Fundraising lessons learned through lockdown and preparing for life after COVID-19
As we start to emerge from lockdown, fundraisers and charities are starting to catch their breath and reflect on the impact that COVID-19 has had on fundraising, both positive and negative. There is the obvious loss of income and its direct impact on service delivery which we have all have faced, and will continue to face. But there have also been new skills learned particularly on digital platforms, and new opportunities for collaboration identified as charities work in partnership and fundraisers share great ideas and best practice. We’ve also been challenged to respond innovatively and creatively during and after the crisis as well as well focus on engaging our supporters and identifying alternative future income streams.
At first breath, the negative impact felt overwhelming. Hospice depends on raising £500,000 a year from events, including the biennial Jersey Hospice Care Ball and annual Dragon Boats Festival as well as the wide range of events run by the community. In a single stroke these were all cancelled in the face of social restrictions. In addition, there was a risk of diminished support from individuals who faced employment uncertainty or loss of jobs, loss of corporate sponsorship as benefits were no longer to be perceived of value, and greater competition for charitable grants. Together with the closure of the Hospice fundraising shops which raise over £20,000 a week, at the start of lockdown, Hospice was facing a loss of over £100,000 a month and we – like nearly every other charity in the world – didn’t have a Plan B.
But within a couple of weeks of lockdown, we did. We started with the #HospiceHero appeal, calling on the community to continue their support for Hospice and join our heroic clinical team who continued to ensure that everyone living with dying received our specialist support, at home or on the In Patient Unit (IPU), regardless of diagnosis. And the response was amazing with over 560 people going online to make a donation and creating personal or virtual challenges from sponsored home haircuts to making and selling facemasks to raise funds for Hospice and those we care for. In direct donations alone we raised £225k including a grant to support our bereavement services. The appeal was unlike any we had undertaken before: it was almost entirely run via social media, and was supported by an easy to use donation page on our website which enabled donors to share their messages of support and see those posted by others. We also created videos and messages of thanks directly from the team on the IPU as well as promoting the appeal on the radio.
Research undertaken by betterfundraising.org predicted that the pattern of raising money during this crisis was going to behave like a combination of what happens after a disaster (think Hurricane Katrina back in 2005) and what happens in an economic downturn (think the Financial Crisis of 2008). They anticipated three distinct phases over the months ahead:
And this is exactly what we saw at Hospice in the first three months of lockdown.
The number of donations received by Hospice in April 2020 was three times greater than in 2019. In addition, the funds raised in April almost exactly equalled the income we had lost from events and retail in that month although, as predicted, this tailed off in June. We saw a tremendous spike in the number of gifts coming through the website, demonstrating the value of offering a simple and straightforward way to donate online. The question now is whether or not this level of support will be sustained over the rest of 2020: this is particularly pertinent as we look ahead to September and the forecast of an additional £200k loss that month as a result of cancelling the Ball and Dragon Boats Festival.
So, in addition to online giving, increased social media engagement, and emergency appeals what are the other fundraising positives that have emerged during and post lockdown? Well, the single biggest innovation is bringing the Million Pound Lottery online. For the last twelve years, all tickets were sold in person. With support from the Jersey Gambling Commission, Webreality, CityPay and Jersey Post, as well as Hartmann House Media for their help with marketing and promoting, we were able to launch a brand new online sales platform on 1st June 2020 and start selling tickets before lockdown was fully eased. In the end, shops did open and we have been able to sell tickets in de Gruchy and at the Hospice Shop in St Ouen, however over 62% of ticket sales have been online with many preferring the ease and convenience of an online purchase.
Two other examples of a change in approach that we’ll continue to focus on going forwards include the development of virtual fundraising events supported by online registration and giving platforms and an increased focus on seeking grants both for COVID-19 related expenditure and priority projects planned for this year but now under threat due to reduced income.
Hospice and the National Trust for Jersey are longstanding partners in the 30 Bays in 30 Days event in July. Using the digital fundraising platform “Race Nation” we’ve been able to recruit and support over 600 participants with neither fundraising team being physically in the office while creating a real buzz about the event via social media. With regards to grant funding, the real innovation here has been with the funders themselves. We are grateful to the newly created “Jersey Funders” who came together to provide a single point of contact for charities to submit applications to over 15 grant awarding bodies. This significantly sped up the process for accessing emergency funding not only by reducing the application paperwork but by having decisions on funding made within a week. This level of collaboration between funding bodies is highly unusual given their different charitable objectives and priorities but all are united in wanting to see their funds used for the good of the community and this innovation has certainly achieved this.
So as we enter the summer, with lockdown eased but with an uncertain future particularly around events fundraising, we need to hold onto the lessons learned over the last few months to ensure that our charities can continue to support and care for those individuals we serve. As fundraisers, I think we all agree that we have been reminded once again for the need to have diversified income streams but we would also agree that we have been taught to be brave, agile, innovative, and responsive. For me, the greatest lesson has been the reminder that, at its very heart, fundraising is about engaging with the community that founded us and supports us. So, whether you’re a nurse, a knitter, a sewer, a head shaver, a cake baker, a runner, a swimmer, a cyclist, a donor, a patient, a volunteer, a friend – I wanted to take this moment to say thank you. We’re all in this together and we couldn’t do what we do without you.