Where their story begins
At King’s College London (KCL), the Direct Marketing, or Annual Giving, team predominantly focuses on fundraising for student support appeals using a combination of telephone and direct mail. While they had seen a healthy amount of success from these appeals in the past, new donor acquisition rates had started to decline. It was clear that something needed to change.
While telephone and direct mail remained valuable for helping KCL to retain and upgrade existing donors, new donors weren’t responding at a similar rate compared to previous years. To understand where they could begin making changes, the team at KCL reviewed the role digital activities could have in helping to solve the problem when it came to increasing new donor acquisition.
Here, Jessica Atherden, Direct Marketing Manager within the Fundraising & Supporter Development team at KCL, speaks to us about their journey into digital and how those activities were brought forward as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Bringing digital forward
Hubbub: What were your initial plans for integrating digital activities into your wider programme, and how did that change in the early months of 2020?
Jessica Atherden: Initially, we had planned to run a giving day in autumn 2020. We had seen the success other institutions had had with giving days, especially when it came to increasing new donor participation, and we felt like it was the right first step for our programme.
However, when the UK went into lockdown, we, like many other institutions, had to reassess our fundraising channels and the appeals we were asking our community to support. With limited options to mail or phone our community, we decided to bring forward the integration of digital activities into our wider programme. Doing so meant we could still ask our alumni community to support King’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, encouraging them to make their gifts predominantly online.
H: Why did you feel confident that launching your emergency appeal was the right decision?
JA: In 2015 we ran a successful fundraising campaign that helped to tackle the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone. From our experience of managing that appeal, which was primarily delivered via direct mail and email, we felt the COVID-19 emergency appeal would resonate similarly with our community.
Putting donors first
H: What were the main considerations you had when deciding how donors would make their gifts and how did the Causes platform compliment this?
JA: It was important that we were able to launch the campaign as quickly as possible, as well as being able to reach a large audience with minimal expenditure. The campaign would also be completely dependent upon the quality of our email and social media content so it was important that we had a giving mechanism that would compliment the donor’s overall journey.
Using the Causes platform was quick for our team to set up and the Hubbub team were really supportive throughout the setup of the campaign, both in terms of the technical aspects of using the platform as well as always being willing and available to offer strategic advice.
From a donor journey perspective, we could highlight each of our funding areas separately, allowing donors the option to choose where their donations would go. The ‘live’ totals displaying the overall amount raised on the site would also help us to communicate with those who gave, or were considering a gift, the collective impact of their giving.
The layout and design of the platform also gave us the ability to embed images and videos to highlight different areas of support that were represented by the campaign. Something we wouldn’t have otherwise been able to achieve if using our standard donation form on the KCL website. Finally, the donor wall allowed donors to see the combined impact of their giving, which we thought would motivate our donors to give.
While there is a central donation form on the KCL website, we felt it wouldn’t be possible to provide the same donor experience as that of the Causes platform. If we wanted new donors to give, we knew the experience they had when making a donation would be essential to their journey.
Creating a case for support
H: How did you decide which areas of the institution your digital appeal would focus on?
JA: As a research-led institution, with close ties to the NHS, our teams were carrying out vitally important research across multiple faculties that were directly supporting the fight to stop the pandemic, all over the world. We felt strongly that support from donors could really help to speed up the rate at which this vital research could be delivered, making it an obvious choice for inclusion in the appeal.
We took the time to speak with teams leading the research and response projects across the university to understand where gifts from donors could provide additional support. In the end, we identified four keys areas that would require support, which were: Research, Mental Health, Global Impact and Students. We also created a central ‘King’s COVID-19 Response Fund’ to ensure that each of the main funds received the funding they needed.
Getting the team on board
H: How did the team prepare to launch the campaign?
JA: Speed was an important part of the launch, which would enable us to get our message out to supporters alongside many other institutions and charities. From the initial kick-off meeting with the key members of the research team, we had five working days in which to launch the appeal.
We were lucky to have support from across the fundraising department, which really showed how much could be pulled together in such a short period of time. Whilst the direct marketing team remained the main point of contact throughout the appeal, it really was a cross-team effort.
We were also fortunate to have buy-in from several senior team leaders at the university. Prof Sir Robert Lecher, Senior Vice President (Health), King’s College London and Executive Director (King’s Health Partners), acted as our primary signatory for the launch. He was very engaged in the project and made sure sign off from all members of his team was quick. Without his participation, we wouldn’t have been able to launch in the time we had.
H: What was the team’s reaction to the success of the appeal?
JA: This is the first time we have used a platform where we could track live donation totals so it was really exciting to see the results come in. It was also an amazing example of the combined impact a mass giving appeal could have. As our first predominantly digital fundraising campaign, it was a really positive example of how this activity can be used alongside our traditional channels to reach and engage new audiences.
Until next time
H: What's next in terms of this appeal, as well as longer-term?
JA: The majority of the appeal has been driven by email and social media content - both to ask for an initial donation as well as updating donors on the progress of the appeal. We have now finished our planned email updates, however, we sent a direct mail appeal in early June to those we had a postal address for that weren’t included in the original email appeal.
We will be sending out a stewardship mailing to everyone who has donated to the appeal in August. This will contain an update on each of the four areas and, as we have gained such a high number of new donors, will act as a ‘welcome pack’ for this audience.
We are also evaluating the response we had to email sends and social media posts to understand how we can apply those learnings to future digital appeals as well as our giving day, which is still planned to take place this autumn.
King’s College London is continuing to fundraise for their COVID-19 Emergency Appeal via their Causes platform. To see the most up to date fundraising figures, visit their website - covid19-appeal.kcl.ac.uk.