What will replace face-to-face marketing in a post-Covid charity market?

A look at the pandemic's toll and how industry leaders are forging a new path.


Nonprofits and their fundraising partners are searching for new ways to connect with donors in the wake of Covid-19’s massive upheaval of the fundraising sector. Luckily, Toronto-based agency Up Fundraising, a division of KSG, had been investing in new ways to run face-to-face (F2F) campaigns prior to the pandemic, so is now able to revive this cornerstone element of charitable marketing.

Before the lockdown, F2F fundraising staffers like Up’s were a common site, approaching people in busy retail areas in the hopes of turning them into donors for a cause.

Sara Clodman, VP, public affairs and thought leadership for the CMA, says F2F marketing provided a sizable and reliable portion of annual donations for many of Canada’s large nonprofits. The CMA works with organizations such as the Canadian Red Cross and Canada’s Children’s Hospital Foundation through its Not-For-Profit Council, and Clodman says that with social distancing virtually ending street-level activations and live fundraising events, nonprofits are bracing for severe income impact “at a time when their services are in increased demand.”

Imagine Canada’s most recent Sector Monitor report, which examines the pandemic’s toll on Canada’s not-for-profits, reports that 87% of surveyed organizations have cancelled events and meetings in response to Covid-19, and “nearly seven in 10 charities report decreases in revenues since the onset of the pandemic.”

“Covid placed the face-to-face fundraising sector into a coma overnight,” says Andrew McRae, managing partner at Up Fundraising. “Within a two-week period, we received calls from all our clients asking us to pause their programs. We had to comply and wanted to comply, as we have a duty of care to the health of the public and to the image of our charity partners.”

Before the pandemic, Up Fundraising had been running programs across Canada and the U.S. for over 15 charities, such as CNIB, Save the Children, World Vision and Amnesty International. With over 300 fundraisers actively working in March, Up Fundraising had been looking to improve on the success it had in 2019 when it saw its sixth consecutive year of donation growth. But like many in the sector, Up had to furlough most of its staff when programs stopped.

“Clients were scrambling to find alternatives to achieve their donor acquisition targets,” McRae says, but many couldn’t find options beyond tele-fundraising. While Up could follow their clients’ lead and shifted efforts to the phones, it had another option ready to go.

Throughout 2019, the company had been investing in a new personalized video fundraising solution. The service allows Up to leverage its street-level ambassadors in personalized video calls. Rather than approaching shoppers in a crowd, donors are selected from a robust data set to receive customized messages in either one-to-one or one-to-many video clips. The F2F focus shifted from purely acquiring new names for contact lists to re-engaging, thanking and up-selling.

These solutions bring the intimate face-to-face component back to campaigns that also include targeted texting, social media and custom videos with calls-to-action tailored for individual donors. Up is currently using this approach for an international NGO and several charities and seeing an 8% donor conversion/transaction rate (well above the industry standard of 2%).

“Our business quickly evolved from being focused exclusively on in-person canvassing to also supporting our clients’ ability to sustain and engage the thousands of donors that have been acquired,” McRae says. “With highly responsive data behind us, we now guide clients to optimize their channels using technology tools that our video fundraising platform affords. F2F fundraising acts as the foundational channel, and our technology solutions build upon that.”

McRae said F2F must evolve to meet the new realities of the age. An effective data- and technology-led path is opening new opportunities for those who rely on connecting with generous North Americans.

Up Fundraising is an integrated fundraising and strategy agency based in Toronto that helps charities and NGOs acquire and engage with donors. It is a division of KSG, a leader in experiential, direct, retail and F2F marketing.