Coronavirus analysis: In the face of a fundraising crisis, constancy is a high-value commodity

As the impact of the coronavirus makes fundraising increasingly difficult, charities should be asking what they can do for their donors, Rebecca Cooney hears

Of all the pieces of advice people offer in a crisis, “stay positive” can sometimes feel the most unhelpful.

At the moment, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot to be positive about, particularly where fundraising is concerned. Yesterday, the Fundraising Regulator and the Institute of Fundraising issued a briefing saying that charities needed to consider seriously whether to continue face-to-face fundraising in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

Despite the advice, the IoF’s own data is not optimistic about the impact if charities stop fundraising: it suggests hundreds of millions of pounds of income could be lost, 800,000 fewer supporters will be signed up and up to 3,000 job losses will occur if agencies go under. This appears to be an absolute worst-case scenario, however, based on the assumption that all charities suspend all face-to-face fundraising until the end of 2020/21, which at the moment doesn’t look likely.

On top of that, thousands of fundraising events have been cancelled and the London Marathon has been postponed. The prospect of a recession brought about as a result of the pandemic is looming.

So what can charities do in a situation that is starting to look – at best – a bit dicey for fundraising?

Jen Shang, co-director of the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy, says that though staying positive might be tricky at the moment, that’s exactly the point.

“The point charities have to get themselves to is realising ‘if we are in crisis, are our donors also in crisis ?’” she says. “So the question is not ‘are they still going to give?’ but ‘how do donors feel and what can we do?’”

Charities might be struggling right now, but Shang says that makes it all the more important for them to commit to showing love and care for their donors.

Looking at the data from the 2008 recession, there was a definite dip in giving, she says, and it’s clear that this could happen again.

But staying positive, she says, is not simply a case of “keep calm and carry on”.

“We should all panic a little bit, but then ask ‘now what’?” she says.

The priority for charities in relation to their donors, Shang adds, is to try to calm their nerves and look out for their psychological wellbeing, something charities might have more ability to do than they realise.

“In this kind of environment, where everything has to be forced to change, constancy is a very high-value commodity, so if nothing else charities can become a consistent, kind voice in people's lives,” she says.

“Big-brand charities and local charities have developed trust and loyalty from donors who have given for quite a while. Charities then become a constant in their lives, so knowing that that constant is there and is still doing the work is in itself comforting.”

Shang adds that, for people who are feeling isolated because of social distancing measures, feeling part of a community of charity supporters can help give them the sense of connection they are missing.

“If you can think of ways to begin to send out daily heartwarming, positive messages to people then do it," she says. "It’s not going to cost us a great deal to just do that for three weeks."

That’s not to say donors shouldn’t be made aware that charities are also struggling at the moment, she says, but if you do have to send out an email asking for money, think about how you can be positive and give comfort at the same time as making the ask.

“And if you are caring for the donor, they’re going to wonder how you guys are doing,” she says.

“If charities can manage to become one of the few daily positive things that happen in donors’ lives in this isolated time, guess who they are going to give to once they come out of isolation?”

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