Furlough a fundraiser or stop a service? Surely, it’s a no-brainer?

Howard Lake | 5 June 2020 | Blogs

From what I am seeing, some charities seem to think that, right now, the charity’s services to its beneficiaries are paramount. If that means furloughing a fundraiser to maintain services, and maintain adequate reserves, then so be it.
I suggest exactly the opposite.
If there is a simple choice between furloughing a fundraiser and stopping a service, then, for me, that’s as easy as pie.
Stop the service.


If you furlough the fundraiser and keep the service (which may seem to a great many people to be the obvious thing to do) you will only keep the service until the income from supporters dries up. Then you will have to close the service. You will have no choice.
However, if you keep the fundraiser and stop the service, that will be very painful in the short term. But, in the long term, the (otherwise furloughed) fundraiser will raise money to keep more services going.
I believe it really is that simple.
And it has some significant implications which I will come to.
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However, there are three caveats which I need to recognise.
1.  Some people have welcomed furlough because of their child/caring responsibilities and being able to support them might help them be more committed/loyal in the future.
2. There are areas where things stop. They generate cash without building relationships.
3. Nothing I write here should in any way be seen as any sort of criticism of individual fundraisers.


My beef is with short-sighted charities who don’t fully recognise the very essence of the importance of giving supporters, of all types, shapes and sizes, a good experience. And the unique role of the fundraiser in delivering that experience.

A great many furloughed fundraisers are not in the exceptional categories in my caveat, above. They are front-line fundraisers, engaging with supporters of all types and keeping them warm to the charity.
Individual givers, major donors, the key individuals in corporate partnerships, and trusts – whether trustees or trust administrators. Community volunteers, donors and other local supporters. Mass Participation Event participants and Event participants of all sorts, where you have their details. And a great many others – too many to list. Yet they are all supporters. And all should have a good experience of their support for your charity.
These are all people who support your cause and believe in you. Fundraisers should be engaging with all of them. Right now, and over the coming weeks and months – quite possibly years.
(I hear from so many fundraisers that because their charity isn’t in the front line that they should leave their supporters to give to charities that are. I almost cry in disbelief.)
I have written often about the almost unbelievable success, in short-term financial results, of many charities who have taken this approach. As have Richard Turner, Ken Burnett and many others. I won’t repeat them- if you haven’t read them, please do.
Two groups of figures (red vs yellows) stand beside a chasm
Once all this is over, however long that might be, there will be two different groups of charity.
1. The ones that have invested in their fundraisers, who have then in turn been able to spend time and creative energy keeping engaged with their supporters: making them even more loyal than before.
2. And those that haven’t. Those who have furloughed their front-line fundraisers, who will, when this is all over – however long that might be – have the very difficult task of re-engaging those supporters, who will feel they have been neglected by the charities they support, and won’t know why.
Supporters will remember which of their charities treated them well, and which simply ignored them, either because they didn’t want to bother them, or had furloughed their fundraising staff, who couldn’t then engage with their supporters no matter how much they may have wanted to.
Which will do better in the long term? Have a guess.
The first group will have a considerable advantage over the second group, and so, quite quickly, be able to raise more money and help more beneficiaries.
These supporters who have been brilliantly treated will give more. Those that haven’t will give less.
The supporter may still be giving the same amount of money, but to the charities that have given them a good experience.
(Personally, and though I have no evidence to back this up aside from my own experience, I believe supporters will give more overall. Because Covid 19 is changing the way people think about the world, and the difference between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. That’s for another blog, a bit later in this crisis.)
I think the charities in the first group will be very pleasantly surprised by the direct financial impact their behaviour has on them.
The charities in the second group that failed to give their supporters a great experience will suffer, and may well, in some cases, go to the wall. And they will blame Covid 19, and not even begin to consider their own, inept, decision making.
What would you do? Spray painted sign on a concrete wall

What would I do?

I was Appeals Director of NSPCC for 30 years and have a passable track record. If I were Appeals Director of a charity, right now, this is what I would be doing.
1. Persuade my Trustees not to furlough front-line fundraising staff. One (just one) of the ways out of this crisis is to fundraise. To engage with supporters.
2. Increase, not decrease, the fundraising budget.
3. Engage with all supporters, and so deepen the relationship with those supporters.
4. Engage new supporters, based on the extraordinary needs your charity is facing. Invest heavily. You will never get a better ROI, combined with truly engaged new supporters, than now. So long as you do it right.
5. Don’t worry about ‘events’ and ‘activities’, where there is nothing you can do about them. If they generate cash, not supporters with names and addresses. then forget about them. Don’t even try to replace them. (Why does there seem to be such an obsession with them?)
Where they are able to contact event participants, many fundraisers are being creative, (a characteristic of good fundraisers), and going online.
Creating virtual events. And more.
The result?
A. More income, right now.
B. More engaged supporters, for the future.

In extremis

In extremis. Close-up of text entry in dictionary
If you’ve read so far, I know you’ll indulge me.
Take the most extreme example.
Hypothetically, and it is purely hypothetical, if you had to stop all your services so that you could pay fundraisers to ensure you keep engaged with your supporters, and give them good experiences, that is what you should do, in my view. Without doubt. To ensure the long-term viability of the charity.
However, in practice it could never happen. Not ever. Not because you hadn’t made the decision. But because your supporters would never accept it if they had been fully engaged with. They would give what was necessary to stop it happening.
Is this just sophistry? No. I believe it’s a combination of pure logic, and an understanding of how supporters, who are guided by emotion as well as logic, actually behave.
View looking up to sun behind city skyscrapers and a blue sky

What happens in the business world?

What I have just written isn’t new thinking. So, in case I haven’t convinced you, let me cite two well known quotes from the business sector.
Henry Ford once said, “A man who stops advertising to save money is like a man who stops a clock to save time.”
Advertising pioneer Bruce Barton wrote nearly 100 years ago: “When times are good, you should advertise. When times are bad, you must advertise.”
Fundraisers are the advertisers of your cause to your supporters and to the wider world of potential supporters.
Take action - red stamp on white background

What to do, right now?

If you are a fundraising director or someone else who has influence within your charity, I would urge that, with speed, you look at all fundraisers who are relationship builders, as defined above. Un-furlough them. They can then continue to build the relationships with the supporters who are vital to help your charity survive this crisis.
In turn, they will generate the income that will help you un-furlough your other fundraisers, not make them redundant. And, of course, protect as many as possible of your services and work for your beneficiaries.
This isn’t, by any means, the whole answer to the crisis your charity is facing. I don’t for a moment suggest it is. But it is a part. It means thinking for the long term rather than the short term.
Giles Pegram CBE