Ian O'Reilly

Apr 20, 2020, 11:00 AM

Impact of supporter experience on fundraising

Part 2: Why we should be focusing on supporter experience more than ever

In the second of two articles, Action Planning Consultant Ian O’Reilly considers the importance of supporter experience in the light of COVID-19.

A lot has happened since my first article explaining what supporter experience is and why it matters. In these unprecedented times, it feels more important than ever to focus and adopt this approach to your fundraising.

I fundamentally believe that as fundraisers, we should be creating authentic human connections with our supporters. In this article I lay out five principles for fundraising teams to adopt during this pandemic.

One: Define what ‘supporter’ means for your organisation. Someone who has given regularly for a number of years is different to an individual who has given once to a recent appeal. One is a supporter and the other is a prospect, and the way you communicate with them needs to differ. Use your team’s knowledge and insights to help create definitions across fundraising activities and segment supporters and prospects accordingly.

Two: Develop your coronavirus case for support. A case for support is a document that tells prospective donors what your organisation hopes to accomplish with their philanthropic gift.  It is more than likely in the current situation that this document needs updating. If you don’t have one, this is the perfect time to create one. Answer the following questions to create your case for support.

  • How is COVID-19 affecting your charity now and in two months' time?
  • What reduction have you seen in your staff and volunteer base?
  • What losses of income you have experienced?
  • What does your charity intend to do and how much money does it need?

Three: Get your fundraisers to adopt the right mindset. Don't let them take the stance of protecting supporters and stop making asks. If your case for support is compelling, supporters will want to give and it is your responsibility to give them that option. If you are facing financial hardship or on the brink of collapse, imagine explaining to your closest donors why you didn’t ask for their help. They would be livid, and rightly so. Let them decide – this is the very essence of providing a great supporter experience.

Four: If you’re going to make an ask, do so properly. When making an ask to your supporter it is important to do so thoughtfully. It really helps to think of your supporters as your friends.  The way we communicate with our friends tends to be more personalised and involve a greater level of effort and we should be applying the same principles to our supporters.

Can you pick up the phone to talk? This immediately shows that the potential gift is important to you and enables you to enter into a more engaging dialogue with your supporter. Can you write a tailored letter? Showing the supporter you know how generous they have been in the past and asking them to increase their gift during this difficult time will make them feel special. Whatever channel you choose, make sure the message is attentive and considerate to the person receiving it.

Five: Don’t always take; offer the supporter some value. Those you have classified as your supporters are really committed to your cause. It is more than likely that they want to continue to give to you during the pandemic but, of course, it may be the case that they can’t. Think of ways that you can support them during this crisis. Can you offer them a holiday from their regular gift? Can you keep them updated on how you’re responding but not make financial asks? Offer them value that doesn’t necessarily return a financial reward but will be remembered and when this is all over, they’ll be ready to restart their support.

So in summary, to help focus on supporter experience during this crisis, adopt these five principles:

  1. Define what ‘supporter’ means for your organisation. 
  2. Develop your coronavirus case for support.
  3. Get your fundraisers to adopt the right mindset.
  4. If you’re going to make an ask, do so properly.
  5. Don’t always take; offer the supporter some value.

And most importantly, remember, if you understand what your supporter is asking for, you will in turn receive what you need from them.

Ian O'Reilly


Ian O’Reilly is a funding consultant who is passionate about helping charities grow their income, focusing on fundraising strategy and improving the supporter experience. He combines an evidence-based approach with a growth mindset to help charities understand, grow and retain their audience to achieve their fundraising goals.