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Brand Strategy Charity Fundraising Yonder Media

5 ways charities are adapting their marketing plans during cost of living crisis


By Hannah Bowler, Senior reporter

June 28, 2023 | 8 min read

Regular direct debit payments were once the lifeblood of charity fundraising, but then the cost of living crisis hit hard. We look at how the third sector is adapting.

Shelter mocks the government for its cost of living ‘hacks’

Shelter cost of living campaign

Over the past year, charities have radically altered their media and marketing strategies to stay afloat. The cost of living crisis means that, despite demand for support and services increasing, people have tended to donate less.

At Yonder Media, which counts the likes of Shelter and Alzheimer’s Research UK among its clients, managing director Ed Cox has uncovered five trends in charity media investment that might make the difference between helping people or going under.

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1. The gamification of fundraising

This is the biggest trend Cox has witnessed. There has been a substantial rise in lottery-style fundraising where donors are entered into a cash prize draw. Charities are primarily looking to performance marketing and paid social to run these lottery games.

Cox says: “Some of those channels that were nudging on being inefficient for the third sector because you had such low conversion rates for a direct debit commitment. But all of a sudden, they’re back in play again”.

Make-A-Wish, a charity that funds the wishes of terminally ill children, launched its weekly lottery in October and after testing it found the lottery to be performing 83% higher than a regular giving ask. The organization’s mass fundraising lead Imogen Stead says: “People still want to give, but they also potentially want to get something back.“

Now it is putting most of its money and spend into lottery advertising, says Stead. Direct response television (DRTV) advertising is also emerging as another channel for reaching lottery players. Make-A-Wish will be running its second DRTV campaign in August, this time focusing purely on its lottery game. Research by Yonder has found 12 charities spending on DRTV ads every month and that they are “now ready to scale it and reach a wider audience,” says Cox.

2. Asking to be left a gift in someone’s will rather than a one-off donation

“Charities have spent quite a lot of money as far as we can see over the last year or so upping what they do in terms of legacies,” says Cox.

Here, charities are again taking to DRTV campaigns, see Barnardo’s ‘Be More Like Gladys’ spot for example. Interestingly though, Cox has spotted search being used to promote free will writing services that ask in exchange for a small donation or an agreement to be marketed to later on. The target demographic for legacy donations is baby boomers who have got the most wealth but who might be nearing the end of their lives.

As well as DRTV, direct mail, newspaper ads and inserts are popular channels that plays into the right audience demographic.

3. Scaling up mass participation events​

Social is the main channel here and, in terms of targeting, charities have identified those about to enter a new decade as the key demographic, so all those 29, 39 and 49-year-olds who are having thoughts about what they want to achieve before hitting a milestone age.

Charities are trying to create their own events in the calendar, along the lines of Movember or MacMillan Coffee Morning, instead of relying on broad events such as the London Marathon. “If you look at spending patterns, charities can organize quite a lot of marketing and media spend around that event because they realized that is the one time of year when they can punch through and get a bit of coverage in the news,” says Cox. Make-A-Wish recently hired someone whose entire remit is creating and scaling a charity-exclusive annual event.

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4. Looking for ways other than TV to distribute their content

There have also been major changes to brand marketing strategies. The hard-hitting, bigger-budget, thought-provoking campaigns are still in use, but they don’t have the media budget behind them. Instead, these films can now be distributed online to get earned coverage rather than buying coverage.

“Charities are still creating these big set pieces, filmic pieces of content, but they’re looking at all the ways in which they can distribute them beyond just paying for airtime on TV stations and companies,” says Cox. “It’s good business to spend a little bit more on production to make your film beautifully crafted and emotionally impactful than spend the budget on media.“

Stead tells The Drum that Make-A-Wish’s first time on TV was with a brand advertisement, but she admits it didn’t perform so well. “The response rates were terrible, possibly because of the creative we used. It was sold as a fundraising advert but it felt very much more in the brand space. It wasn’t like the traditional charity TV ad, it was quite conceptual and it didn’t necessarily translate into donations.”

For Make-A-Wish, while the need for donations remains so high, its marketing will focus more on urgent appeals and its brand messaging will take a back seat.

5. Partnering with gaming streamers

Elsewhere, some forward-thinking charities have found an entirely new fundraising avenue by partnering with gaming streamers. “If you can create mechanics by which other people can do the fundraising for you, then that’s great,” says Cox.

“It’s a growing toolkit for charities and it helps you reach different audiences that are hard to reach, you know? I mean, if you look at the media consumption stats then you know that people who watch Twitch and tune into Twitch and spend a lot of time there aren’t spending a lot of time on other media.”

Brand Strategy Charity Fundraising Yonder Media

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