Coronavirus: Advice on philanthropy

16 March 2020
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THINK are sharing with us guidance on how to approach fundraising activities against the backdrop of the current coronavirus outbreak. In the second in this series, Simon Dickson explores the impact on philanthropy. Looking in particular at major donor, trust and foundation fundraising and special events.

The primary consideration should always be the health and wellbeing of supporters, volunteers and staff, however the fundraising needs to continue wherever possible if the sector is to continue supporting beneficiaries long-term.

As with events fundraising, the subject of our first blog, there are some immediate impacts on philanthropy but perhaps the greater impact is long-term. Some of the potential issues and advice for dealing with both immediate and longer term issues are shared below. For interesting insight on how ‘the 1%’ are dealing with Coronavirus, it’s also worth taking a quick look at The Guardian article outlining how – in this instance at least – the rich and famous are not quite in the same boat as the rest of us… 

In the meantime:

• Special events such as galas remain a key part of the portfolio for many charities and like other charity events are likely to be subject to cancellation or postponement. This may be because Government measure to restrict large events kick in further or simply because guests decide not to come after all. Either way, it’s important to be on the front foot. Uncertainty is not helpful so be proactive. If the event is cancelled, get the message out quickly – nobody wants to be embarrassed turning up at an empty venue.

• Make every effort to speak to people to explain the situation and the reason for the decision. This could well be an opportunity to build a stronger relationship with donors and prospects, bonding over a common problem. Take the opportunity to explain the impact of cancelling the event – a loss of income. Many attendees will be coming because they feel passionate about your organisation and that’s not going to change because of the situation. Use the conversation to explore a gift to mitigate loss of income from the event but tread carefully. You don’t want to be seen as ‘profiteering’.

• While smaller private cultivation or stewardship events are not likely to subject to the same restrictions as galas, people are still likely to be nervous about hosting or attending. The safest option may simply be to agree to postpone but conversation is key. Ask hosts what they want to do – be open and honest about the potential issues and challenges and agree together the best approach. Then develop a plan and act on it.

• In the longer-term, the problem for philanthropy may well lie in the charity’s ability to deliver its programmes. What has been promised to major donors and foundation supporters in proposals may simply not be achievable within the timeframes originally agreed. Major donors and trusts (or the people running them at least) are human and will understand the challenge charities are facing. The worst thing to do is ignore the problem and wait for it to become a crisis. If problems begin to emerge in programme delivery, go back to donors with solutions and ask for advice if necessary. Never has it been more important to be honest. See donors as partners who want to work with you to succeed.

• Something that might be beyond any fundraiser’s control is the shift in donor priorities. Depending what happens over the next few months, major donors and trusts may feel that their support is best given to causes other than yours. Even long-term major donors and trust supporters may make decisions to shift their support in the short-term to projects they wouldn’t normally consider in response to greater need in some sectors of society. That is their choice. Accept the situation and be gracious if your proposals or approaches are rejected but keep donors informed about the work you are doing anyway. They may well come back to you in the future.

• Start thinking about how all of this will affect income targets. High-value fundraising can be ‘lumpy’ at the best of times and it may well get worse. Work with Finance, Programmes and others early to share views on where you feel income is at risk and discuss contingency plans. Early planning will take the sting out of reforecasting when it comes.

• Most importantly, look after yourself and your teams. It’s likely to be a stressful few months so support and talk to each other through these difficult times. It will make us stronger in the long-term.  

Throughout the week, we will be sharing our thoughts on how best to mitigate the impact on other areas of fundraising including corporate partnerships, individual giving, supporter services and leadership. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Simon Dickson
Simon Dickson
Senior Consultant and Head of Intelligence at THINK Consulting Solutions
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