Andrew Barton

May 27, 2020, 3:00 PM

Fundraising Strategy during the twists and turns of the Coronavirus crisis – and beyond

I’ve worked at senior level for three DEC member charities – World Vision, Oxfam and Christian Aid – so emergency fundraising is in my blood. I also led the Oxfam International fundraising team and helped many of the smaller affiliates round the world significantly up their game in emergency fundraising. 

There are many principles from the INGO world that can be helpful as you respond to coronavirus. But we need to remind ourselves that this is an emergency with some very important differences:

  1. it's a global emergency, not an emergency in one country or one region;
  2. it's affecting all of us in this country, not just people somewhere distant;
  3. and - at the moment - as a health crisis, it still appears to be impacting us worse than many poorer countries;
  4. it's affecting all charities because none of us are immune from the impact on our ability to raise money for our cause;
  5. the media coverage is going to run for so much longer than even the most protacted humanitarian crisis.

As an organisation, you will be in one of three categories:

  1. those where coronavirus is so impacting the need for your organisation that it demands an emergency fundraising response; and / or
  2. Coronavirus is so impacting your financial situation that it demands an emergency fundraising response; or
  3. Coronavirus is impacting what you do and your income but it’s not an emergency.

Note: In all three situations, supporter communication is vital (and for churches that means communication with church members). Please avoid the ostrich response to the situation!

Now to some broader thoughts:

The economic impact

It’s increasingly looking like the recovery will look more like a Nike ‘Swoosh’, ie quite slow. Because there is so much uncertainty, you must work with several scenarios. When it comes to fundraising, those of you with predominantly upmarket 65+ supporter bases may be very glad that you’ve failed to crack the code with the millennials who are being most impacted economically by the crisis. 

Fundraising impact:

  • there will be an overall negative impact. The scale and timing of the impact is going to depend on your fundraising mix so I’d encourage you to draw up a spreadsheet with income by source and estimates of impact in the next 3 months, 12 months and in years 2 and 3. Remember that you can mitigate some of these impacts by excellent supporter communications;
  • as Christian charities, other things equal, I would expect your giving to hold up better than secular giving;
  • there are some opportunities (it’s not all downside), especially if you have a coronavirus-related cause. Think about digital opportunities with paid Facebook advertising in particular. You don’t need a big budget to get started and sustain a campaign. And Facebook algorithms will do the heavy lifting on targeting for you.

Your leadership communications

  • Coronavirus is still the overwhelming topic of interest, so unless you really have nothing to say, I would suggest some clear messaging prominently on your website. 
  • Now that you are all well out of the ‘switch to home working’ mode, I would hope that you feel you could now write a one-page case for support in a coronavirus world, expressing impact on need, your income and your response. (Note: you don’t need to know everything: an 80% answer now is much better than a 100% answer in three weeks time). Say what you know now and refine later. 
  • This is a great opportunity to think about the new problem you might now be solving. At BRF, Anna Chaplains who would normally be physically visiting care homes and retirement homes are no longer able to do so. But the need for spiritual sustaining has never been higher – both for residents and care workers. New, physically distanced approaches have been needed. 
  • Even if you don’t have an emergency situation (either in terms of need or income) then still communicate to your supporters. Even my local dentist practice has just sent me a brilliant email telling some great stories about how they have been helping people in very unexpected ways. Your supporters care about your cause. And many are sitting at home feeling unable to do much about coronavirus. Helping you will make them feel better.
  • If you do have an emergency situation, then be very direct. Ideally, tell a clear story about specific beneficiaries and then explain why you need money in that context. Be a bit cautious in the ask… phrases like “give what you can” might work better. But don’t rule out the possibility of donors making their biggest ever gift.

Is there a place for supporter acquisition?

  • If you have a clear and obvious coronavirus-related narrative, then yes. Charities are generating excellent responses to campaigns and cost of acquisition for regular givers for the right cause is lower than it’s been for ages.
  • But if you don’t have a clear and obvious coronavirus-related narrative, focus on your core existing supporters. (Think of your supporters as friends rather than acquaintances). Pick up the phone. As a Trustee of BRF, I’ve done some calls with our regular givers. Guess what? They were all at home and answered the phone, everyone appreciated the call and they loved having a chat. Relationships with the charity were deepened.

Some more thoughts about your supporters:

  • Do think about things from their point of view. Step in their shoes when communicating.
  • Make sure that communications put the supporter at the centre of things. BOY is one of my favourite fundraising acronyms – “because of you”. And you need a high ratio of “you” to “us” in your communications.
  • Recognise that supporters’ mindset will be shifting over time. In time, particularly for those in work, it will move from health worries to the economic, especially when the furlough scheme starts tapering off. Your communications need to adjust to this.
  • Keep communicating. Your supporters (and your church members) want to know what’s going on. If you’re leading a church and have had to furlough staff, tell the members. If you’ve set up a community larder working with Fareshare, tell the members. This is a great opportunity to bring some of your closer ‘friends’ onto Zoom webinars and roundtables. Christian Aid Ireland has done this very well with some of its key clergy relationships.
  • If there is something of value that you can offer, then do so. Organisations like Asthma UK have done this brilliantly, combining it with fundraising. But be agile: there was a huge oversupply of charity offerings to parents who are grappling with home educating. So if you took several weeks to get your offering to market, you were probably too late.
  • Do give your supporters the opportunity to donate. Let them do something wonderful and overcome their feelings of helplessness.
  • Do make sure the supporter experience is great. Thank supporters and make them feel part of things. RNLI has done this superbly.

If you would like help with planning and implementing fundraising appeals right now, or with developing longer-term strategies for ensuring a robust and sustainable future for your charity in ‘new normal’, do get in touch at office@actionplanning.co.uk, or call 01737 814758.

Andrew Barton

Andrew Barton is an experienced fundraising consultant, specialising in supporting International Development and Christian mission agencies.