Fundraising and Coronavirus
Mitigating the impact on your charity’s voluntary income when all else is chaos
The Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak is set to have a serious and unprecedented impact on the charity sector – and will continue to do so for a long time to come.
Those charities already working ‘on the front-line’ with high-risk groups – providing face-to-face support, community activities or information and advice – are experiencing seemingly insurmountable operational challenges at present. Charities working with older people or those who have underlying health issues, are having to implement social distancing measures and pause many activities which involve one-to-one contact for the foreseeable future.
Alongside these serious challenges and limitations around service delivery, immediate problems are arising across all fundraising and revenue streams. For instance, charity events across the board are being cancelled and community fundraising is largely on pause. For organisations that rely on the income generated through trading (eg charity shops) or from service user’s personal budgets – there has been an almost overnight drop-off in income.
We know this is a very difficult time and not all fundraising teams will be certain how to tackle the arising challenges in the best way. We have produced this guide which we hope will be useful in helping your fundraisers develop a solid contingency plan.
The pandemic has, of course, had a devastating, immediate impact on charity events. In the advent of the social distancing precautions designed to limit the spread of the virus – and official Government advice that large gatherings should not take place – sporting/challenge events, mass participation activities and social events are all being cancelled. The reality is, this reduction in fundraising activity is likely to have severe ramifications for several months, as planning and preparations for future events will be impossible for the foreseeable future. The impact on income will of course be significant, and in some cases, the sizable costs already expended on staging a cancelled event will be irrecoverable if they are not insured.
The good news is that the public’s response to social isolation has been in equal measures heart-warming, innovative and community spirited. We think that there may be real opportunities to harness some of this and encourage those who are employing social distancing to take part in virtual events and challenges. These can go some way towards mitigating the loss of income from traditional charitable events.
Undoubtedly, there will be consequences for organisations who have corporate partnerships or have planned corporate income in their budgets this/next Financial Year, an area of fundraising where so much depends on company-wide employee fundraising activities and events. The risks and impact are at least three-fold; firstly, home working has, overnight, become much more prevalent. This will have a profound, practical effect on the ability of companies to fundraise with their staff. Secondly, there will be a seismic shift in priorities and resourcing, as beleaguered businesses battle the arising challenges from COVID-19. This will likely mean that a lot of corporate partnerships will be paused or may drastically underachieve against planned targets The third consideration is around a re-focusing of support to emerging activities to tackle the spread of COVID-19, whereby local efforts to support those impacted by the virus are being supported in place of more traditional causes.
We can offer no simple answer to this fundraising challenge. Our advice to charities working with corporate partners is to be patient , pragmatic and focus on maintaining the relationships whilst the uncertainty rolls on. It will be important to talk to your existing corporate partners about other ways they can be involved too – as we mentioned above, there are opportunities to encourage employees to take part in virtual events and challenges and could be a good means for companies to boost morale for employees who may be feeling anxious and socially isolated.
Another major income stream for many charities is the funds raised by volunteer fundraisers at the community level. This includes every activity across the broad spectrum of community fundraising; from cake sales and coffee mornings, to collecting tins, to DIY fundraising – most, if not all, will be paused at the present time, and unlikely to get back to normality for several weeks or months. This is where digital fundraising may be helpful – initiatives such as Pennies – The Digital Charity Box and eBay Charity can help offset any drop in conventional community fundraising. Also efforts to shift supporters towards one-off or regular giving may be beneficial.
Whilst some organisations may see a reduction in income from individual donations, especially as face to face engagement of supporters will be difficult, we are already seeing some real generosity from the British public despite genuine worries about the impacts of the outbreak on people’s jobs and livelihoods. However, this strong level of giving is being spread over a much broader spectrum and beyond the voluntary sector – individuals are giving and crowdfunding for anything from local businesses, parks, pubs and clubs and this will mean there is greater competition for funds from this source. Those organisations directly addressing the impacts of Coronavirus will have potential cause for a specific appeal and we have seen a number of these pop up already including a £10M appeal from Age UK.
Communications from key funders have suggested a willingness to stand by the sector and support organisations struggling during this challenging time. However, demand for funding is going to be high and for those trusts and foundations whose income is gained through investments, the losses experienced by the global stock markets, if sustained, are going to have an impact on the levels of funding they are able to award over the coming years. In the short term there a number of new emergency funds being created to help charities address the immediate impacts of Coronavirus, these include:
What can I do?
It can be hard to think about fundraising when there are so many operational issues to worry about, but even as income streams are paused, it remains absolutely vital to be nimble, innovative, responsive and invest in your communications with supporters.
First things first, communication is going to be of key importance during this uncertain time; communication with your supporters, volunteers, funders and partners – clear, consistent messaging and regular updates across all of your channels will not only help to shore up existing and pledged income, but enable you to instil a sense of confidence among your supporters, beneficiaries and volunteers that your response to the Covid19 pandemic is robust, measured and effective.
Develop or refine your fundraising strategy. This should be focused on the short term things you can be doing now, whilst also preparing your fundraising approaches for the potential situation in 12, 24 and 36 months’ time.
Focus your fundraising on activities you can do now. For instance, Trusts and Foundations may be a real lifeline for your organisation and if you have existing funders, talk to them about any support they can offer you. Now may also be the best time to be making applications for core costs, provided you can show that you can continue to offer good quality services, or reach more people, with their support.
Talk to your current corporate supporters and work out what you can do together to get through the current crisis. Be innovative in your ideas and supportive in your approach.
Don’t rule out being able to engage more supporters though. There are mutual aid groups arising within communities across the UK, which is a remarkable show of solidarity and a compassionate response to the situation. People want to help in times of crisis, but often don’t really know what to do for the best. Think carefully about how you can continue to promote your work and the opportunities for individuals to donate to you. Digital fundraising will be an incredibly helpful tool, you can convey to your audiences precisely how your charity is responding – which, in turn, will likely initiate additional support. There are considerations around brand and image, so all of your communications will need to be checked.
Individual giving will also play a vital role in maintaining income – don’t forget your current supporters. These people may be more than willing to help you out by providing an additional donation, or possibly volunteering to help you meet demand, if possible.
During this time of extensive and increasing uncertainty, turmoil and disruption, the team here at Charity Fundraising Ltd would like to express our best wishes to our charity clients and the voluntary sector as a whole in relation to maintaining all the excellent charitable work that you do.
We will aim to provide further insights into the changing nature of fundraising over the coming months but if you have any questions in the meantime, please get in touch and we’ll do our best to help.