The Flying Doctors – still flying high for the next generation of donors

Founded in 1928, the Royal Flying Doctor Service is a not for profit with an annual revenue of $300 million operating 68 aircraft, from 24 bases across the country. Keeping the planes flying necessitates fundraising of $50 million annually.

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Founded in 1928, the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) is a not for profit with annual revenue of $300 million operating 68 aircraft, from 24 bases across the country. Keeping the planes flying necessitates fundraising of $50 million annually. As NAB releases its bi-annual Charitable Giving Index showing overall giving to charity grew by 6.5 per cent over the year to February 2016, the RFDS reveals how it is using storytelling to engage donors.

Upping its profile with a new generation of givers is a key challenge for the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia (RFDS). Founded by outback cleric the Reverend John Flynn in 1928, the RFDS has provided a ‘mantle of safety’ for the people of the bush ever since.

It’s been fundraising from the get-go and has attained iconic status in the process – our $20 note features the face of John Flynn, and the charity has been voted Australia’s most reputable for the past five years in a row.

Today the RFDS is a not for profit with projected annual revenue for 2015/2016 of $300 million operating 68 aircraft, from 24 bases across the country.

Keeping the planes flying necessitates fundraising of $50 million annually, of which the Service’s Victorian section is responsible for around $8 million. In fact we don’t just provide emergency aeromedical services but a range of primary health services including clinics, patient transports, mobile dental services and telehealth services.

Historically, the bulk of the section’s funds have been generated by direct mail, in the form of tri-annual newsletters and Christmas and end-of-financial-year appeals.

The mail-outs are filled with heartwarming personal accounts of country folk who’ve received urgent and lifesaving treatment and transport from the RFDS.

It’s a storytelling formula with special appeal to the charity’s older donor base, according to Jacqui deKievit, General Manager, Marketing and Fundraising at RFDS Victoria.

“We have very loyal donors who really enjoy the tales of the Flying Doctors,” deKievit says. “We get lots of lovely donors ringing up and writing letters to say thank you for sharing the stories because they feel very rewarded for their donations.”

An average tax-time mail-out of around 25,000 letters will typically net 5000 donations at an average of $120 apiece. Aside from using the written word to engage, RFDS has a high level of direct contact with our donors. We value our donors and try to show them regularly, in person through events, as well as providing support and assistance to our generous community groups that raise funds to keep the “Flying Doctor Flying”.

“Because they have often learnt about John Flynn at school, or they’re at retirement age, and they’re travelling and have come across the Flying Doctors along the way, older Australians do view us as very much part of the DNA of Australia,” deKievit says.

“They’re extremely patriotic, and they do give to the RFDS.”

Reaching out to the next generation

But while direct mail has long been its lifeblood, embracing more contemporary forms of fundraising has been recognised as a priority, if the service is to build an equally strong rapport with a younger cohort of donors.

“We know we need to improve on our mix, with regular giving programs and community fundraisers,” deKievit says.

“As a ‘brand’, the Flying Doctors is identified with things like being up for a challenge and looking after your mates and we think that would lend itself well to events, like sponsored runs for example, where people have an opportunity to get involved.

“We’ve also not really kept up with the pace of the times with social media until more recent times – but having said that, we have increased our Facebook followers from 15,000 to 115,000 in the few past years.

“The stories occur every day with the Flying Doctors; it’s about giving people something to connect to.”

Recent initiatives to reach out to a new generation include the establishment of a Kids’ Club, aimed at children aged five to 12. Members receive birthday and Christmas cards and regular newsletters.

“A lot of our donors are grandparents, and they said they wanted to involve their grandchildren in the Flying Doctors somehow,” deKievit says. “It’s not a fundraiser, but an opportunity to connect with kids and have them learn from their grandparents about caring for others, charity and intergenerational giving.

“We’re aware we need to find new ways of engagement, and this is one of them.”

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Australians dig deeper for charities

Want to know how the economy’s travelling? Take a look at our readiness to open our wallets for charity, says NAB Group Chief Economist Alan Oster.

The outlook has appeared rosier in every state except Western Australia in the past year, and there’s been a corresponding upswing in Australians’ willingness to put their hands in their pockets for others.

The February NAB Charitable Giving Index shows giving to charity increased by 6.5 per cent over the year to February 2016; a strong improvement on last year’s muted growth of just 2.4 per cent. Australians donated an average of $348 per head during the period.

“We think that’s reflecting what’s happening in the broader economy,” Oster says.

“As the economy picks up, you tend to find people more inclined to give money, especially on the eastern seaboard. Out of all the states, Victoria’s growth is the strongest – and Western Australia is going backwards at a million miles an hour.”

Medical research foundations and humanitarian services organisations have been most successful in snaring a larger share of this year’s charity dollars. Giving to the former was up 17 per cent on last year, while a series of high-profile calamities, including the Nepalese earthquake, Cyclone Pam, and the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis, have seen people dig deeper for charities offering on-the-ground support to victims.

The under 30s are the only demographic whose giving was down on the previous year; a consequence of the country’s stubbornly high youth unemployment rate, Oster believes.

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