Digital innovation in the pandemic

If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything as fundraisers, it’s that innovation means survival.

Everyone everywhere, in every industry, has had to adjust to new ways of working. In some places, there is talk of getting back to “normal”. In others, repeated waves and rolling control measures mean there’s no such thing anymore. Fundraisers rely heavily on human connection and events to raise money for our causes, and we’ve all had to innovate in one way or another since those avenues closed to us.

Over the last 18 months, the switch to digital has been profound. Charities have had no choice but to build on their previous digital capacity. For some organisations, this pivot has been sudden. For others, the pandemic has accelerated wheels that were already in motion. The Resource Alliance, in partnership with and the DoMoreGood podcast team, sat down with four fundraisers who have taken game-changing and innovative approaches to their digital fundraising and engagement.


Michael Wilkinson, Associate Director for Digital and Innovation at RNID

With low brand awareness as Action On Hearing Loss, and coming to the end of a financial recovery period, the rebranded RNID was already on a path of change that COVID accelerated. Thanks to the pandemic, the organisation has fully embraced remote ways of working with the removal of core hours and increased flexibility in pursuit of its mission to become “the best charity to work for”.

From a fundraising perspective, as well as pivoting mainly to digital, Michael reports a focus on becoming cause-led, with the RNID considering potential donor journeys and connecting different areas of the organisation’s work together. To build a digital-first strategy, RNID introduced user research and has continued regularly testing with users.

In addition, the organisation has moved to open and transparent work practices, with a public digital roadmap that allows not only staff but the general public to see where the organisation is headed.


Anna Chowcat, Digital Manager at Refuge

For the team at Refuge, the UK’s national domestic abuse charity, Anna says that one of the biggest learnings has been trying and testing new things. Being bold and not being afraid of the unknown has paid off in ways they couldn’t have imagined.

Refuge’s mission is to harness the power and energy of the feminist movement, essentially creating an engaged online supporter movement. An initial investment in digital fundraising in 2019 – revamping donation pages, implementing an email supporter journey, and using paid ads –  resulted in an impressive ROI and, combined with COVID emergency appeals, a doubling of fundraised income.


Athar Abidi, Head of Social Media at the British Heart Foundation

For Athar and his team, the pandemic caused fundraising to take a back seat. With many of the organisation’s beneficiaries in high-risk groups and with “very pressing and specific [health] concerns”, BHF made the decision to focus on patient-first comms, becoming the go-to place for relevant health information that wasn’t an NHS priority.

Athar believes innovation is relative and can look different for every organisation. His team tried things that didn’t take off the way they hoped, but were still valuable learning experiences. The Facebook Challenge model was what worked for them, but he says that the market is now saturated and that we should be ready to pivot and “think long game” when it no longer pays dividends.


Rachael White, Digital Marketing Manager at Brain Tumour Research

At Brain Tumour Research, many of the staff were no longer able to do their day jobs due to the pandemic. This freed up people to innovate and think up new things and new ways of working. Doing these new things enabled them to find new supporters as well as re-engaging old ones – people who were initially drawn to the challenge ended up engaging closely with the cause itself.

Echoing Athar, Rachael noted that, even if something doesn’t meet expectations, there is a lot to be learned. For their team, the discovery that managing Facebook Challenge Events was going to be a 24/7 job meant having to reallocate resources, but their innovation has led to lifetime value that goes beyond individual challenges.


You can watch the full session back here, or listen to the audio and read the transcript here.

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