood says the best fundraisin­g outcomes

for clients are based on building trust with someone who has a pre-existing interest in a topic.

“We’re not after a short-term, reactive audience,’’ he says.

“Social media in Australia is quite vibrant. We are looking for people who genuinely care about a topic or an issue so we can build a relationsh­ip with them.

“Charities are only viable if they are able to build a member base that sticks with them for the long-term.’’

At the end of the day, Thirgood says it’s not his agency’s aim to interrupt someone’s day or promote online outrage about an issue or cause.

Rather it’s simply “reading a person and knowing what they care about’’ and then “taking them on an education journey’’ about a particular issue.

His work, he says, is like “joining a conversati­on that is already there’’.

“If you know what a person cares about, you are able to continue the conversati­on,’’ Thirgood says.

“You want to avoid the outrage industry. “The best fundraisin­g outcomes are a result of achieving trust, and trust is not something that can be rushed, it needs to be earned.’’ ■

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