A Proper Crisis
16th March by Tobin Aldrich
Well we all know we're in a proper crisis now. Last week we saw the coronavirus situation rapidly transform from an issue of concern to something that is now completely dominating the lives of all of us.
In such a situation, it's very hard to maintain perspective and do more than react to unfolding events. But all of us who work for and care about charities need to be thinking now about how best our organisations respond now, and later, to the crisis.
One thing is absolutely clear, charities are needed now more than ever. The people who will suffer the most from this are the most vulnerable members of society, in other words our beneficiaries. And they must be the priority.
So charities are all now busily devising plans for staff to work from home. Fundraising events and campaigns (door to door fundraising probably isn't a brilliant idea just now) are being cancelled. All sorts of precautions and social distancing procedures are being initiated.
That's all well and good. But what we really need to do is to plan. How are we going to have the maximum impact in supporting our beneficiaries throughout the crisis and after it? And how are we going to fund it?
A lot of people are talking just now of how bad the impact of this will be on charities' fundraising. Sure, there's going to be lots of impacts. Cancelled events are just the start. But the bottom line is, we need charities to do more not less and so we need to make sure that work is resourced.
We haven't had this virus before. But we have been through sudden crises before. Think of 9/11, the Boxing Day tsunami, the 2008 crash - we have experienced rapidly changing situations before. What I learned from that, is that in a fast changing situation, the only right course is to stay calm and to focus on what's really important.
So the worst thing to do just now would be to hunker down and stop asking. The Chinese public spontaneously gave enormous sums to organisations working to battle the virus, one charity in Wuhan reportedly received over $300m in a few weeks. The public will give to this and my guess is that the giving will astonish us as much as everything else.
So. Here's what I think your charity should do today to plan what your fundraising response to this crisis should be:
- Impact assessment. Work out where you are most exposed in your fundraising over the next few months. What are the worst case impacts? What can you do to mitigate and reduce them.
- Opportunity assessment. What can you do to ensure that you can ask, appropriately and at the right time (which may not be now) for support for your response?
- Develop a one week action plan to put in place both your mitigating actions and your fundraising plan.
- Call your donors. Speak to your key supporters and stakeholders now. Tell them what you're doing to respond to the crisis. Ask them to bear with you.
- Cut the crap. Drop anything that's non essential. Bin your budget process and throw away the board papers. Focus on your action plan.
- If you find there's not all that much your fundraising team you can do right now, there's loads of things people can be doing to get ready for when you can. Clean up the database, sort out the process problems that have been making everyone's life a misery. But above all, plan and plan well.
In short, get ahead of this as much as you can. And if you want to get some simple and practical advice you know where we are.
And if you want an actual fundraising tip: pretty much the whole population is going to be stuck at home pretty soon with nothing to do but… go online. Now digital fundraising is your time.