The evolution of fundraising with SSAFA, the Armed Forces Charity
Author: Guest Author
The evolution of fundraising with SSAFA, the Armed Forces Charity
Guest blog by Laura Stanley at Charity Digital
It was in response to this demand, and its need to continue raising funds, SSAFA made its flagship mass participation 13 Bridges Challenge (an inclusive walk across the 13 bridges in central London) virtual. Instead of travelling to London to complete the walk in-person, participants were encouraged to walk 10 miles in their local area instead, in line with COVID-19 restrictions.
But even now, two years after the UK first entered lockdown, and with most restrictions now eased, the need to diversify fundraising streams is still urgent.
“Since 2020, with the impact that COVID-19 had on the sector, and on us all, the traditional fundraising rulebook has been all but torn up,” says Elizabeth Rossiter, Senior Events Manager at SSAFA. “The last two years saw so many event cancellations and adjustments. I think coming out of that situation, the world has changed. So, the way we think about events, fundraising, and event delivery has too.”
Even when restrictions first eased, it wasn’t initially clear how people would behave when it came to the mass participation fundraising events that SSAFA holds. Research revealed that fewer than a third of people intended to take part in a fundraising event in Spring 2021, though, in 2022, this percentage fortunately increased to 48%.
The concerns over whether in-person events would ever fully return to how they were pre-2020 meant SSAFA had to reevaluate how they would hold them in the future.
“We saw a lot of anxiety about getting out to in-person events and the uncertainty challenged us to think about how we could provide great events where people feel safe and comfortable, regardless of whether someone is supporting virtually or if they’re with us on the day in person,” explains Rossiter.
The changes the team made in 2020, therefore, are here to stay. With less people carrying cash and understandable concerns over COVID-19, Rossiter notes that “tried and tested traditional methods of fundraising can’t be relied on as heavily”.
The evolution of fundraising
While many charities added a digital element to their events out of necessity in 2020, now it is time to consolidate these methods in order to keep up with the modern world and the way we give money. This means keeping donors and fundraisers engaged as much as helping them donate in a convenient way.
For SSAFA, it is about striking a balance between looking after their existing “warm” supporters and forming connections with a larger, likely younger audience of fundraisers who might not have a direct connection to SSAFA and the Armed Forces community.
“To do that, we need to think really carefully about ways in which we give people an opportunity to find out who we are, what we do, and to provide an experience that creates a genuine desire to support us and get involved with our events,” Rossiter says. “We all spend so much time online and on social media. Embracing that digital transformation and thinking about how you connect with those people on those platforms is crucial to achieving our goals.”
The first step is knowing exactly what your goals and objectives are, according to Rossiter. Charities must ask themselves what the purpose of their event is, where they will be held, the activities involved, and how much time the charity will have to interact with their fundraisers and the public.
Secondly, organisations need to think about their target audience – who is coming to your event and what are their interests? Based on that information, combined with your goals and objectives, you can think about what you want them to know about you, what your call to action is, and what fundraising methods will be most effective, depending on the situation.
When it comes to different fundraising methods, Rossiter is clear that no one size fits all. What works for one event will not necessarily work for another. Charities need to think about the precise experience they want to create for people in order to persuade them to invest in them.
A good example of this are The Battle Proms events that have supported SSAFA for several years. They are a series of classical concerts, held in the grounds of stately homes across the UK, with crowds of around 10,000 attending every summer.
For SSAFA, the purpose of these events is to raise awareness of the charity, drive on-site donations and as many raffle entries as possible. With this approach, the SSAFA fundraising team can go on to forge new connections and relationships by using this newly acquired new donor data, and to root the people’s great experience at Battle Proms within SSAFA’s charitable cause.
“A large portion of that audience are cold to SSAFA – they don’t know what we do, who we are,” explains Rossiter. “So, as well as traditional bucket collections, we used our James Bears for contactless donations via QR codes and NFC chips. The bears are amazing to sweep through the crowd with and provide an excellent engagement opportunity at that event.”
The James Bears, designed by contactless fundraising platform Good Thyngs, are bear-shaped posters that SSAFA fundraisers can carry around, based on the collectable teddy bears named after SSAFA’s founder Major James Gildea. Each QR code on the teddy is unique and links to the Good Thyngs dashboard so that each donation can be counted and SSAFA will know where it came from.
“The bears are visually appealing in a crowd of thousands of people. People know what they are, they know what they need to do when we come to speak to them with it. It’s easily identifiable, they attract attention, and they start conversations.”
What’s more, the technology involved in cashless fundraising is much less of a barrier now in 2022. “We’re seeing that most people recognise QR codes now,” Rossiter notes. “They’re more comfortable and less hesitant to use them, they’re more used to seeing them in this scenario, and that makes us at SSAFA braver when we’re thinking about the digital side of our events.
“More individual fundraisers are asking for them or incorporating them into smaller community run events too, so we know that this behaviour isn’t driven by us. It’s a natural evolution of fundraising.”
Lessons for the future
Embracing digital technology in fundraising has been a roaring success for SSAFA. The charity saw a 13.6% increase in the amount they were able to fundraise after using cashless technology. So, while every event is different, and each fundraising method has advantages and disadvantages in different contexts, we know that using technology is working.
SSAFA is certainly not looking back. Its 13 Bridges Challenge, held on 25 June to celebrate Armed Forces Day, will include an interactive QR code collectible trail. SSAFA and Good Thyngs will provide each fundraiser with an interactive booklet, where they can scan QR codes, complete quizzes they can take along the way, use the donate function, and take a picture using a personalised selfie filter.
The Battle Proms are returning again too, this time with a newly designed fleet of James Bears ready to greet the crowd, thanks to the support of Good Thyngs.
“As fundraising event organisers, our mission is to make the most of all opportunities to connect with any many people as possible and to make it as easy as possible for them to learn about what we do and support us in the most convenient way for them,” says Rossiter.
“We’ve learnt the importance of having a really strong digital element to our events and how much of an impact that using cashless tech can have, not only on your supporters’ experience with you, but on SSAFA’s ability to make new connections with those who want to find out more about what we do.
“We’re seeing repeat sign-ups to events this year because of changes that we made to some of our events last year.”
With so many options and all the creativity in the world, effective fundraising in 2022 is all about literally pushing the envelope. Charities should not be afraid to move away from traditional fundraising methods; they should embrace them. As Rossiter concludes, “it pays to be brave”.