Fundraising is never easy but currently it looks even more challenging as we all face a coronavirus pandemic which is having severe social and economic consequences. This simply means that fundraisers and effective fundraising will become even more important – now, through the pandemic and into its aftermath.
I’ve worked in fundraising for over 30 years and know the remarkable changes that fundraisers bring to everyone’s lives. So, I wanted to share some thoughts at this stage to give some perspective and some tips.
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Here are some thoughts on where we find ourselves and what we can choose to do in response.
1. Look after yourself and those who give you strength
Your skills and experience are valuable and will remain so, for your current organisation and future organisations you fundraise for. We will be needed during and after this experience.
Which is why your first priority is to look after yourself. If you are home-working – and are new to it – plan how you can be as effective as possible without burning out. Your family, friends and colleagues will help get you through this, and you them. Read the extensive advice already published on this topic by fundraisers, charity consultants and freelancers.
Be assured that fundraisers help other fundraisers. If you are facing a problem, have a question, or just need some moral support, consult one of the many networks or online forums that are packed with fundraisers, ready to share their advice and support. If you’ve never joined a forum or group, now is the time to identify one or more and to introduce yourself.
Whatever you do, try to get outside once a day if you can. Walk, run, stretch, breathe outdoors. If you’re not switching off like this each day, you will not be the best fundraiser you can be.
And however frustrated or challenged we become, being kind to each other matters.
2. Be ready for a huge amount of fundraising
Be prepared for a deluge of fundraising appeals. And be aware that the public and your supporters, staff and volunteers will be deluged.
These appeals will come from charities of course, as they struggle in so many ways. And very many of these will be urgent appeals – to save a charity or a project facing closure.
But, unlike emergency appeals during the past 10 years of austerity or in past recessions, this will be different. Expect urgent appeals from individuals – healthcare workers and their families, people affected by healthcare rationing who couldn’t get the treatment or hospital bed that even a normally stretched healthcare service could provide. Crowdfunding platforms make such appeals easy and quick to set up.
Imagine all these compelling stories of individuals, all appearing in our feeds at once, and being added to every day, possibly on the genuinely exponential scale with which coronavirus cases can grow.
And prepare for fundraising from an entirely new source – from for-profit businesses. These won’t be your standard commercial crowdfunding campaign to invest in a new product or new business – but an appeal to save a business from closure.
Your hairdresser/barber, your independent bookshop, your corner shop, your favourite cafe or family restaurant. Notice my use of the word ‘your’: these will be very personal appeals by their very nature, from people you know providing services you use regularly and value.
Depending on movement restrictions you are likely to see their owners face to face, when they can make the appeal to you personally.
What to do?
- Don’t be surprised when it seems almost everyone you know is asking for money or on behalf of a family member or friend.
- Work out how your appeal can stand out in the face of this competition.
- What content (images/video?) can you create or locate before you encounter any restrictions due to closed offices or ill-health?
- Remind yourself that it will be those who have given to your charity before who are most likely to want to give again.
3. People always want to give
It won’t feel like it, but you will be pushing at an open door. The reasons why people give do not change. They will continue to want to give – money, time and/or advice. They will simply have a much wider choice of whom to help against a backdrop of evident and widespread need. People continue to give in whatever way they can even when they are in dire straits.
And doing good will become even more public and front-of-mind, as the government attempts to recruit many retired healthcare workers to volunteer and return to work within the NHS.
What to do?
- Don’t hold back from asking. Don’t assume people can’t or won’t give. Present them with ways they can do something to help.
- Show the difference you are making. (Now, where have we heard that before?) You’ve got trust from others and a track record – make that clear.
- Be prepared to respond to and handle a wave of giving, or at least to show why your organisation and work should share in some of it.
4. Learn from and record this experience
Learn from this experience. Keep a record of the novel challenges you and your team faced. Share your lessons as you learn them and reflect when you can and share those lessons.
This is going to be the first time that most fundraisers have fundraised through any turbulent times like a recession, let alone a pandemic.
How are you managing your fundraising team remotely? What do you wish you’d done two weeks before this got really hard?
This might not help you or us right away – although there will be plenty of tips we can all benefit from, I’m sure. But they will prove useful in the future, whether it is in disaster fundraising, another pandemic, or facing climate crisis.
What to do?
- Bullet journal, a diary, a blog, a video diary – whatever is quick and easy for you to create, start it now to make it easier to continue.
5. Your digital presence is your presence
As fundraising events and public gatherings start being cancelled, plenty of everyday fundraising will become harder to carry out.
Which means your website and presence online are rapidly becoming your main and most important presence to your supporters and to the public.
For arts, heritage and cultural organisations that have to close temporarily your digital presence becomes your only presence.
What to do?
- How can you make your website work even harder? What do you need to say about the current situation? How do you inspire and reassure your supporters and audience?
- What can you remove from your front page or other popular pages so that your fundraising asks become clearer?
- How can you involve or showcase your supporters to show what others are doing to support you in this time of great need?
6. Avoid distraction
This time of adversity will see many new fundraising ideas and platforms. You’ll no doubt get pitched to from plenty of people. By all means explore those that you choose to make time to explore, but you might want to adopt the default position of ‘no thank you’ at this time. Stick to what you know works – which is often the basics.
This hiatus will likely mean fewer fundraisers are fit and well at any one point. So, what activities that looked urgent and essential last week can, in fact, wait? What will definitely protect income? Who needs to do what to achieve that?
Who else fundraises well for you? Many of your supporters. So inspire and ask them to carry on fundraising for you in their inimitable and creative ways. Build your fundraising movement. Or expect some of your supporters to do that anyway!
7. Collaborate and survive
All fundraisers and charities are facing this problem. We need to talk to other organisations, avoid overlap, support and participate in existing networks and collaborative groups. This could be other charities, fundraising networks, businesses.
8. Read, watch and study to become a better fundraiser
For those who can work and manage remotely and find they can do so effectively – which is far from everyone! – plan to make a positive use out of this experience.
If you find you have more time to yourself working from home (again, this will not be the case for many), consider carving out some time to learn more about fundraising. Fight back against worry by making yourself a better fundraiser, who will be even more effective in the future.
What to do?
- Read fundraising books and guides. While local bookshops are open, buy these books from them (or via Hive, which supports local bookshops), or ask your local library.
- Read non-fundraising books. Read around the topic – all those books on why people give, the history of your charity, behavioural insight etc. And of course, read other books for fun and relaxation.
- Find and subscribe to fundraising podcasts, or try a new one or two. Stay in touch with fundraising ideas and fundraisers sharing their experiences.
- Take online training courses and webinars. What do you want to learn today?
- Share your fundraising expertise with webinars/hangouts with your colleagues, or the broader sector.
As the avuncular Sergeant Esterhaus used to say in every episode of Hill Street Blues:
“Let’s roll. Hey… let’s be careful out there”