Episode 19: Ben Swart – How to inspire supporters in spite of the pandemic

Episode Notes

With nearly everyone now staying at home and worried about their health, income and families, its hard to know how to keep and build relationships with supporters, especially for causes not directly linked to the coronavirus.

In this episode of the fundraising bright spots podcast, Rob Woods discusses responses to these problems with Ben Swart, Head of New Business Corporate Partnerships at the NSPCC and part of the Bright Spot training team.

Ben talks about what he sees as the most important fundraising activity he and his team are engaged in right now – proactively talking to supporters. He explains why being brave and calling / face-timing your supporters is more crucial than ever, not so much to seek a gift, but to show that you care (about the supporter) and to let them know about the challenges faced by your beneficiaries right now, and how your charity is responding. Ben and Rob acknowledge this is an area you may find difficult – both of them used to feel this way – and offer ideas and examples to help you take a deep breath and manage to enjoy more conversations with supporters anyway.

We hope you find this episode helpful. If you’d like to get in touch or share it so other people can benefit, we’d be really grateful. We are both active on Linked In and our twitter names are @benswart and @woods_rob.

Key Takeaways

  • TALKING TO PEOPLE IS THE MOST POWERFUL WAY FOR THEM TO KNOW YOU CARE – Its really tempting to default to more distant, less interactive ways of communicating with people who support our charities – such as email. Clearly there is still a place for email as well, but if you can find a way to use more immediate means when possible eg for corporates, major donors, event participants, community supporters etc, the benefits are:
  1. MORE LIKELY TO REACH THEM – Your message is more likely to be noticed / received at all, rather than drown in an email inbox.
  2. ADAPTABLE – You can make your message flexible. Ie based on how the supporter responds (both what they say in answer to what you say at the start and their tone of voice) you can adapt what you go on to say. By sending an email you lose this ability to adapt.
  3. INDIVIDUAL – Its bespoke. They feel you are talking to / listening to just them, rather than sending out a mass communication.
  • BE CLEAR OF YOUR INTENTION – TO GIVE NOT GET – unless you are engaged in an emergency appeal, you are not calling to ask for anything. You are calling because you care about them, and because you know they are likely to also care about your beneficiaries, your charities’ purpose. And even if you are engaged in an appeal, or in the call you see it is appropriate to offer them the chance to help, then this is still something you are offering rather than asking, ie that they might want to do, for their reasons, because it would solve a problem they care about.
  • CONNECTION – There are two reasons why people are more likely to pick up their phone or call you back during this time of pandemic and virtual lockdown:

1) Many people have more time on their hands

2) Faced with so much worry and suffering all around them, we are more desperate to help others than ever before. The desire and willingness to be altruistic has always been in us, but now people are feeling inspired to act on this need. But many don’t have something they can practically do.

  • THE STAKES ARE HIGH – Because of this extraordinary situation, we may sometimes need to respond in ways that initially require more courage, using different tactics. Last week after the Prime Minister of the UK had asked everyone to not go out unnecessarily, Ben’s friend who works for a theatre company realised that if no-one buys a theatre ticket for the next three or four months there is a strong chance the theatre may cease to exist. Ben said ‘what will you do?’ His friend replied, ‘I am going to call everyone of our existing donors and let them know how precarious this situation is for the theatre they love’. He did not say the first thing he’ll do is send a carefully worded email.
  • Ben recommends the following steps:
  • Draw up a list of key supporters, be they corporates, clubs and associations, major or mid-level donors etc.
  • Each morning make some calls. (And vary what time of day works best).
  • Before you call, set your intention to caring about them, to connecting.
  • Once you get through, sincerely ask how they are doing at this difficult time.
  • And potentially, see if they want to speak by facetime. It’s much easier to build rapport, understand their sincerity, when you can see someone’s face.
  • After hearing how they are doing, be able to explain what’s going on, in particular, what’s so difficult for your beneficiaries right now and that your charity is helping solve those problems. One of the most powerful things you can do is mention real examples from your front-line colleagues about your beneficiaries. To do this you’ll have needed to talk to your front-line colleagues, which may not be easy if they are especially busy, but this is incredibly powerful if you can manage it. Many of my other blogs explore the disproportionate power of real examples / stories to help our supporters connect.

Further Resources

  • For more on how and why your ability to inspire supporters gets turbo-charged when you’re able to proactively include real examples when you speak, check out my blog – Stories are the rocket fuel
  • For more ideas about asking / offering someone the chance to help a charity, see my blog on Amanda Palmer’s advice – The secret to asking confidently.
  • An excellent book to help you become braver when calling, approaching others, ‘selling’ in all contexts is The Go Giver by Burg and Mann. The paradox is that once people understand you genuinely have their interests at heart, they become much more likely to say ‘yes’ to any offers you make.


‘He told me the first thing he’s going to do is call all those donors and let them know about this precarious situation. Note, he did not say, the first thing will be to craft a carefully worded email.’

Ben Swart