Fundraising & COVID-19: Adapt and Understand

26 Mar 2020

The team at Barrer & Co have been thinking carefully about what to tell our clients and friends in the not-for-profit sector in the face of this new reality of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Every day we are seeing changes to the way people must act, how we live and how we work, causing massive stress and uncertainty. We are all in the same boat. It is important we support each other, and we want you to know that we are here to help.

Whether you need a sounding board or strategic advice on an existing campaign, or you are unsure about what to do in this ever-changing global environment, we are here for you.

We decided to write down the advice we have been giving to clients so far, so that you can reassure yourself and your wider organisation that you are on the right track as you make decisions that will have long-lasting impact on your charity and its ability to provide services now, and into the future.

There has never been a more important moment in time for your organisation than right now. The decisions you make now will ensure your long-term existence and, in many cases, will allow you to develop deeper relationship with your supporters.

Be Like Water

“Be formless, shapeless. Like water. You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.” – Bruce Lee

Some of you will know the famous quote by Bruce Lee. His intention here absolutely applies to finding success in fundraising, particularly at times of change or when facing the unknown.

One of our favourite qualities in the fundraising profession is how as humans we are able to adapt to our environment. It is time for charities to pivot, to be willing and flexible enough to act to prevent lasting harm to funding stream income, and perhaps even come out the other end stronger than ever. It is time for charities to rethink their overall fundraising strategy and if nothing else, ensure that stewardship is your number one donor activity right now. This is not the time to stop or pause activity. It is the time to be thoughtful and careful about what actions you take to deliver your duty of care to your clients and family of supporters. Make sure that you have an understanding about who you are talking to when connecting with your supporters right now and try as best you can to understand the current circumstances of each individual, corporate or funder. It is essential that you have some genuine engagement with your supporters in this unbelievable situation.

To us, ‘be like water’ means to adapt to the situation you find yourself in, be flexible instead of rigid in your thinking, and allow yourself to adjust to what is happening around you. It is essential we adapt to each environment we are in, and the current COVID-19 environment is no different.
Throughout history we know that those who adapt to their environments end up being the greatest survivors.
For most of us, our planning and short- and medium-term goals have been seriously disrupted. How can we continue to deliver our service in the midst of a pandemic and a lockdown response, the likes of which we have never before experienced? Is it even appropriate to ask our supporters for financial support? We have some thoughts and wanted to share these with you in case it helps.

It is important to maintain momentum. In practical terms, here are some things you can do to reduce risk to your organisation:

  • Talk to all of your key contributors as soon as possible. Find out how they are impacted and give them space to update you on any big changes in terms of their support to your organisation. Be calm and understanding. This event has affected every single human being on the planet. This applies to Trusts and Foundations, Corporates, Major Donors and high-level regular givers. While some funding may decline other funding will likely increase to meet the needs of those most vulnerable.
  • Do not cancel that donor meeting. You should plan to pursue prospect meetings, just shift them to phone or video call if the donor is comfortable to do that.
  • Once you can see what the next 12 months look like in regards to any budgeted funding shortages, start looking at the opportunities!
  • Where possible, shift your fundraising campaigns to digital. Can your planned activities somehow be replicated online on your social channels or other platforms?
  • Redirect budget from activity that is no longer possible towards fundraising efforts you can maintain.

Asking at a Time of Crisis

Your duty of care to your staff, donors and beneficiaries to continue to be able to achieve your charity’s mission is paramount – you must continue to Ask. If you do not, you risk putting your organisation in an untenable financial position as the implications of COVID-19 and the government shutdown become fully evident in the coming months.

Even organisations with deep reserves will feel the pinch in the coming months. It is vital that decisions are made that consider the long-term. Reactive decisions which seek to save money in the here and now by cutting fundraising activity will likely have vastly detrimental effects.

Not asking in fear of offending people or spending money on fundraising at a time of uncertainty is a self-fulfilling prophecy. By not asking, you will never receive those funds. So Carpe Diem – seize the day – you may even find your fundraising more successful as a result.

Many people, even most people, will be financially impacted by the disruption caused by COVID-19. Be prepared for donors to give less, or not at all, as income is reduced. In times of crisis we generally see that donors still do want to give, and it may be an opportunity for your organisation to make a strong case for their support at this critical time for your charity.

Key Message:
Do not pull back on fundraising activity

Donor Care & Continuing Communications

Many donors are older adults and they will be potentially be vulnerable. One of the best things you can do as a fundraiser, and a human being, is get on the phone and check on how your supporters are doing. Simply listening and in turn letting them know how your cause is faring is one of the most important things you can do. Be truthful about how your organisation is coping.

Be prepared to talk about their financial situation too, if they are current donors or a prospect for a particular campaign. Be understanding; handled well, your donors will remember and will support in future even if they are restricted now.

Do not hesitate to send emails, post to your social media or update your website. It is vital for your cause that you continue to communicate, and often, about how your services are being affected, how you are responding, and share ways your supporters and donors can consider supporting your cause during this difficult time.

If your organisation is working on the frontline of the COVID-19 response, tell people your stories, share the impact their giving is having on your ability to respond to this event. What difference are you making in the world right now? You donors want to feel like they can do their bit too. The reality is people want to help if they can. Get a grip on what is going on with the people you serve and update your supporter community.

If you are not directly working with vulnerable communities, health, social services, etc. but you are losing revenue, tell that story too, so that you will be here to continue your important mission once the world emerges from this crisis.

Remember, be like water: Flow don’t crash

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