How the Leprosy Mission won a Charity Times fundraising award

The Leprosy Mission won this year's Charity Times Fundraising Team of the Year award. Its head of fundraising Louise Timmons discusses the challenges of fundraising during the pandemic and the lessons the charity has learned over the last 18 months.

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Melissa: What work did the team do to win Fundraising Team of the Year?

Louise: 2020 and the first part of 2021 were the most challenging periods the charity sector has ever faced. The economy dived, affecting all channels of fundraising. International charities were losing money fast; smaller ones were closing. It was a season that demanded agility and innovation. It was also a time to focus on the wellbeing of our supporters. So many were facing isolation, loneliness and grief.

Our third Aid Match campaign was developed during the pandemic and we had to maximise every opportunity this offered. We worked with an external agency for the first time, and they led on messaging and development of The Unconditional Appeal campaign toolkit.

We created our first interactive microsite, and a peer-to-peer fundraising tool ‘the virtual collection box’, to encourage sponsored challenges. Team members came together to raise funds personally. They ran, walked, and cycled more than 2,000km between them.

A successful Radio 4 Appeal was aired within the Aid Match giving window. Dame Darcey Bussell became the face of both the radio and general campaign. Her fantastic support was key in engaging new audiences. The Unconditional Appeal raised £2.2 million against a target of £850,000, and the Radio 4 Appeal raised the highest total recorded to date.

As remote working became the new normal, clear and regular communication within the fundraising team was vital. Through all campaigns, team leaders were involved in concept and content production, ensuring relevance for each fundraising stream. As well as meetings, a weekly fundraising update was emailed to inform colleagues and celebrate achievements.

Each sub-team worked brilliantly together, sharing collateral, avoiding duplication, and adding value across fundraising channels. Cross-team relationships were strengthened as we collaborated with Programmes and field staff.

Melissa: How did fundraising change and what can other charities learn?

Louise: Campaign messaging aligned with what was currently being experienced by our supporters e.g. the loneliness of rejection because of leprosy, and the loneliness of lockdown. We also jumped on world news for the first time, requesting support for Mozambique during instability and India during the pandemic. This meant that plans and appeals had to change at short notice, but the team embraced working in a more agile way.

We have always been an organisation which values supporters for who they are, not just what they give. As many were struggling during the pandemic, we ramped up caring for those who make our work possible. We made over 2,000 telephone calls, produced wellbeing devotionals, and sent two emails from our CEO offering to chat to people. He spent two weekends making calls.

Lockdowns meant no travel to gather content, and we started working with in-country photographers and film makers. This wasn’t always easy but it produced fantastic results and is, without doubt, the way forward in terms of best practice in the international development sector. It ensures authenticity and is better for the environment.

Like all charities, our biggest challenge was the speed at which we needed to move forward digitally. We made digital transformation an organisational objective, changing staff mindsets and equipping with new skills and resources.

Melissa: What does the future of fundraising look like?

Without doubt, digital is the future. This brings challenges, but also exciting opportunities for innovation. How does the sector run digital events? How best can we acquire new supporters online? How do we make our online donor journeys more successful?

Louise: More than ever, we must view supporters as partners, not funders. Donors want to be seen as more than a wallet. They want to understand the impact of their gifts. They want to get exclusive insights into the communities they support. Charities need to remove themselves from comms, and link supporters to beneficiaries through engaging stories. It’s not about what The Leprosy Mission has achieved, it’s about what supporters have enabled. Without them, we don’t exist.

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