Episode 27: Emily Casson – More digital fundraising strategies that work, even now (Part 2)

Episode Notes

You’ve probably realised how crucial digital fundraising is while social distancing and various levels of lockdown are in force. If you’re searching for ideas or just reassurance about what to do, I hope you will find this episode really helpful. In it, you will hear the second half of my recent interview with the brilliant (and award-winning) Emily Casson, digital marketing manager at Cats Protection.

Emily shares practical tactics to increase donations through your website; working with streamers and on-line influencers and ideas to help you to successfully innovate during these turbulent times.

If you’d like more powerful strategies to help you raise funds during the pandemic, then do check out my new free E-book: Power Through The Pandemic – Seven ways to raise money with major donors, corporates and trusts, even now. You can download it for FREE here: brightspotfundraising.co.uk/power

If you found Episode 27 helpful, please do subscribe today, so you won’t miss out on all the other episodes we’re making. Note, if you enjoyed this one, I highly recommend you listen to episodes 25, 15 and 16, also with Emily.

If you want to share this episode – thank you!! – or get in touch, Emily and I would love to hear from you – we’re both on Linked In, and on twitter Emily is @EmilyCasson and I’m @woods_rob.


  • SOME PEOPLE ARE VERY NEW TO ONLINE PAYMENTS – Although you may now take for granted the process of paying for things on-line, realise that some people have been forced by the lock down to abandon cheques for the first time. Make it as easy as possible for them to donate through your website.
  • BENEFIT FROM FRESH EYES – Ask someone from outside your team, (ideally from outside your charity) to navigate your website / complete three processes on your website. Be curious (not defensive!) about their feedback about what is easy or hard to understand.
  • INVOLVE SUPPORTERS – A great way to get this feedback is to ask your supporters. Not only do you get valuable insight to help you improve things, but those you involve are likely to become more loyal, not less, as a result of helping you out.
  • CONSIDER ONLINE INFLUENCERS / STREAMERS – A fundraising technique that continues to grow in popularity is where you work with those who have a loyal following in a particular niche, for example gaming, and raise funds for you by streaming.
  • SUPPORT AND STEWARD THE INFLUENCERS – You need to build relationships with people who can engage their audience in an online fundraising event for you – as you would with a celebrity or major donor – rather than expect lots of cold approaches to work.
  • INVESTIGATE THE HELPFUL TECH – One very popular platform to stream on is Twitch and Emily’s team use Tiltify to take payments from live stream events.
  • OBSERVE AND THINK THROUGH WHAT’S CHANGED – Emily and her team are thinking about the fundraising implications of the way people’s lives have changed now. For instance many people are more used to interacting virtually now, and this habit will continue for many.
  • BOTH PLAN AND BE AGILE – As things are changing so fast, Emily is treating her plan as a living document, which is changing all the time, rather than something set which she only updates every few months.


‘So many people are looking at websites on a mobile or tablet, you need to test it works on mobile first, and then make sure it works on a desktop.’

Emily Casson

‘Treat your plan as a living document, rather than something you update every few months.’

Emily Casson

Further Resources

If you found this episode helpful, the full film interview – including shrewd advice Emily gives on creating Facebook Lives; on improving your results with Facebook advertising and through outbound emails – in the Bright Spot Members Club. Find out more here www.brightspotmembersclub.co.uk/join

If you’d like more powerful strategies to help you raise funds during the pandemic, then do check out my new free E-book: Power Through The Pandemic – Seven ways to raise high value income, even now. You can download it for FREE here: brightspotfundraising.co.uk/power

Full Transcript for Episode 27


Hello, this is Rob Woods and welcome to episode 27 of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast. This is the show for anyone who works in charity fundraising, and who wants ideas for how to raise more money, enjoy their job and make a bigger difference, even during the pandemic.

Firstly, I hope you’re doing okay at the moment. If digital fundraising is one of the things you are responsible for in your charity and you’d like ideas for what to do during the unfolding pandemic crisis, then I hope you’re going to find today’s episode interesting and useful because I’m about to share the second half of a recent interview I carried out with the brilliant Emily Casson, the Digital Marketing Manager at Cats Protection. Emily’s team have achieved stunning growth in digital income in the last four years, for which they’ve won various awards.

And, if you listened to episode 25, you’ll already know about Emily’s very practical approach to fundraising growth. In the first half of our conversation, she talked about Facebook advertising, email marketing and Facebook Lives. And in today’s episode, we explore simple tactics for your website, working with streamers and online influencers and ideas to help you innovate during these turbulent times. We pick up the conversation as I asked Emily for simple but effective steps we can take to improve fundraising income through our charity’s website.

This episode of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast is brought to you by Bright Spot Mastery Programmes. So, if you need to increase income and corporate partnerships or major donor and trust fundraising, these programs will help. As well as the advanced strategies you learn on the training days, you’ll receive one to one coaching to help you put those powerful techniques into practice. To find out more about the Corporate Mastery and Major Gifts Mastery Programs, head over to brightspotfundraising.co.uk.


I guess an obvious topic is websites and options for people listening to quite deliberately tighten certain things up in the way their website is performing now, what would you suggest?


I think the biggest thing as a fundraiser, would be looking at the donation form. Something we’ve seen in the current climate, is a lot of people are donating for the first time online; they might have previously sent the check. There are still some people sending a check, but it’s checking the form is as easy as possible to use. A lot of us are well used to buying things online, online banking, but think of it from the point of view of somebody that’s never really done an online transaction; what do they want to know?

They want to know it’s safe, so it’s making sure that that’s clear on the website that it’s a secure site, but it’s also making sure it’s not a confusing layout, there’s no jargon in it. It’s stripping it down a few steps as possible, letting people know how long it’s going to take in terms of what steps they’re up to.

And I think one of my top tips I always say, is get somebody completely removed from the charity world and your organization and review your website because we are too close to our own websites. We don’t spot it at all.

So, recently I’ve got one of our neutering teams, a conduit to my team instead of being fair load. And we got her to review our website and all the different steps on it and the donation pages. And it was absolutely fascinating what she came up with as a completely non fundraiser before all this. There were really obvious things that we had just never thought of because we were like, “Oh, that’s normal. Everybody knows that that works like that”. Or you need to click this bit or you need to do this. And it was her going through. And some of it was really simple tweaks about the language on this page. If you use this language on the next page, it doesn’t quite match up. And it’s probably just being, somebody has looked at different pages for different times, slightly changed the messaging. And so I think it would be looking at it from the point of view of, if I’ve never donated online before, what does this look like to me? And what can we do to optimize?

An obvious one is obviously making sure it works on a mobile. About 83 to 87% of your donors are going to be on a mobile or tablet device. So I always say, look at mobile first and then make sure it works on a desktop because that’s where the majority of people are going to be doing it. The only caveat to that is that the older generation still prefer donating on a desktop, which is an interesting thing, particularly given what I’ve just said about people donating for the first time that they might well be doing it on a desktop.

And it’s also about looking at the content of your website, that on a practical point, making sure you’ve got all the various coronavirus updates so people know what’s live, what events are happening, what’s not happening. But it’s also thinking about what’s the tone of your website, how easy it is to use. And now’s a great time to review that and look at all the stats because there are going to be more eyeballs on your website.

But what pages are people using? And do some really quick and dirty user testing in terms of asking them how they are using your website, how easy they’re finding it, what could be improved. And I think in this case, your supporters can often add more value than you can looking at it because you’re so close to it. Whereas your supporters might be, “Ooh, that bit was a bit confusing to me”. And then you might be like, “Oh yeah, that is confusing. How can we change it?”


One thing I’m realizing is that I know I’ve been given this advice before. Howard Lake talks about it in the Bright Spot Club, in the digital bundle that we made there, that the value of, it’s so obvious, it’s so simple, but many of us emotionally shy away from actually getting someone else to come and look at our website. But, one thing that I’m heartened by, is I’m aware of just how what your results have been over the last four years and even your team and your organization has had huge progress from just getting people to look at stuff that, where you internally would not be able to see the wood for the trees. And if for your high performing team can make big improvements from this tactic, then I think pretty much all the rest of us are bound to discover fairly easy things to solve if we just do this tactic of getting someone to come and have a, basically be honest, try and use it and then feed back to us, we will spot things that we could solve.


Yes, I think that’s the thing. Everybody presumes that we do everything perfectly, that we’ve got a big team, big budget, whereas we are always learning stuff and some of the learnings change over time. But I’d always say don’t be scared of getting somebody else in, an outsider. There are some amazing consultants that can help from a user point of view.

But I would say just getting supporters – and even if it’s saying to a group of supporters that have a lot of time on their hands at the minute, here’s three things we want you to do on the website. We want you to donate. We want you to try and sign up volunteer. We want you to find out this information about our service. And then really quick and easy survey. How did you find it? How long did it take you? What would you do differently? Was there anything that wasn’t in the place you expected to go? And that’s a great one that supporters can do. And like we were saying before, that they want to be involved with the charity. They quite like being asked for advice. They want to know that they are a valued part of it. So, ask them and don’t be afraid as a charity of doing that.


Yes. And clearly that’s smart to help you with how your website performs. But another great thing is, if someone is involved in being valued and how helping in that way, it’s really unlikely they’re going to stop supporting you anytime soon. But the research I’ve studied shows that if we ask someone for help in another way, their relationship with you deepens. So they’re more likely to stay and support you in the long term because they helped you rather than less.


Yes, I think we definitely find that and it doesn’t necessarily matter what the actual action is. It might be signing a petition, it might be doing a short volunteering thing, it might be sharing a thought with the friend. If they are taking so much and on your behalf, then they are really warm and valued. It’s almost like a stewardship piece that we know that the ones that are taking the effort to go and sign a petition or write to their MP are also, like you say, the least likely ones to cancel their direct debit for reasons that they don’t like the charity.

And if they cancel it for financial reasons, then they’re highly likely to stay on board with the Board of Charity. “I might come back” or might leave us money and their will and things. So it is taking that broader picture of the charity and not just thinking fundraising, thinking across the board. How can people get involved? How can we keep them engaged and enthusiastic about the charity?


Especially now when some people might want to give, but they just can’t financially be giving money right now. But it doesn’t mean they’ve stopped caring about your important cause. We mentioned before, Emily, the importance of setting up Zoom calls with the chief exec or some other kind of virtual tour of a centre or something. So you might feel you’ve covered that. But if there was anything we didn’t cover already, what would you say to a charity that hasn’t yet deliberately created some kind of virtual event to bring people closer to the cause? Is there anything that you would add to what we’ve said before?


With the fundraising events that some charities that, GOSH I know did a whole gala online and that went down really well. Other people have been doing concerts, but I think you can do it on a small scale. Like one of the local hospices up here has been doing different events for their supporters. So they’d be doing bingo and getting a local person to run that. And it is a crowded marketplace at the minute for virtual events. There are a lot of charities in it for the first time, whether that’s their bingos or virtual runs and tracks. But I think for small charities in particular, it’s a great way to engage their supporters, have a bit of fun. Some have been doing exercise classes and things for their supporters. So it’s relatively small scale donations they’d be asking for. The average might be two, five pound a person that’s viewing it. But like you were saying before, that sort of long term relationship building, that’s going really well.

And I think something we’ve been doing at Cats Protection that we were actually doing pre coronavirus, but doing more so, is looking at online gaming. There are a lot of people streaming and people are donating. We did a Gaming Meowathon at the end of March, that was already in the diary for months long before this. But we had one streamer whose community raised over £10,000 for us because there are a lot more eyeballs on it. And the same people want to give. So there are a lot of charities looking at online, gaming at the minute and how they can bring in streamers or just people doing their own DIY fundraising. And that’s a real growth area in virtual events at the minute.


Yeah. I had a fascinating chat with a guy called Nick over at War Child who have been doing fantastic progress through gaming and streaming in the last four or five years. And, I started to learn a lot about this crucial sector. Top line, how do those events work? How do they raise money? We’re not all getting sponsored to do the game necessarily, are we? But how does the streaming model work?


So in terms of the influencer side, it’s normally somebody who has a big community in the online gaming world, plays a game or, some of them chat to that community and people donate. So the way we do it, is they stream on a platform called Twitch and we do payments through Tiltify, which is kind of like just giving Virgin Money, but, it’s where the gamers live. And the joy of it is, it might be an hour or two where they’re playing a game and they’ll do incentives for that community. So you could watch them and it might be, if we raised a hundred pounds, they will do face paint as a cat or things like that. So it’s quite an interactive one. I would say for charities that are new to it, it’s quite a different world than you might be used to.

I mean, I’m lucky that I’ve got a team member who runs it for us, who completely gets all this. It’s not my world. But you have to be careful, not just blanket approaching these people asking for help all the time that have no relationship. Think of it like you would as a high value donor or celebrity getting them on board rather than just blanket spamming a load of ones that actually do your research. He’s got an affinity or cause they might want to support. And some of it, I would say, it’s not necessarily the ones with 500,000 subscribers that are going to get you the big money. It might be the ones with a couple of thousand supporters, but their supporters are really engaged community.

And it’s really worked for us because my team have done the homework in terms of, who are the people that would want to get on board, how we would run it, what sort of assets as a charity we can give them, software we can give them a lot of nice videos to play and a lot of content and t-shirts and things. And it’s not one you could just go out and be like, “Oh, can you do something for us?” You need to actually think about it. But it is working really well for charities at the minute. It’s a real growth area. And it’s coming over from the States and some of the charities there are raising millions. There’s very few charities in the UK that are doing it on a mass scale, but it’s definitely something growing.

And I freely admit, it’s not something I’ve ever been involved with. It’s not something I do personally, but my team also described it to me that it’s about football. So if you think you might play in a five aside league every week, but you also go and watch people play at the weekend . So it’s similar to that in terms of, you might enjoy playing games with your friends online and you would think, “Oh, why would you ever go watch somebody without interacting?” And then it’s like, well, why would you go watch a football team? You’re not playing, you’re just watching, but you are part of that crowd and part of that community. And I think that’s a good analogy to try and make for people to understand it.


Thank you very much for a quick snapshot of that streaming mechanic, which I am certain is going to become more and more important for us to understand if we’re not currently in that world.

The last key question I had… Well, we’ve alluded to it already, but it’s just, the world is changing faster than ever. It’s a cliche, but it just is true. Lots of things about that. It’s hard for us, but it really is also opening up opportunities to innovate at reducing some risk, increasing some appetite to make change and make good changes that, for the next many years might put our charities in a better position. What have you been noticing about the way our audiences’ behaviours and needs are changing and/or other trends that you think might give us opportunities to innovate as fundraisers?


I think one of the key things is everybody’s got so much more used to being online. They’ve got so used to Zoom, Facebook Lives… That’s become the norm, whereas before it wasn’t for everybody. I mean, it certainly wasn’t my world, but it wasn’t like on the mass scale and that’s not really ever going to go back to the way it was. People might well go back to their offices at some point. In which case, advertising is probably going to be harder on Facebook because people aren’t going to be around during the day. But a lot of people are. They’re going to continue working from home. So it’s about thinking as a charity, all of the learnings and things you’ve built up over years and thought you knew about behaviour is completely different at the minute. And it’s thinking what of that will ever go back to normal.

So my team already worked remotely before all this, but I know there’s a lot of organizations like Twitter has just announced that they’re not going to go back to the office, that everybody’s going to be remote forever and others might follow suit. And then you need the same for your supporters’ point of view. How does that change their behaviour? Are they’re going to continue to want the Facebook Lives and the Zooms and being online in the future climate? And I think that currently is a great time to innovate and look at new things. So it might be testing new channels like, you’re saying it’s a bit lower risk at the minute because you can do stuff on a small scale. You can do it really quickly. So we’re looking at different channels like YouTube advertising, that we’re kind of piloting at the minute or Amazon, that’d be doing online shopping.

And so a lot of charities can do that. And think for the ways you work as a charity, what do you not want to go back to normal? What working practices might change? There’s probably going to be a lot less face to face meetings. There’s going to be a lot less commuting times and we know commuting times in particular, was where people used to open their emails and use to respond. So that might have a slight negative downside if people aren’t doing that. But then, like I said, at the minute, open rates are really up because everybody’s during the day and we don’t know what the future looks like. We know it’s only going to get more digital. It’s been massively accelerated in the last two months, but a lot of digital transformation programs for charities have been massively speeded up.

A lot of things were in the pipeline that people were already doing most of online. Whereas now it’s, will they go back to it during the offline stuff or is virtual events and things actually the future rather than mass physical events? We don’t know yet, but I think it’d be looking from a charity point of view. What can you test and learn in the current climate in case it does become the new normal to the major long term. Use this opportunity to get pilots up and running in days not months. Find out what people are wanting and also accept that things are changing. We can’t predict what’s going to happen. We know in quarter three, quarter four, that all the big advertisers are going to pile back in the market. So probably Facebook advertising will not be the thing to look up in those quarters, but we just don’t know yet.


So part of my brain is interested in these specific themes you’re talking about and the tactical implications of people not commuting so much and so on. But part of it, is just more of a philosophical idea about the uncertainty; it’s just going to be the norm. If things literally are changing week by week or day by day, based on what Boris announces in the fortnight leap strategic update, do you have any tips? I know this is, it’s not easy to suddenly change, but it seems to me you’re relatively okay with not knowing.

And it’s built into your mindset, your keep-testing mindset that you talked about in the previous episodes of the podcast, that everything is going to keep changing. And I have to be okay with that. And I just keep being curious, keep looking what’s going on and then adjust. And my strategy will keep on adjusting every week from now on. For those of us who crave more sense of stability and certainty. We know we can’t have it for many months into the future, but we crave it. Do you have any tips on, on how to do that for oneself or for one’s colleagues to embrace this willingness to not know all the answers yet?


Well, I personally am somebody that would love to know all the answers. I would love complete certainty, but like you say, that’s not the reality we’re in. So what I still have is a strategy and still have a plan. So we still have a giant spreadsheet, which lists all these different tests and all these different projects we’re thinking of doing. And we have an innovation tab, which lists everything we say, “Oh, we could do that.” We’ll make a note of it and then we’ll review it and then say, when are we going to do that?

So I think you can still have plans. You just need to treat your plan as a living document, rather than something you update every few months, because the strategies and plans and budget reform paths and scenario plans for advertising are changing by the week at the minute, because there’s some things we’re thinking, this is a great opportunity. We need to outweigh. Those are the things we think, well, that’s not quite working at the minute we’ll shelve that or actually it just makes sense to make a big splash about a new product right now, we’ll put off the launch for a few months. So I think there is definitely still ways you can plan.

And it is important to take that time, to think it’s so easy to get on that hamster wheel of we need to do the next thing, we need to do the next thing. It’s really more important than ever that you actually take the time to plan it and review it. The review stage is often the one charities skip. They’re good at the planning, they’re getting it live, but then actually going back a week, a month, a year later and think, well, okay, what worked with that? What didn’t work with that?

So for example, the Gaming Meowathon I mentioned, we then sat down and did a review meeting for that and be like, how did that go? What would we do differently next time? What works really well because it’s coronavirus? What didn’t work at all ’cause it’s coronavirus and caveat being that, this is the stuff that might work in the future, this is the stuff that we think only works in the particular climate. And take that time to plan, review, think about your strategy and do small pilots and minimize the risk rather than just constantly being like, we need to do this. We need to do this. We need to do that.


And I remember that was one of your bits of advice from the previous interview whereby you see many charities keep out on sending more and more emails, rarely stopping to look at how the last email performed. And it didn’t need a big sophisticated approach to testing. If all you do is just check on the previous two emails and what could we learn from what changed there and did it work or did it not? It’s easy to say that. Sometimes it can feel hard to make time to have the discipline to do that, but at its simplest, building in time to review what we’ve learned so far in any of these tactics you’ve talked about is such a fundamental thing I see in the way your team tries to work.


Yeah, I think that even we don’t get it perfect. And we don’t have the time to do it, but for things like email, we have monthly capture. But then we also have a quarterly deep dive with our agency where we look at all the results across the board, compare them year on year, really drill into the results and use that time to look at the analysis. Ideally, we’d have that monthly. In reality, that’s not going to happen, but having a quarterly half day session where a few of us look at, say, comparing the newsletter results, what works well over a few months to get some really good learnings, what didn’t, what we might do differently for the next three months. So it is being realistic.

As a charity, it might not be every single email, you get a chance to review and that’s fine. As long as you’ve got some sort of review process and being realistic with your time. And is it going to be more valuable setting aside a half day, each quarter to look at each different channel rather than trying to do something really quick and easy. We did look at it on an individual email basis on a report for every single email, for anything that stands out. But it’s quite useful, build in that time to take the step back and look at the overall picture of what we might do differently, crucially like what we might change for the next few months.


Yes. That makes sense. Emily, thank you so much for all these ideas. I’ve learned tons as I did the last time we spoke. I know you’re as busy as ever, both for Cats Protection and these various other charities that you help out in a pro bono way. I’m going to let you get away, but for now, thank you so much for appearing on the podcast.


Thanks for having me on.


Well, I hope you found our discussion helpful. If you’re part of the Bright Spot Members Club, you’ll be able to see the full interview with Emily on the site. You can find out more at brightspotmembersclub.co.uk/join. And if you liked today’s episode, please do hit subscribe today so you don’t miss out on all the other episodes available. Also, if you think this session would help your colleagues or friends in other charities, I’d be ever so grateful if you could share it on with them so that these ideas can help as many charities as possible to get through this crisis. To get in touch or share this episode on social media, Emily and I are both on LinkedIn and on Twitter, Emily is @EmilyCasson with a capital E for Emily and a capital C for Casson and I am @Woods_Rob. We’d love to hear what you think.

If you’d like more ideas to help you succeed through the pandemic, then please do take advantage of my new ebook Power through the Pandemic, which gives seven key strategies to help you raise money even now, through major donors, corporates, and trusts. You can download it for free from brightspotfundraising.co.uk/power.

Finally, thank you so much for listening today. I really hope it was helpful and I hope you’re able to stay safe and I look forward to sharing more Bright Spot stories and strategies with you next week.