How not-for-profits can fundraise differently during the crisis


    Faced with the challenge of doing things differently during the crisis, fundraising is one of the biggest risk areas that not-for-profit organisations face. Here are some tips for ways to change your approach.

    At a time when the economy is facing the biggest downturn since the Great Depression, fundraising from the cash-strapped Australian public at first glance would appear to be fully off the agenda for the next six months or so.

    However, not-for-profit organisations such as the Cerebral Palsy Alliance, the Cancer Council, the Melbourne Theatre Company and others have taken on the challenge and have started looking at ways of doing things differently, rather than giving up.

    “Fundraising represents about $35 million out of our $200 million budget,” says Paul Masi MAICD, Chair and President of the Cerebral Palsy Alliance. “And the bulk of that goes to research, so it's the research going forward which may be impacted,” he said during an interview with the AICD.

    Communicate better with existing donors

    Most of the alliance’s big face-to-face events have been cancelled until September. However, it has a community of about 35,000 donors and has ramped up its communication with this group in order to keep them engaged. “We're really grateful to them,” he says.

    “So we've definitely upped our communication. In terms of fundraising, we have plenty of digital activities, but to some degree now we've got to be a little bit more creative in how we approach the potential donor and also communicate with the potential donor. It's a time for real communication. One of the great things in the community has been people are willing to help and support if they understand what the issues and problems are.”

    It's very important to keep supporting your existing donors and help them understand the challenges you’re facing, says Masi. “And if you need some support to ask for it clearly and directly”.

    The interesting thing is most online donations have not fallen yet. “We were a bit concerned … but it's interesting that to date we have not seen any or what we would call, significant withdrawal of support for us.”

    Consulting staff for creative ideas

    The alliance also has three board members with significant fundraising expertise, which has been very useful, especially because two have expertise in digital marketing, he adds.

    Some board members called very early on for staff to be consulted on new creative ways to carry out fundraising through new partnerships – such as the recent new partnership with the AFL – and other means.

    “I think the answer is it's a time for creativity and being as positive as you can be whilst acknowledging constraints,” says Masi. “One of our board members is very, very strong on the view that it's easy to cut costs but that it is growing revenues that is the challenge. So let’s start thinking of different ways and maybe take a bit of a time really to engage the staff and their ideas and their creativity.”

    The organisation is also using this period to look to the future. “We're doing a lot of work and a lot of planning. The teams are all working from home and obviously we're asking them to be as creative as possible and to think about - when this thing does end, what are we going to do? We can't just come into it flat-footed. We've got to keep doing the best we can, thinking about different strategies and structures and things that we can do.”

    Creative fundraising and donation drive examples

    Below are other examples of fundraising and donation drives by charities:

    • The Cancer Council is encouraging this year Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea to be hosted by volunteers through virtual meetings instead of face-to-face. Last year 30,000 people took part in the national event and raised $19 million for cancer research.
    • Melbourne Theatre Company has cancelled nearly all of its productions for 2020 and is urging customers to convert their ticket refund into a donation.
    • Not-for-profit community services organisation Sydney Community Services has called for donations of goods for vulnerable people to be dropped off to the verandah of their suburban offices for distribution to the vulnerable elderly.
    • The Viral Knit is a campaign to inspire knitters around the world to knit a face mask for health professionals and donate to mental health charity Mind. The fundraising target is £10,000.

    11 tips for fundraising during COVID-19

    1. Ask your staff and board for new creative ideas.
    2. Go digital – mount new digital campaigns, use social media creatively.
    3. Use the networks of board members to expand reach.
    4. Hire more board members or staff with good fundraising skills.
    5. Partner with new organisations that have a good online presence and are active in this field.
    6. Encourage volunteers to raise funds for you (digitally).
    7. Consider crowdfunding for special important campaigns using platforms such as
    8. Sell discounted merchandise, goods or stock through your email subscribers.
    9. Livestream events rather than holding them in person and ask for donations.
    10. Add a fundraising page and donation campaign buttons to your website.
    11. Use your community – engage on Facebook groups in your area to connect with the community and ask for donations of goods.

    Warning from the ACNC

    The Australian Charities and Not-for-Profit Commission has warned that for a charity that has decided to cancel or postpone a fundraising event due to concerns over COVID-19, there may be questions raised over what to do with any money already committed (for example, through ticket sales or other purchases).

    In these situations, it is important that a charity is transparent about what it is going to do:

    Will the money be refunded – either immediately or in time?

    Will the charity hold the money until the fundraiser is rescheduled?

    Will the charity commit the money towards a future event or effort?

    Whatever the charity decides to do, it is important that it communicates clearly with supporters and other stakeholders the reasons why it made the decision, as well as the measures it has in place to ensure the funds are properly refunded or used in line with donors' original intent and the charity's charitable purpose.

    “Charities that are continuing to fundraise should be mindful of current social distancing protocols and other limitations. Charities may also want to consider alternative ways to raise funds, such as online appeals.”

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