There has been much discussion in the media about the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak. Many companies are going to take a massive hit as a result of this situation. This is not good news for anyone but it has a specific implication for corporate fundraisers.
When considering my advice to corporate fundraising teams, I first drew on the experiences of frontline corporate fundraisers. It is important that any overarching take on this rapidly evolving situation is closely connected to what is happening at the ‘fundraising coalface’. It the last couple of days I have spoken to half a dozen clients and this has contributed to my thinking about how teams can respond. One of the things I am hearing is that, generally speaking, companies are keeping calm heads despite the situation.
I have also thought back to the time of the global financial crisis. As that situation unfolded I was working in-house leading a large team. Whilst the two situations are not the same, there are some parallels in terms of the hit to the corporate world and impact on consumer confidence. Below I have outlined six important considerations for any corporate team at this time.
1. Kept abreast of partner news and look at each partner on an individual basis
Different sectors and different companies will be affected differently by this situation. Before you do anything, ensure you are on top of your research. You should have Google alerts and social media notifications set up to alert you to partner news (if you haven’t then be sure to do so now). Use credible news sites to read about how industry sectors are being impacted but don’t assume that every company in a given sector will be impacted in the same way. Some companies may appear to be in a bad situation but things may not be as negative as you first think, especially if their parent company is large and has good cashflow. Good research will be invaluable to understanding each individual company’s outlook.
2. Keep communication channels open
You should also recognise that, in the immediate term, a charity partnership is unlikely to be top of the priority list for many companies as they plan for their own business continuity. However, do try to keep channels of communication open so that you can find out quickly what is happening as the situation develops.
3. Look specifically at events income
One of the hits to charity income is going to be the cancellation of fundraising events. Many corporate partnerships rely on big events to drive staff fundraising: sporting challenges, gala dinners, big quiz nights etc. Any of these activities that are planned in the coming weeks will be cancelled or postponed. As part of this blog series we given advice around events fundraising – see here for more detail (and note particularly the points about virtual events).
4. Stay calm and think laterally
Several of the charities that I have spoken to have accepted that this situation is out of their control but are creatively considering how to react. Sometimes opportunity arises out of adversity and I know of two clients who are calmly thinking about how to engage with their partners in new and dynamic ways. It is likely that we will see a heightened sense of community spirit and people will want to join together (there are already numerous media stories emerging of how this is manifesting itself). Whilst many people will spend some time working remotely from colleagues, people will still want to feel a sense of connectedness. Can your charity help to channel the community spirit? What ideas can you suggest to partners that might lift morale, help people look after their wellbeing whilst working at home or keep fit and active?
5. Work across teams and try to ensure that fundraising and marketing efforts are integrated
Companies have a first priority to look after their staff but they will also want to encourage appropriate positive action. Importantly, they will want to their staff to feel part of properly planned and clearly defined efforts to help. If your charity is assisting directly with the coronavirus effort (e.g. if your cause is around older people or those with certain health conditions) then any corporate fundraising messages should be linked to the organisational effort. It is likely that any appeals will be led by individual giving (IG) teams, so corporate teams should be talking to their IG colleagues and promoting the appeal messages to partners. This will help ensure that your partners are clear on what your organisation is doing, clear on any call to action and clear on how they can respond.
6. Be pragmatic about your new business effort
Cultivation events, some face to face cultivation meetings and some pitches will be postponed. This could slow down your new business drive. For cultivation events, there is little you can do. It is best to confirm cancellations quickly and inform everyone that you will identify a new date at some future point.
Discovery meetings can easily be switched to video calls without too much detriment, so this aspect of your new business effort shouldn’t be too disrupted. Similarly some one-to-one / one-to-few cultivation activity may be switchable to a video platform.
On the upside, some people who you may have had difficulty contacting may be easier to engage. You need to think about their role in the organisation but some decision makers will be more available as the result of having meetings cut from their calendar. Be sensitive but keep persevering.
Face-to-face pitch meetings will be cancelled. Some companies may feel happy to move to a video-based pitch but others will not and will instead postpone. It goes without saying that before carrying out any video-calls you should ensure that your tech platform has been stress tested. There is nothing worse than getting a meeting off to a bad start because the technology is not robust.
Lastly, be resilient if faced with rejections. Some prospects (and even existing partners) may switch their attention to projects related to the unfolding public health situation. You need to accept this scenario but keep these supporters on your prospect list for the future. Once the situation changes they may be interested in talking to you again.