The best laid plans....

Whatever point your organization and your fundraising is at in its strategic cycle – at the start of a new strategy, halfway through an existing strategic period, or about to undertake strategy development for a new period - the impact of the coronavirus pandemic demands that we take a fresh look at plans. For the time being, ‘business as usual’ is off the table; and some are predicting that it will never return as it was. Fundraisers across the world are being asked to provide the expert view on what future fundraising techniques and methods will look like and what voluntary income can be raised for the remainder of 2020, into the next financial year and beyond.

We are in uncharted territory, and we cannot predict the future, but that does not mean that fundraisers and charities should just sit back and wait for things to resolve one way or the other. Planning and strategy are still the fundamental building blocks for every charity – and the decisions we take now will determine the future for our organizations.

So what can we do?

The starting point for this thinking has to be what your organization wants to achieve and how it proposes to deliver it in response to the envisaged post COVID-19 world. It is widely thought that many organizations will respond to these unique circumstances by taking a hard look at what should be retained and what should be divested from operations.

Fundraising cannot exist in a vacuum; and so clarity of future direction is needed before recalibrating and recasting fundraising strategy, to take account of fundraising techniques that have emerged and those that have been lost; what the public response tells us about attitudes towards fundraising and volunteering and ultimately what that means for fundraised income.

There are many short-term uncertainties

We know that Canada has entered into recession these last few months; however, no one can say with any degree of confidence how long-lasting this might be, and how fundraising might perform. There is limited previous experience to draw on because recession alongside social distancing is a new phenomenon. Organizations may well consider treating the next financial year as a pause from an existing or new fundraising strategy as they plan and forecast a one-year operating plan for 2021/22, exploring a variety of scenarios which combine different social and economic effects.

These scenarios should consider what we know right now (as much as we can) as well as what the best estimates, ideas and forecasts are for the year ahead. This includes considering whether to pause or stop fundraising activities that are not cost effective, to make space for “test and learn” of new ideas and focused delivery of existing strong performers. However, while it is right in many cases to pause or divest some activities, fundraising as a whole should remain an active area of investment within organizations.

Time and again, research shows that the best performing organizations are the ones that invest in people, skills and fundraising activity. But of course what this looks like will be different for each organization, and as certainties increase, scenarios should be revisited and honed. Communication will be key to this process so that all stakeholders understand what the range of potential fundraised income is and how/when it is being reassessed.

The longer term view

Once Q1 of the next financial year has been completed and there is more clarity on the economic and social situation, attention can be turned to a full-scale review of the fundraising strategy. This may result in slight tweaks or major adjustments – and many charities will have a range of forecasts (worse case/best case) rather than definitive budgets or targets.

It may be that with 2020 and 2021 set aside, you can move back to your broad strategic trajectory for income growth. But that is not a given – some organizations will decide it’s right to start completely afresh rather than tweak previous plans. Whichever it is, you should be seeking to make decisions based on research, learning and insights – and factor in the collection of that data into your ongoing operating plans.

Michelle Chambers is Director of THINK Canada. 
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