Brand Purpose Agencies Recession

‘Budget squeezes could create a desperate situation’: how can charities survive 2023?


By Laura Blackwell, Content Executive

March 9, 2023 | 8 min read

Economic downturns can be tough for charities, bringing donation difficulties as belts tighten. How are their agency partners supporting them in 2023? We asked four Drum Network members.

Orange and red abstract painting up close

In economic downturn, the Arts sector may be an afterthought for most. But not for M&C Saatchi Group UK / Steve Johnson

Alex Jackson, paid media team lead, Hallam

We’ve seen two huge humanitarian appeals in the last 12 months: one to support Ukraine, and more recently around the Turkey-Syria earthquake. What did this show us? Even in times of financial hardship, people are more than willing to donate money if they believe they can help make a difference.

Non-profit organizations (NPOs) and charities are going to have to be smarter than ever before when it comes to investing their marketing budgets. The organizations that put donors at the heart of their success will see the best return on their investment. Marketers in the charity sector should focus on:

  • Inclusive messaging that focuses on the outcome, not the problem.

  • Creative that evokes an emotional response with a clear call to action, which will drive donations.

  • Finding the people who are already close to becoming a donor and pushing them over the line with tactical retargeting to help your marketing efforts be even more effective.

While it’s important to highlight the truth and reality of what organizations are raising donations for, it is the hope of relief and support that should always be used as a thread that runs through any campaign.

Thom Standen, head of customer experience, Reflect Digital

Our charity partners are currently seeing success when tapping into emergencies that are covered prominently in the media. The audience is primed with empathy, and the upper funnel work has been done for them, resulting in fewer required touchpoints. Being 'first to market' appears to have been a big factor in success. Teams that are ready to respond with lightweight approval processes are excelling when bad news breaks.

We've also seen a reduction in non-emergency campaign funds, possibly as a result of the cost-of-living crisis or because people have already donated elsewhere. Potential budget squeezes on the horizon could also create a desperate situation for charities. However, charities that work to understand their audiences in detail (such as how they best engage online and the types of content that grab their attention and persuade them to donate) will fare best in these times of financial instability.

In a nutshell, the smartest strategies for charities right now are: embrace digital; target effectively; and think behaviorally about donor journeys.

Richard Thompson, non-executive chair, M&C Saatchi UK Group

As a creative company, we believe that arts education is one area in which agencies can provide support and make a genuine difference. In the UK, the 2021 cuts to arts funding left a hole in support that is yet to be filled. This is having a direct impact on the creative industry; we’re currently facing a creativity gap, which is also underpinned by diversity and inclusion (D&I) challenges.

We have chosen to be a leader and invest in the culture sector through several initiatives, such as becoming principal patron of London’s Saatchi Gallery. As a self-funded registered charity, our support enables Saatchi Gallery to provide free exhibitions to the public and develop their in-person and online learning workshops.

Together we also established the not-for-profit Global Art for Change Prize. We want to break down barriers to entry in the creative industry, and to encourage people across the globe to choose art and creativity as a career choice.

Sarah Loder, senior account director, Bray Leino

Charities might not have big marketing budgets, but what they do often have is receptiveness to big ideas. Because of this, there is huge opportunity within the digital space – and not simply online fundraising. Think augmented reality (AR), virtual reality and artificial intelligence. It’s a chance for agencies’ boldest, brightest minds to really get creative. It’s how we created an award-winning, world-first fundraising innovation for North Devon Hospice which increased annual donations by 566%.

When the hospice faced a shortfall in legacy donations (money left in people’s wills), we created a sculptural monument to legacy donors outside the Hospice building, then used AR to make it interactive, revealing donors’ stories through a specially-designed app that interacts with the physical monument. The technology can be easily updated remotely, it costs nothing to run, and it creates a talking point out of a previously sensitive subject matter.

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Lou Lai, chief client and transformation officer, TPXimpact

When we talk about making ends meet amid times of looming economic downturn, some charities are simply trying to keep the lights on, working from funding to funding.

In terms of actual giving, we’ve seen people donating less. They’re seeing the pressures on their own personal finances, so the ability to support multiple causes and charities isn’t viable for supporters. Clear propositions, timely asks, authentic storytelling and compelling calls to action will be at the beating heart of what works well.

We've worked with charities like Breast Cancer Now; that’s exactly the space where investment in digital experiences means organizations are better equipped to meet the needs of their users. Developing connected, data-led experiences means that the charity can be there for people affected by breast cancer and support them on their journey.

Develop smart strategies when budgets are tight, think small and lean, develop prototypes and test them with users, and never stop iterating and evolving.

Brand Purpose Agencies Recession

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We’re a multi-award winning full-service digital agency based in the UK, and a trusted partner to some of the world’s biggest national and international brands.


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M&C Saatchi Group

We are a creative company with five specialist Divisions, connected through data, technology and culture, to deliver Meaningful Change for clients.

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Reflect Digital Limited

Putting our client’s customers first, we work closely with ambitious global brands and eCommerce businesses looking to elevate their marketing and move towards...

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Bray Leino

We drive growth through creativenergy®, by going beyond, to find the most powerful way. It’s the way we began back in 1973. Before email, before mobile phones,...

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TPXimpact believes in a world enriched by people-powered digital transformation. Working in collaboration with organisations, we're on a mission to accelerate positive...

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