Preparing for the
new normal
in charity
marketing

Watch a re-run of our Fresh Thinking Live! charity focused webinar from 01/07/2020.

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Watch the recording where a panel of experts discuss the way the charity sector has changed and how they are preparing for the future

Taking part in the discussion were: David Somerville, Strategy Director at Fresh Egg; Ryan Wilkins, CEO and Founder of Raw London; Phillipa Marlow, Head of Acquisition and Squad Lead at Save the Children UK; Ruth Tidy, Senior Insights and Analysis Manager at Diabetes UK; and Claire Coussins, Head of Engagement at Rainbow Trust Children's Charity

Key questions and answers from the webinar

 Click a question link to jump to the answer.

  1. How has the customer and supporter journey changed for charities in the past 4 months?

  2. What have you (and your charity) done in response to the changes so far?

  3. What are you planning right now for the future?

  4. Has giving gone up or down in the UK overall during lockdown? Is there any data to support this?

  5. How can charity marketing bounce back after COVID-19? What are the best strategies?

  6.  What alternative face-to-face supporter tactics are you using as a result of the pandemic?

  7. Do you use any machine learning software to manage retention?

  8. What are the opportunities for print advertising/marketing during a time when everything is moving online?

  9. Have your advocacy and marketing teams been discussing whether to join the boycott of Facebook and Instagram? And if so, what is the feeling on this from them?

  10. How do you think charities can capture the zeitgeist of mutual aid to build   ongoing community action?

  11. Will anyone benefit from the new normal? If so, who and how?

  12. How deep is the change? Are you 'just' seeing consumer behaviours change or are the ways we categorise audiences changing - are their new archetypes? 

  13. How long do you think it will take for the third sector to recover?
     
  14. How do you think the role of charities in the post-pandemic world will differ? 

  15. In the recent environment it’s been hard to focus on anything other than short-term plans and tactics. Any tips for long-term strategy without being unrealistic?

  16. What are your thoughts on the success of small international charities succeeding in the industry? What advice can you provide those with minimal marketing resources?

  17. What impact has the lockdown had on your online activity? Have the charities seen a big increase in web visits/social follows and engagement?

  18. What kind of creative/formats on social media have you seen the most engagement from?

  19. Are you still maintaining the same levels of social engagement now that lockdown is easing and we're starting to get back to something more like normal life?

  20. Do you think Coronavirus has meant that customer needs have simplified and so our solutions could simplify? What happens when coronavirus info/support isn't the primary customer need (which is what we're starting to see now)?

  21. Social-wise, has there been a shift in best performing type of post (pictures vs videos vs plain text)?

1. How has the customer and supporter journey changed for charities in the past 4 months?

Phillipa Marlow: People are watching TV all day - no longer a ‘peak/prime time’ for ads. Hitting more people and a wider demo - some affluent audiences (new for us - people who are more aware about global picture). 

Audiences are quite forgiving - creative doesn’t have to be perfect. Doesn’t have to be swish films, they respond well to honest content.

Claire Coussins: Our experience reflects a real surge in time spent on social media and in fact social media engagements were up 500% in March on previous month. 

For us organic and paid search and website sessions were all down on pre-crisis, but owned channel traffic increased significantly and we saw huge uplift in revenue linked to our emergency appeal on email and social 

We were getting quality not quantity - suggesting we were successfully reaching those already warm, aware and considering. 

 From both our data and external insight, we’ve seen changes in customer’s needs, both their needs for health support and how they want to give support. Changes in how people engage, as others have said. And we’ve seen more people in the initial stages around awareness and research.

Ruth Tidy: As a charity working on a health condition that makes people more vulnerable to Covid-19, at the initial stages people are coming to us for support and information, this is via digital channels and our helpline. This has been focused on Covid content with less engagement on non-Covid health information - concern that people might be missing basics such as newly diagnosed information and advice on managing their condition as the focus is only the immediate concern.   

In terms of customers giving support, the focus has been on donations, we have seen increased engagement via social, email, web, print and telephone, mainly as a result of our emergency appeal but also in response to membership advertising which we adjusted to reflect the pandemic. 

We’ve seen less advocacy through volunteering but more through social.

We had to pause all paid activity, so understanding how entirely new people were coming to us to us was important so we could set appropriate journeys (70% of those who undertook a 2.6 challenge and 20% of those who donated were new to us.)

2. What have you (and your charity) done in response to the changes so far?

Phillipa Marlow: Initial response was a bit slow (big org) weighing up strategy and messaging. Should have taken a commercial marketing approach. Likely similar issues across the sector?. However some have been v. quick and agile.

Make it easy and frictionless for donors (2-3 simple and clear messages). People need to know what you stand for quickly

We were late in changing our TV ad VOs to bring in contextual COVID acknowledgement. Now that’s done, we’ve seen a better response.

Social has worked well for brand building and awareness, not quite as well for income generation.

Claire Coussins: Our Family Support Workers were on the front line response, supporting very vulnerable seriously ill children and their families. We wanted to very quickly gather and tell those stories which meant a slightly more unpolished, raw and homemade feel to what we normally did (as Ruth said audiences are more forgiving)! We engaged our Family Support Workers to send us real-time and real stories from the frontline.

We had printed and were ready to mail our supporter magazine literally in days leading up to lockdown. It carries an appeal ask, but no mention of Covid in the mag itself as it was printed late Feb,, so we had to quickly tweak the cover letter to launch an emergency appeal in the space of a week. It generated 4 times the usual amount of income in the end. 

We were working on a skeleton staff (only 2 to 3 of us on comms) with the majority of the team furloughed so we had no choice but to really focus in on what was working and run with that. - agile to a new level and actually helped by sudden leannes of team

We have doubled the amount of communications going out through organic social in a more reactive way. Ryan mentioned the change in peak times on social - we spotted that early and held best content for weekdays not weekends - and also linked to what Ryan said about areas of opportunity, we jumped on the craft theme and started releasing daily boredom busters and homeschool hacks

In June, we have noticed a drop off in social media engagement overall, compared with full-on lockdown ie April and May, but we still get the odd post absolutely flying in the way we had not before.

Ruth Tidy: For us, we were making changes to how we approached customer journeys by focussing more on customer needs and wants instead of our own. This time has acted as a catalyst for some of this, but with the increased need for income, we’ve had to be cautious of becoming too transactional and short-termist in our customer journeys, especially because with the focus on individual giving.

We quickly set up a couple of task and finish groups to have oversight of all activity ensuring that we were thinking about the customer needs, this gave us a space to ensure we were talking about the challenges customers might be facing and start adapting what we do, eg, making fundraising virtual.

We increased insight work to understand what is changing and why.

It was difficult to know what to pull and how to change this initially and there were different views. In the end we paused a few things briefly and  adjusted the majority of marketing and comms to acknowledge Covid-19. We sent health related comms to all relevant customers, we ran workshops using tools like empathy mapping to help us focus on customer needs, we bought customer recognition to the forefront. It gave us the chance to test more story-led content on social which had a really positive response.

We’ve also used it as an opportunity to highlight the need for improvements to technology to enable us to improve our customer journeys as we’ll need to develop better journeys to keep people engaged as acquisition will be harder in a recession. Our tech and the way we work are both huge barriers to improving customer journeys.

3. What are you planning right now for the future?

Phillipa Marlow: TV is often forgotten or deprioritised in favour of digital but, for us at least, it drives a significant amount of our website performance.

We tested not running TV - regular giving dropped off the cliff when TV went, then increased straight back up when back on TV. The difference was stark.

PPC is like having a call centre. TV creates the traffic to PPC.

Our COVID response might kickstart us into being more integrated in the future. It’s a reminder that everything works together and should be integrated(Stc) Lots have experimented with radio - podcasts have increased hugely during lockdown - new opportunities. Also accessible for smaller charities who can’t afford TV.

Claire Coussins: This has transformed our approach to comms - content and social - back in Feb, we were already on the road to starting to experiment more with homemade videos and the co-creation of content with frontline support workers, so this crisis massively accelerated it and proved that it can work for us. 

We feel the biggest challenge is continuing to get that cut-through when the urgency created by the pandemic in society overall seemed to benefit causes like ours is dissipating. 

We are working carefully on a monthly key messaging cycle now to remain as responsive as possible and ensure urgency remains. Acutely aware that there is not yet a new norm, there is no “Business as usual”

We are continuing to create (‘homemade’) content in the way we have done since March and will further experiment 

In future will focus on paid social to build audiences with the new content that has performed best

Ruth Tidy: We are doing a piece of customer insight to understand what people need and want from us coming out of the pandemic and the barriers to deeper engagement. We’re focussing on particular customer segments and aiming for this to be an opportunity to build relationships through customer journeys (as opposed to having a disproportionate amount of focus on the start of the journey or single product journeys).

We’re developing and promoting health Covid-19 content designed to engage people with non-Covid health information through our online learning platform.

We’re adapting fundraising activity and developing new products, so we tap into the zeitgeist (cycling, running, food) and adapt to the way people are now engaging (more digital).  

The challenge is how to make sure we deepen engagement and take people on a customer journey that  builds a relationship with the brand and not just a product, particularly when, like so many other charities, we have tech challenges and we need to change the ways we work.

4. Has giving gone up or down in the UK overall during the lockdown? Is there any data to support this?

Phillipa Marlow: I don’t have actual figures but there is the Captain Tom effect - those that can have be in a charitable mood and I think giving has gone up.  Not so much RGs but definitely Single/cash gift have gone up sharply  - that is our experience at STC.  We have also seen a sharp rise in average single gifts too however, we’ve passed the peak of this now.  

Ruth Tidy: Figures from a market research tracker we use show that those who donated more than £50 in last 12 months say they are more likely to donate whereas those who have given less that £50 in last 12 months are less likely to donate. Insight also suggests that people are more likely to donate to local charities and charities that are relevant to the pandemic. We have seen a shift in the ways people give, as opposed to total amount.  

5. How can charity marketing bounce back after COVID-19? What are the best strategies?

Ruth Tidy: Use this opportunity to do all those things the sector has been trying to do. Become more customer centred instead of product and team-led. Invest in finding out who your customers are and what their needs are, then develop marketing to reach those customers and meet their needs. Adapt what you do to the environment, don’t just do things because you always have. Look at the data, work out what works and stop doing things that don’t work. Try new things, experiment with content, get your customers involved. 

Claire Coussins: Best strategy will be to apply the same principles we always have as marketers and be more adaptive and responsive than ever! Keep sharp strategic focus on your brand purpose – the why you do what you do, not what you do. Why are you relevant? Really seek to engage with your donors not just transact. It remains important to ask, be specific, ask more and thank more. Bring supporters closer to you and your cause as you probably have been during this crisis from the surge of good sentiment and goodwill. More creativity is needed to replace lost fundraising event revenue – from a small charity perspective, make sure whatever virtual alternatives you offer, that you have some robust evidence that it will work with your audience and it is something they are likely to engage with, rather than jumping on it because it feels like everyone else is – test that the product is right for your audience to minimise the risk of wasting time and resource.

6. What alternative face-to-face supporter tactics are you using as a result of the pandemic?

Phillipa Marlow: At STC we had stopped using this channel in the UK for the time being however,  in other countries STC offices have diverted spend to DRTV instead with universal success.  This is because TV market in Europe has been as unusual as it has here in UK and they have been able to buy more impacts cheaply etc

7. Do you use any machine learning software to manage retention?

Ruth Tidy: No, not because we wouldn’t like to but because our data quality isn’t good enough yet. There are lots of models to use before introducing machine learning though, especially for retention

8. What are the opportunities for print advertising/marketing during a time when everything is moving online?

Phillipa Marlow: As with the TV market - media in general has had a glut of distress buying (last minute & low cost) or even free media space being offered to charities.  If you had inserts and door drops ready or able to reprint quickly - there are some good opportunities around.  Also people are at home so delivering/receiving something tangible and lasting can be very valuable.  I would always recommend a mix of media as part of integrated campaigns as there is a halo effect from all the media working together.  Digital alone can not deliver the reach that a mix of media can.

9. Have your advocacy and marketing teams been discussing whether to join the boycott of Facebook and Instagram? And if so, what is the feeling on this from them?

Phillipa Marlow: We answered this at the session - at Save we are dialling down activity rather than switching off as FB is a very important channel for us especially if the DEC were to launch we would need it in our armoury.

Claire Coussins: We have a natural pause between campaigns this month - but as per Save, Facebook is one of our most important channels so there would be massive risk to us if this fell at a time we had campaigns planned

10. How do you think charities can capture the zeitgeist of mutual aid to build ongoing community action?

Phillipa Marlow: A big question but as we discussed at the session building creative campaigns out from genuine and relevant audience insight would be a good start.  PM

Claire Coussins: Focus on the commonality between supporters and beneficiaries to garner the empathy.

11. Will anyone benefit from the new normal?If so, who and how?

Phillipa Marlow: Honest answer - I don’t know.  But we will see some acceleration of trends like WFH, rise of radio and streaming (likely those recruited will stay & RMF) and contactless payments are very much here to stay.  So thinking about these, how can we adapt our marketing to capitalise on these?  One of my personal bugbears at Save is we have been very slow to explore other options for RG payments - what we need to do is look at more options like paypal, apple pay and contactless rather than direct debits which too old fashioned and definitely in decline.

Ruth Tidy: I think a lot of charities and businesses are benefiting from their use of new technology which probably wouldn’t have happened without the pandemic. Again, looking at market research data, there is increased visibility and giving to NHS charities which is great, whether that will continue is unknown. I hope this has brought more attention on health inequality so there might be more focus on addressing this.

12. How deep is the change? Are you 'just' seeing consumer behaviours change or are the ways we categorise audiences changing - are their new archetypes?

Phillipa Marlow: I think it might be too soon to comment on this, we would need more data/time to see the long term effects.  

13. How long do you think it will take for the third sector to recover?

Phillipa Marlow: Actually i think some charities have done very well during the crisis - those that had the funds to invest in the media opportunities and without large shop networks - they will be in a good place come the harder market and likely recession that comes later in the year.

Claire Coussins: I agree, for us, donations have held or overperformed, the issue is around the big loss in fundraised income from events and uncertainty around when that will pick up.

14. How do you think the role of charities in the post-pandemic world will differ?

Phillipa Marlow: This is hard to give a definitive answer on as it will vary depending on the charity, the sector they operate in and the work they do.  Health charities often favoured possibly more so now with our renewed love of the NHS.  Some people will focus more on local charities/UK charities as a light has been shined on to them’ at this in time - others will think more globally and perhaps reconnect with overseas aid charities like ours (Save The Children) as Covid hits countries already in a difficult position.

15. In the recent environment it’s been hard to focus on anything other than short-term plans and tactics. Any tips for long-term strategy without being unrealistic?

Phillipa Marlow: Coming from a commercial background this has been a real challenge for me personally working for the first time in the charity sector.  Our organisation is now starting to think longer term about the future but initially we took a very short term view.  The commercial sector if able would look to invest during hard times to keep up brand awareness to be in a better place come the bounce back - but i recognise and understand the need for cautiousness in the sector.

Ruth Tidy: My tip would be to think about the customer journey and ensure you are focussing on building a relationship and increasing life-time value (financial and non-financial). Make sure you are looking at where your products/campaigns/services sit in customer journey and make sure you are designing them for the later stages of the journey as well as the earlier ones. Find ways you can improve customer experience to build that customer loyalty.

Claire Coussins: Continue to take the opportunity to break down barriers and review/ change processes for efficiency. This situation is accelerating our work around platforms and integrations (longer term tech projects) to ensure they facilitate optimal supporter journeys into the future.

16. What are your thoughts on the success of small international charities succeeding in the industry? What advice can you provide those with minimal marketing resources?

Phillipa Marlow: If at all possible explore other media radio is cheaper than TV, sponsor/get promoted on podcasts close to your cause.  Try (we all will) and find your Captain Tom -we’ve seen some great feats of fundraising during lockdown and the country and media have really got behind them -I’d like to think will continue.  

Ruth Tidy: Find out as much as you can about your existing supporters, what motivated them to engage with you, what they need. Then work to build engagement with them, give them great experiences, get them to create content, and see if they can do your marketing for you...I know this is much easier said than done! 

17. What impact has the lockdown had on your online activity? Have the charities seen a big increase in web visits/social follows and engagement?

Phillipa Marlow: We saw good engagement with Save with Stories - big increase when Megan Merkle read a story for us however, this did not translate to donations.  However, as we have remained on TV we have been able to capitalise on extra traffic generated in our conversion journeys with excellent results.

18. What kind of creative/formats on social media have you seen the most engagement from?

Claire Coussins: Snippets and pictures of children we support doing everyday things - playing at home with things we had delivered, pictures of children in hospital who were in isolation, sometimes visibly ill i.e. with NG tube or oxygen, but happy – we’d summarise their condition, story and current experience in a few sentences. Key learning for us was that even little day-to-day things that may seem ‘normal’ to our Family Support Workers are ones which provide most raw insight, so we fed this back and encouraged support Workers to share as much as possible with us, even if to them that moment didn’t seem particularly stand out.

Short videos (self filmed on mobile phones) of Family Support Worker did well: one short video of a Family Support Worker talking about the support they were giving and thanking supporter for their donations – this performed by far the best (rather unexpectedly, we would normally expect ones with children to perform better!). 

19. Are you still maintaining the same levels of social engagement now that lockdown is easing and we're starting to get back to something more like normal life?

Claire Coussins: No unfortunately not. Whilst we saw 500% increase in engagements between February and March - organically we reached 40% fewer people in May than in April. We took the best performing organic posts from April/May and created top of funnel awareness campaign utilising those best performing assets and ran it in June.

20. Do you think Coronavirus has meant that customer needs have simplified and so our solutions could simplify? What happens when coronavirus info/support isn't the primary customer need (which is what we're starting to see now)?

Claire Coussins: We have certainly seen customer’s needs simplify. The most important thing to many of them/us has been related to Covid-19 advice, then to how to do exercise, keep fit and occupy themselves and families during this time. I’m not sure what happens now, we are conducting a piece of insight to find out what their needs are coming out of this. I think the key is to look at what the data and the customers are telling us they need going forward, the difficult is for us to them keep the solutions simple!

21. Social-wise, has there been a shift in best performing type of post (pictures vs videos vs plain text)?

Phillipa Marlow: If you can you should always test and retest a mix. Then analyse the results and if you are recruiting different supporters with different formats - then keep them going otherwise switching to just the best performing will see you miss out on some of your market.

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