This Time It Should Be Personal
1st April by Emily van Lier
Emily van Lier is an expert in international philanthropy and high level partnerships on both the institutional and private side. With a career spanning over 25 years, she has worked in leadership roles across a range of INGOs including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and WaterAid. As a Consultant, she has also developed strategies and implementation plans for national and international charities and global funding institutions.
Emily is currently Chief Philanthropy Officer at the Global Fund for Forgotten People. A great friend of AAW, we feel there is no better person at the moment to reflect on the challenges and opportunities for those of you currently trying to navigate plans and strategies in the Philanthropy and Partnership space.
Some charities are well-prepared for emergency appeals, the machine swings into action with impressive speed, sub-teams are formed, asks go out. But this time it is different. This time the crisis is everywhere, it affects all of us. The countries that are more often the foci for disasters are still waiting for the full impact of COVID 19. Those who aren’t usually engaged in emergency have had programmes of work fundamentally changed, fundraising activity decimated, strategies torn up, annual plans rendered meaningless.
Right now we all have needs, with the possible exception of the Grocers’ Benevolent Fund? The thought of the entire sector launching emergency appeals makes me think of baby birds in a nest, hoping those who squawk loudest will get something. An off-putting image, but how should major donor fundraisers be responding to this?
Is now the right time for an ask? It’s a difficult question when many charities’ activities are truncated or pivoting to repurpose within the particular restrictions the virus places upon us. With government intervention on a scale we have rarely seen before, the role for the voluntary sector needs to shake out in many areas. Should we be fundraising for PPE or ensuring governments provide it? A priority is to know what your work will look like going forward. Many will have had to pause or reduce programmes in at least some way, with fixed costs difficult to reduce. Donors will have questions to which we need answers that may not yet be clear.
But what of donors? It is easy as a fundraiser to think too much of our own needs and how donors can meet them, when we need to spend more time thinking about our donors, and what is going on in their lives. This crisis has hit them too. Like the rest of us they may be fearful for themselves and their families, seeing their businesses hit by economic turmoil, their investments ping ponging with a wildly volatile stock market, their usual activities and support networks reduced, trying to make sense of what the world now looks like and will be.
Now is a time to reach out, and deepen those relationships. Ask your senior staff and volunteers to call and instead of an ask, be human first. Ask how your donors are? How are their families and their businesses? How are they coping with isolation? How is this affecting them? Listen to them, don’t try to tell them all about you. Let them know you are just checking in to see how they are, and my guess is they will also ask about you and how this has affected your work. In which case you can tell them. Be honest, talk about the unknowns, ask for their thoughts and advice. If they don’t ask about you, maybe they are not ready to think about you right now, but they will always remember that you cared about them, as a person, not just a cheque book.
Don’t be too quick to jump in with an immediate ask, unless you really cannot pay people’s salaries next week, now is a good a time as any to look at using reserves. By asking now you might be going in too low, and too early. Focus on the relationship and the dialogue, and when we all know more in a few weeks’ time, you will be in a better place to ask, and have a stronger relationship with your donors as people.