Impacts of coronavirus - philanthropy

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

There are some immediate impacts on philanthropy but perhaps the greater impact is long-term. Some of the potential issues and top tips for dealing with both immediate and longer term issues are shared below:

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 driven by provincial or federal measures to restrict large events, or because your organization it is best to postpone at this time. Either way, it’s important to be on the front foot. Uncertainty is not helpful so be proactive. If the event is cancelled, or a decision is made to postpone, 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 or postponing the event – a loss or deferment of income. Many attendees will be coming because they feel passionate about your organization 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 programs. 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 foundations (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 program 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 foundations may feel that their support is best given to causes other than yours. Even long-term 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, Programs 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.

Simon Dickson is Senior Consultant with,  and Head of Intelligence of, THINK Consulting Solutions. You can meet him here.