Fundraising in uncertain times: What to say when you don't know what to say.

Updated: Jun 7, 2020

A few weeks ago, I started preparing a fundraising blog, and being honest, I’m relieved that I didn’t publish it at the time. I thought I was being very highbrow by asking whether the 2008 recession could reveal anything to us about how charities might be impacted by the economic downturn resulting from Coronavirus. I dug deep into the archives of the Charity Commission, feeling nostalgic for my thirteen-year-old self at the time of the recession who rocked a floppy side-swept fringe and still ate Coco Pops for breakfast. Enough has changed in the weeks since I started that blog for me to hastily backspace my way through all that I had written.

Emily Maitlis attracted widespread praise as she asserted on BBC Newsnight that Coronavirus is not the great leveller it is purported to be- which is evident from the significantly higher risk of diagnosis and death from Coronavirus to BAME communities in England, and the fact that many in lower-income jobs do not have the luxury of working from home. Charities too will be affected differently by Coronavirus, with a variety of factors influencing whether a charity may be facing an unexpected fundraising boom or conversely having to make difficult decisions about their operations.

As someone who works for a charity and who takes interest in various causes, I wasn’t especially surprised when my Facebook feed became populated with an increasing number of sponsored ads from charities. Generally speaking, I can divide these ads into two categories; announcements of an emergency appeal or an ask for you to volunteer to raise funds, with a picture of smiley Sarah running over a hill in head-to-toe charity merchandise. But when it seems like every charity is holding an emergency appeal, surely the sense of urgency is diluted? In a room of voices chanting variations of the same essential message, it seems possible to make yourself heard. And with Coronavirus throwing services into the categories of ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’ you may feel strangely guilty about asking for funds when you may not be directly responding to the current crisis. At the same time, you want to avoid coming across as sour grapes (“bloody NHS taking all of the donations- leaving none left for other charities. Saving lives and that. Makes me sick!”). There is also

the question of appropriateness and sensitivity- is it tone-deaf to ask for funds when you are acutely aware of the financial insecurity your supporters are facing?

All of these concerns are valid. It is very difficult to know where to position yourself, but remember that by simply being honest, remaining focused on your charity’s values and always putting your cause first, it is harder to go wrong. Students4Students wanted to avoid the language of an ‘emergency’, because, whilst our fundraising has of course been affected, it would feel disingenuous to say that we are in crisis when we aren’t (to be cynical- I’ll say not yet). On the other hand, continuing to fundraise doesn’t mean that we think we are any more important than the NHS or a local charity delivering food to the isolating- and one shouldn’t be tricked into this warped way of thinking. Fundamentally, our cause remains the same- making up for the disparity in educational resources available to primary school children- and it isn’t an exaggeration to say that the children we want to support the most are going to be the worst-affected by school closures. We may need to rethink the way we raise funds, but we should also welcome this challenge as an opportunity to diversify our income streams to ultimately make us stronger in the long run. We may not be able to draw in new supporters amidst the clamour, but we can be grateful for the supporters we have- and draw confidence from the fact that they believe in us and share our vision. It can be hard to know what to say, when you don’t know what to say. In that case, all you can do is say what you know.

Fran Crisante, Fundraising lead

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