There’s one question that we, as fundraising consultants, have been asked again and again since Australia was first plunged into lockdown back in March:
Should non-profits continue to ask for donations during this pandemic?
Poignantly, fundraising think tank Rogare produced a survey that collated the most frequently encountered objections to fundraising amidst COVID-19, from Canada, the UK and USA. These are just a few.
“Many of our members are suffering job and income losses, it would be callous to press them for donations, since we are not a first responder charity.”
“Businesses are closing and people are being laid off. We are not on the frontlines of COVID-19 so now is not the time to ask.”
“We don’t want to come across as tone-deaf and uncaring by asking people to give what they don’t have. We’ll just make people feel worse.”
Rogare then grouped these objections into four themes, and developed corresponding counter-arguments.
Let’s delve in!
Theme 1: The state of the economy
We ought not to fundraise because the economy is in bad shape. Our charity will be criticised if we fundraise because people have lost their jobs and don’t have the money to donate.
Charities affect necessary change in the world. Often, we fill gaps left by the government and the market economy. In the wake of Covid-19, those gaps are more acute than ever, and that means charities are more important than ever.
Charities have a duty to their beneficiaries to ask for support. When charities ask for support, we are asking on behalf of those we serve: under-served youth who need places to play; future generations who will benefit from advances in medical research; wildlife in need of protection. A lack of action sends a message to our beneficiaries that they are not important.
It is not up to charities to decide whether people have the financial capacity to give. It’s true that many people’s incomes have been affected, but there are others whose financial circumstances are unchanged.
Giving is a positive and empowering action. In a time of social distancing, people are looking for ways to feel connected to each other, and giving can offer that sense of connection.
Theme 2: Anxiety and stress felt by the public
People are afraid, anxious and overwhelmed. They have lost family members, jobs and their ability to give. To ask for donations would be inappropriate and insensitive. We don’t want to come across as tone-deaf and uncaring.
Giving allows donors to demonstrate compassion. We have a duty to our beneficiaries to ask people to give and, in turn, their decision to give allows donors to gain a sense of purpose and control.
Giving offers a sense of connection. In an era of social distancing, people are searching for connection. Charities that invite donors to give can offer control and focus, a sense of self-worth, a way to contribute, a way to find joy.
Theme 3: Emergency response to the pandemic
If we are not directly involved in the frontline response to the pandemic, we should not be fundraising. We don’t want to be seen as ‘capitalising’ on the current situation.
Charities are needed now more than ever. It isn’t up to us to determine which needs are more urgent or more important. We cannot presume to know what is in our donors’ minds, nor to choose on their behalf whether to give or not. It is our job to anticipate and understand the needs of our beneficiaries and communicate this effectively to our supporters. It will be up to them to decide if they want to give at this time.
Theme 4: Perception of the need for fundraising
We shouldn’t fundraise right now because our needs are not as great as charities that are struggling. It’s in poor taste and seems greedy.
The demand for our services does not go away because people can no longer afford to make donations. Fundraising is just as imperative during an emergency as it is during normal times, and may be even greater. It is our responsibility to generate resources that ensure we can meet the needs of our beneficiaries.
It is not greedy to fundraise to serve beneficiaries. If charities clearly illustrate the need and impact of a donor’s support, the need for funds will be well understood and we will not appear greedy.
Choosing not to fundraise for fear of appearing greedy takes away a donor’s choice. The decision to give always rests with the donor. If we stop fundraising, we risk losing donors now and having to increase our costs later to make up for it.
So, should non-profits continue to ask for donations during this pandemic?
Sensitive and appropriate fundraising should continue. Building a response to whatever arguments are thrown at fundraising as this crisis continues will take time, effort and creativity. But hopefully the above counter-arguments will save a lot of time and brainpower.
As project team leader Vivian Smith says:
“We have a duty to those who are served by our charities to continue our work, to continue to ask those who can give to do so – even now.”
“The impact of COVID-19 on our health, on our economies, on our very lives cannot be overstated. Yet, at the same time, we continue to face other challenges in our communities: cancer, heart disease, climate change, extinction of species, poverty, mental health to name but a few.”
“As fundraisers, we must continue to take up the banner and raise the resources our charities need to meet the wide range of issues they were formed to address.”
What are your experiences with fundraising during this pandemic? Have you changed your strategy? Kept things the same? Trialled something new? We’d love to hear!