Fundraising in France on the frontline against Covid-19 #2

22nd June by Rodolphe Gouin

Published on


Earlier this month, Rodolphe Gouin reported back on the impact as Covid hit the Greater Paris University Hospitals (AP-HP) at the centre of the epidemic in France. As part two of his blog in his role of Development and Philanthropy Director at AP-HP and CEO of the AP-HP Foundation, Rodolphe writes of the next stage: the rollercoaster of launching a public emergency appeal to support the hospital, raising millions of euros to help them through the crisis.

Rodolphe image

In my previous post, I tried to paint a comprehensive picture of the context in which AP-HP’s Foundation launched its public appeal.

What we have been through over the past three months may sound like the absolute fundraiser’s dream. For our 8-strong team to engage with 43,000 new donors - 34,000 in the first month alone- and to raise more than 43M€ was nothing short of incredible! But in reality, this had very little to do with typical fundraising. What was required here verged more on the art of on big wave surfing rather than fundraising and our wave had started rolling. We had to catch it and to ride it as far as possible but no one turns into a big wave surfer overnight! It would take the highest degree of flexibility and focus on the mission at all times, if this was going to succeed at all.

On the morning of 16th March, one of our major donors called to ask how he could help AP-HP’s healthcare workers. He knew full well that the Foundation could not raise funds for any other purpose but for research. Nevertheless, as awareness grew about the increasing pressure and difficulties hospitals were facing, he wanted to act swiftly and so it was only a matter of hours before the decision was made to extend the scope of the Emergency Fund. This decision received immediate unanimous support from the AP-HP executives and the Board of the Foundation so we informed the Government and made this change public. By the end of the day, our donor had transferred €100,000. At that point, I realized that daring to do this meant we were taking off on that big wave and that, from then on, we had to stay standing and keep our balance to avoid a complete wipe-out.

The first challenge was to respond to all the propositions that were pouring in and delaying was not an option. Therefore, from 8.00am to 11.00pm, we spent hours on the phone with major donors relentlessly explaining the situation, the needs and the projects that required urgent support. As presented in the “Covid-19 Emergency Fund” giving form, we offered three options: supporting research on Covid-19, supporting healthcare workers, or letting the Foundation decide where the money should go. More often than we expected, we succeeded in leading major donors to choose the third option with 26 donations exceeding €100,000. In addition, the French luxury company, Hermès, committed 20M€ for better hospital equipment, to fund professional promotion for caregivers and to increase innovation capacity within AP-HP. Much more time-consuming were the negotiations on partnerships, such as receiving a percentage on sales in exchange of using our name or logo on various types of goods such as clothes, flowers, works of art, smartphones, etc.

The second challenge was digital. Tens of thousands of individuals, foundations, non-profit organisations and companies made their donations, large and small, to the official “Covid-19 Emergency Fund” (online, by cheque or bank transfer) while hundreds of online crowdfunding accounts were privately opened and subsequently donated to the AP-HP Foundation. After a few days, it became clear that we would never be able to contact each one to ensure that it was not a sting nor a claim that could not be upheld, like paying hospital nurses’ wages for example. Thus, in order to secure the great many individual initiatives and to publicly guarantee that all donations would be given to the AP-HP Foundation, we started our own fundraising platform and set up a customisable tool. By 18th May 2020, over 6,000 donations had been made via the platform amounting to almost €580,000 thanks to the support of social media and companies who gave internet space and access to digital tools in an effort to promote our endeavour and galvanise people into giving. A list of our main donors and partners can be found here.

Given that Greater Paris was at the centre of the epidemic and the importance of AP-HP in France, the media attention focused on us. So did the donors. Therefore, to ensure this spirit of generosity would benefit other institutions as well as AP-HP, we developed an exemplary partnership under the name « Tous unis contre le virus » (United against the virus) with the Fondation de France and the Institut Pasteur. These funds helped healthcare workers all over France, in and outside of hospitals, financed research projects and supported community-based organisations in caring for the vulnerable.

The appeal was launched on 24th March 2020 and raised around 29M€. Out of the full amount, AP-HP Foundation and Institut Pasteur were granted approximately 15% between them.

To say the past three months were hectic is a gross understatement! So many aspects of our activity had to be secured simultaneously. We had to manage the consequences of lockdown for our 50-strong staff and find solutions for them to work from home. We had to adapt all of our procedures while maintaining a clear and transparent frame. To accept the extraordinary donation from Hermès, for example, we could not wait for the Board to meet two weeks later. The donor’s decision was announced late on Sunday night, 29th March 2020 and at 11.30am, the next morning the Board of the Foundation met by videoconference to formally approve it. We did the same for many other issues. Clarity and serenity were key virtues in what turned out to be a deluge of propositions and we had to be very careful not to participate in any fundraising operations or accept donations from companies belonging to some industries, such as tobacco and alcohol…

In big wave surfing videos, you never know how things really end. What I can say about emergency campaigns is that no matter how you stop riding, you know it doesn’t end there. What is more challenging: raising 43M€ in three months or ensuring it’s used fast enough for a real impact?

To be continued…