A simple ‘check-in’ phone call can help your charity ride the recessionary storm to come

A simple ‘check-in’ phone call can help your charity ride the recessionary storm to come

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed our world on so many levels this year, and its impact continues to ripple as we face a second wave and more restrictive measures announced by the Government.

What’s more, official figures confirm that the UK has entered a recession, with the International Monetary Fund predicting that the economy will see a 10.2% fall in GDP for 2020. And it’s not just Britain. The IMF is estimating that the entire world economy will shrink by 4.9% this year, making it the worst recession since the 1930s’ Great Depression.

There is no doubt that the effect on the charity sector, as on every other sector, will be significant. Charity Commission figures from 2010 show that in the last recession (when the UK’s GDP shrank by only 2.2%), that 62% of charities saw a reduction of income while at the same time, 19% saw an increase in demand for their services.

Many people are already experiencing hardship: recent research from the National Emergencies Trust has revealed that one in eight people living in the UK – some seven million people – expect to seek support from a charity or voluntary body in the next 12 months as a direct result of the pandemic’s impact.

So, with the pandemic still ongoing and the emerging recession predicted to be even worse than the last, it is understandable that there should be concern for how charitable giving will fare. This is nothing but compounded with so many charities already reeling from a huge loss of income through this year’s halt of face-to-face and mass participation events, the furlough scheme and displaced staff.

It’s a pretty bleak picture in black and white. But we’re not a sector that gives up easily, the voluntary sector has always fought against adversity, you could even say its in our DNA, in our very purpose. And the key is to be proactive.

Action now will make all the difference in mitigating the supporter attrition that charities might expect as an inevitable consequence of the combination of the pandemic, the end of the government’s furlough scheme, and now recession.

A relatively simple but crucial step that can help both sides during the difficult times ahead is ensuring that we’re checking in with our supporters and regular donors. Communication is critical for building any relationship so it should come as no surprise that when individuals are looking at ways of cutting expenditure, they’re more likely to stop a Direct Debit from a charity they’ve had no contact with than one they have and feel deeply connected to.

Just as it can rekindle or strengthen bonds with friends and family, a short phone call provides a great opportunity to connect with supporters. The fact that you’ve picked up the phone shows that person that you value them. It’s also a very real and personal form of contact, offering an opportunity to thank them for their support and to show that you care about your relationship by asking how they are in these difficult and strange times, taking on board their feelings and circumstances.

Importantly, it gives you the chance to pre-empt the heightened risk of attrition from the current circumstances by offering them alternatives should they need them. If a donor clearly wishes to continue supporting but is experiencing difficulty in their current level of monthly gift, rather than losing them altogether it makes sense to work out with them what they feel comfortable with.

This maybe a reduction in their monthly Direct Debit amount or perhaps a payment break for a while, instead of severing the relationship altogether. This way the donor is enabled in their charitable giving, feeling valued and with more control over their support, while the charity gains a deeper understanding of the donor’s motivations and needs of the relationship for now and into the future.

At Purity Fundraising, we’re increasingly being asked about this type of campaign and the ones we’ve already carried out have proven spectacularly successful across the board. Giving people alternative options is really helpful; while some supporters do take up the offer to reduce their gift or take a donation holiday there are plenty of others who don’t, but what is becoming clear is that it does make supporters feel more secure, to feel more warmly towards your charity, and more likely to stay with you.

In fact, in a recent campaign where we called over 3,000 of a charity’s supporters, 96% remained giving at their current rate, 0.7% temporarily paused, 0.6% cancelled, and 1% actually increased their donation. All the calls were lovely (both pleasant and positive) and the people we spoke with were grateful for the check-in but also interested in knowing how the current crisis was affecting their chosen charity.

There has always been huge value for charities in thank you calls – for all these reasons. Right now though, they offer a very real chance to make a difference: to deepen that all-important relationship with supporters by increasing understanding, awareness and empathy on both sides, and to lessen the risk of attrition at a time when finances are difficult for everyone. And while we’re talking finances, the other good news is that this type of call is generally shorter than other more complex telephone campaigns, and so more budget friendly for charities who may think it’s out of reach.

Talk to your supporters. Check in with them and give them the opportunity to tell you how they’re doing, to change their donations, to feel cared about and reconnected with your cause. As we’ve seen the chances are, they’ll be left with far more goodwill towards your charity, keeping you front of mind as an organisation they want to keep supporting, whatever the future may bring.