Giles Pegram: Charities should un-furlough front-line fundraisers, even if it means cutting services in the short term

Fundraisers are the advertisers of your cause to your supporters, and to the wider world

Giles Pegram
Giles Pegram

In such troubling economic times, it’s understandable that many charities are currently weighing up their finances and being driven to make difficult choices about staffing. If you furlough the fundraiser and keep the service (which might seem the obvious thing to do to a great many people) you will keep the service only 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. In the long term, though, the fundraiser will raise money to keep more services going.

I believe it really is that simple.

Of course, there are fundraising areas that generate cash without building relationships. I am not arguing that fundraisers working in these spaces are un-furloughed,

However, I would also argue that some charities don’t fully recognise 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 fundraisers work on the front line, engaging with supporters of all types and keeping them warm to the charity.

These supporters are people who contribute to 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.

Several people, including me, have written about the almost unbelievable success, in short-term financial results, of many charities that have taken this approach

Once all this is over, however long that might be, there will be two different groups of charities.

First, the ones that have invested in their fundraisers, who have in turn been able to spend time and creative energy keeping their supporters engaged, making them even more loyal than before.

Second, those that haven’t. Those that 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 supporters who 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 might have wanted to.

The first group will have a considerable advantage and should quite quickly be able to raise more money and help more beneficiaries. They will be very pleasantly surprised by the direct financial impact their behaviour has on them.

The second group will find that their neglected supporters will give less. They will then suffer and might well, in some cases, go to the wall. They will blame Covid-19, and not even begin to consider their own inept decision-making.

The supporter might still be giving the same amount of money, but it will be to the charities that have given them a good experience.

As Henry Ford once said: “A man who stops advertising to save money is like a man who stops a clock to save time.” And nearly 100 years ago the advertising pioneer Bruce Barton wrote: “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. I would urge that, with speed, you look at all fundraisers who are relationship-builders, as defined above. Bring them off furlough so they can continue to build relationships with the supporters who are vital to helping your charity survive this crisis.

In turn, they will generate the income that will help you un-furlough your other fundraisers, rather than making them redundant. And, of course, it will help to protect as many services as possible and work for the people you are there to support.

This isn’t, by any means, the whole answer to the crisis your charity is facing. But it is a part of it.

It just means thinking for the long term rather than the short term.

Giles Pegram is a fundraising consultant and the former appeals director of the NSPCC

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in
RSS Feed

Third Sector Insight

Sponsored webcasts, surveys and expert reports from Third Sector partners