Live Panel Discussion - trends, ideas and overcoming challenges in cashless giving

15 Mar 2022 Jocelyn Horton    Last updated: 21 Mar 2022

The Live Panel Discussion, part of the #DigitalFundraising Webinar Series 2021, discussed the impact of the pandemic on fundraising, future trends, inspiring ideas, and ways to overcome challenges in cashless giving.
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The following is a summary of the discussion. Each panel expert gave a brief overview of their thoughts, ideas and experiences of fundraising during the pandemic and what to consider in the future. Participant questions were also addressed. 

Please see recorded webinar below for the full discussion. 


Daniel Fluskey, Head of Policy and External Affairs, Chartered Institute of Fundraising


Daniel Fluskey's presentation “Fundraising and giving during the pandemic and beyond” is available to download above.

Key takeaways:

  • At a time of emergency, people still gave, and wanted to give, to charity. 
  • When we build it, they will come - Digital and virtual events work!
  • Don’t underestimate the continued value of traditional methods - telephone fundraising outperformed pre-COVID levels and the public's response to emergency appeals via direct mail was above forecast.
  • Giving during the pandemic – and what next
    • £11.3bn given over 2020 (up from £10.6bn in 2019)
    • But fewer people gave (62% vs 65% in 2019)
    • A smaller group of predominantly older supporters are giving more – supporters are more loyal than ever (because of great fundraising!)
    • Not just a COVID ‘blip’ it seems like a continuation of a pre-pandemic trend
    • Worryingly, the proportion of people giving and average donations continued to decline during 2021.

Final thoughts

  • If ‘giving’ is the problem, then more and better fundraising is the answer. In a time of emergency, it was still appropriate and right to fundraise and ask for support.
  • Need the right people, with the right skills, and appropriate investment through a whole-organizational strategy. Success didn’t happen by chance.
  • Traditional methods continue to work – but so does digital! Not just a ‘nice to have’. Will be ever more important.
  • Trust and visibility of charities has increased – how to ensure that involvement in giving continues – engagement, relevance, connection, action.


Joanne McDowell, NI Manager at the Fundraising Regulator


  • The Fundraising Regulator has been tracking a huge move to online fundraising as many charities either stopped or reduced in-person activities.
  • The pandemic saw numerous charities adapt very quickly to the situation transferring their fundraising to online while for others, online activity was new.
  • Less in-person activity resulted in less complaints in the Fundraising Regulator’s Annual Complaints Report which examines complaints escalated to the Fundraising Regulator. 
  • Set against the backdrop of the pandemic, data between 1 April 2020 and 31 March 2021 shows a 252% increase in complaints about online fundraising. This figure is relatively small as just 1 impression represents nearly 2 million pieces of information. But it does flag up the need for charities to develop their online fundraising skills as complaints arose from misinformation.
  • Fundraising communications should be open, transparent, honest and within legal framework. Charities are encouraged to refer to the Fundraising Regulator’s Code of Practice, Guides and Resources for further guidance including summaries of their investigations.
  • Going forward, the sector should ensure they are prepared for changes in legislation for gambling in Northern Ireland and recognise that the law and rules apply to the charity not the fundraising platform. 
  • Currently, the Code of Practice does not cover cryptocurrency specifically, but the principles of best practice in fundraising still apply and organisations should note the volatility of such currency.
  • Charities should also review their own processes for dealing with fraudulent activity.


Kathryn Holland, Outdoor Events Manager, Cancer Focus Northern Ireland


  • Over 90% of Cancer Focus NI’s income is derived from fundraising. The pandemic and its lockdowns meant there was an immediate need to raise income and do so safely.

They launched their first emergency appeal with a virtual statement from their CEO stating the charity’s need to save its services and reach beneficiaries. The appeal used a mix of fundraising activities including digital campaigns, text-to-donate, a Just Giving page, and radio/TV advertising. Despite thinking that text-to-donate would be a quick, simple way for supporters to engage and donate particularly as almost everyone has a mobile phone, it simply didn’t work for them. Just Giving however, was more popular with donors who felt it was more engaging especially as they could log on daily to see the total rising.  

  • Cancer Focus NI adapted their existing outdoor events program to digital; the annual Slieve Donard walk became ‘climb stairs in your home?’  equal to Slieve Donard walk.
  • They took part in national digital campaigns such as ‘Run 5, Donate £5, and Nominate 5’ but found that while national campaigns did raise much needed income, they didn’t result in enough traction or ROI as their own face-to-face events had previously.

As there is anything between 8,000 to 11,000 charities competing for the same £1 donation in a 1.8 million population, the organisation focused on creating their own digital campaigns to stand out and be as fully inclusive as possible.

The March-a-Million campaign, launched in early 2021, allowed every person to build up a million steps over two months. The campaign worked for mums pushing prams, corporate teams working remotely distributing step amounts across members, or fitness fanatics completing their steps in a couple of weeks. The campaign costs included £30 for social media adverts, artwork for t-shirt and certificate printing and post and packaging totalling around £2,000. Participants paid a £5 registration fee which covered postage and packing, but the t-shirts were an added extra for participants that led to free advertising when people took selfies and shared them on social media. The campaign raised £40,000.

Benefits of Virtual Events

  • There is no cap on numbers unlike hosting an in-person event. Virtual events could be for 30 people to 3000 people with little difference in costs compared to face-to-face events with the same numbers.
  • They can be time-flexible – participants can take part at times that suit them. 

Challenges of Virtual Events

  • The donor journey is very different virtually than for in-person events. Organisations need to find other ways to engage with supporters and make them feel special and included such as more check-ins with phone calls and emails.
  • Organisations should also recognise that it can be difficult to generate excitement that event days bring – large crowds chatting, mixing and eager to raise funds can’t be recreated online. Again, make the time to check-in regularly with participants. 

The Future

  • Virtual events will sit alongside physical events for Cancer Focus NI as a great way to involve a wide range of people whether they are uncomfortable mixing in crowds, only able to do their steps in their back yard or live further away from the event location.
  • There will always be a place for virtual engagement and will become a part of everyone’s strategy.


Matthew Allen, Community Fundraising Manager at Concern Worldwide UK


Before the pandemic, fundraising activities were primarily face-to-face such as giving presentations in schools or groups with collection buckets. In 2020, their challenge was balancing the organisation's need to raise income with donor care, e.g., should they really be asking their community fundraisers to be active in the middle of a pandemic?

The organisation wasn’t ready to transfer to digital fundraising; it’s not just a case of adding QR codes to collection buckets. They recognised that some of their supporters lacked a mobile phone and weren’t tech-savvy meaning organisations should plan for digital fundraising to include training and information about digital methods such as QR codes for their supporters. 

  • Organisations should also consider what will work for their audiences and decide what their aim is. For example, is your goal to engage with existing audiences or is it to engage with new audiences through a digital product.

Rather than dispersing resources across several channels, Concern Worldwide UK focused on using their Facebook page because that’s where their audience is, and the audience is familiar with the platform. In short, don’t create a Tik Tok account if your supporters are mainly older people unused to that platform.

Fundraising online can be a very competitive space especially next to large charities with larger capacities. 

  • Spend time thinking about who you are, what you do, who you attract, and how can you set yourselves above competitors – don’t rush into things, communicate across your organisation including for compliance areas such as GDPR, and plan for better donor journeys.
  • Donor journeys (pre-, during, and post-event communications) should be flexible and you will probably need to communicate more than you do for in-person fundraising activities. An idea could be to set up a Facebook page with a wide range of prepared content to generate interaction.

For the Ration Challenge, where participants live off the same food rations as a Syrian refugee, Concern Worldwide UK posted prepared images and content to their Facebook page to build momentum. Followers shared images and content online raising awareness of the challenge.

  • Over time, their Facebook followers developed and shared their own content such as swapping recipes. 
  • Concern UK also used virtual gifts to good effect – followers could buy a goat, chickens, a blanket, or a meal for international beneficiaries.


  • Things are moving fast in online fundraising. If you’re not doing anything, you will be left behind.
  • Consider starting small such as with a simple Facebook fundraiser. 
    • But remember - what’s your aim? If its to raise funds, Facebook is great. If it’s to collect data (contact details of donors), then avoid Facebook because they do not share data.
    • A great example of this is WWF who did the Cold Shower Challenge – take a cold-water shower for 7 days raising £10 per day. Each participant raises £70 over the week and receives a t-shirt at the end of the challenge. WWF raised £19k and with tons of free publicity as people shared their images over social media, but the organisation didn’t get data for follow-up communications.
  • Hybrid is here to stay. In-person events are back such as with the London Marathon, but no doubt a virtual option will run in parallel. 
  • From Just Giving to Enthuse, there’s plenty of fundraising platforms out there.
    • Concern Worldwide UK use Raisely as they can incorporate into their webpage and tailor it - look around for one that suits your organisation.
  • Diversify your acquisition channels – Facebook is very popular to attract supporters to your cause, but it’s getting harder and harder to target people.
    • Look at other channels to increase your supporter, donor, and membership numbers and note that there are increasing numbers of people using subscribing to podcast and YouTube channels. 
  • Use mobile ready version of website content
  • Gen Z audiences prefer action-based fundraising and collectivism so Concern Worldwide UK attract younger audiences to their global extreme poverty cause by anchoring it to climate change issues and pre-loved clothing.

Participant Questions

1. How can I engage both older and younger audiences?

  • People like to give to people, so for online activities try giving information to your community fundraisers to share. You can also use their connections, e.g., young people can be engaged by asking them to consider if they have a grandparent facing a situation in your campaign communications or ask them to share a story of a younger or older relative who benefits from your organisation’s services.
  • Also consider how to change perceptions for older generations. It’s common across Britain to see contactless units for charity retail or donations, so charities in Northern Ireland could help older generations become more familiar with donating via electronic means by providing contact less units, QR codes on posters in windows, etc.

2. How to get started?

  • Start with what you have and adapt it to digital communications. But it’s not just a case of transferring what’s on paper and doing it online. Digital channels have different needs so develop appropriate content for each channel.
  • Ask others in the voluntary and community sector, e.g., CIOF Northern Ireland Committee can be contacted, plenty of resources online (see Charity Digital), most fundraising platforms have how-to-guides and tip sheets, and speak to other charities contacts for guidance.
  • Don’t spread yourself too wide - choose one channel and do it well.
  • Integrate digital with physical, e.g. send a postcard or keyring to say thank you!. 
  • Communicate across your organisation – make sure your finance team, Trustees, management, volunteers, etc know you are running an online fundraising campaign.
  • Data may be harder to collect but remember to communicate with donors – how will you thank them, collect Gift Aid, or pursue ongoing communication?
  • A small step can be to include a Call to Action on all your social media posts directing people to your website’s donation page or ask them to share, like, and/or comment to increase online followers. 
  • Follow the Fundraising Regulator’s Code of Practice for online activities and communications for best practice and relevant due diligence. 

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by Jocelyn Horton

Fundraising Advice Officer

[email protected]

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