The coronavirus hit Europe just a few weeks ago, changing the way of life for each of us and the organisations we work with. Fundraising Europe looks at the impact on charities and what lessons the European fundraising sector can learn from the crisis.
In just a matter of weeks, COVID-19 has transformed the charity sector across Europe leaving non-profits facing a critical funding crisis, with income shortfalls for the coming months likely to exceed several billion euros.
With fundraisers and volunteers homebound, restrictions on any face-to-face contact, and the population living in fear of losing loved ones and livelihoods, the European fundraising environment has never been more challenging.
And yet, times of adversity often bring out the best of humanity, connecting charities and the giving public with a common goal; to pull through a deeply challenging time and to support each other in doing so.
In the same way that the climate crisis requires action from us all, the coronavirus unites us in our fight against the virus and in support of our communities. The most notable difference being that there is far greater recognition of the urgency of responding to the current crisis, with death rates continuing to climb daily, businesses, charities and entire industries at risk of collapse.
Impact on charity fundraising
Across the continent, Governments have imposed limits on the public’s movements and social contact to halt the spread of the virus, with the large majority of Europeans now living in lockdown or under strict social distancing restrictions. This has meant little or no public fundraising activity, face-to-face markets being shut down for the time-being, and cancellation of major charity events like the Dutch Alpe d’Huzes, with the London Marathon postponed to October. Add to that the limitations on what charity staff and third parties can deliver while working from home, the public’s nervousness about spending when jobs are on the line and it’s no surprise that many charities and NGOs are struggling to survive.
Charities are reporting a sharp fall in voluntary income, and that they are unable to deliver services, with many organisations under threat of closure. A recent survey revealed that UK charities are anticipating income losses equating to almost €5 billion over a 12-week period, with concerns raised that this is only a conservative estimate.
Fundraising organisations have been quick to adapt, turning to digital channels for a range of working needs, video conferencing, delivering charitable services and, not least, for delivering fundraising itself. Medical and healthcare charities with a role to play in protecting the public from the coronavirus are among many that have launched emergency campaigns in an attempt to plug the funding gap.
Although there is an urgent need for donations, fundraisers recognise the challenge of reaching out to supporters at what may be a particularly difficult or sensitive time. And yet, the public have an innate desire to help, quick to respond to social need, to donate and to launch their own crowdfunding appeals for hospital equipment, gowns, masks and more.
While this is undoubtedly one of the most challenging times for charity fundraising, the global pandemic has clearly inspired a strong sense of community spirit and drive to help others. Italians were recorded singing together from their balconies, neighbours across the continent are buying food and supplies for one another, while celebrities and philanthropists are pledging significant donations to help those impacted by the virus.
Within the sector too, fundraising associations and sector bodies across Europe are lobbying national governments to highlight the need to provide urgent support for charities and are publishing a range of resources to support fundraisers (see Useful resources).
Perspectives from Italy and Spain
New research released today reveals that more than half of Italians have donated (or are intending to donate) to charities and other initiatives linked to the coronavirus. In a blog for 101 Fundraising, Simona Biancu, founder and partner of ENGAGEDin shares her observations of fundraising in Italy during COVID-19, recognising that the crisis has brought people closer together. She highlights the power of the ‘non-professional’ with their ‘disarmingly simple’ and emotive crowdfunding campaigns, which have inspired so many to give.
Considering what professional fundraisers can learn from these campaigns, she emphasises the importance of keeping it simple, engaging supporters with a message that ‘speaks to the heart’. But she also addresses the importance of being flexible and adapting to the changing environment, saying that it would be ‘unthinkable’ to keep fundraising strategies the same as they were before the virus took hold.
“Coronavirus has an impact on everyone,” she says. But it’s down to fundraisers to be the storytellers, explaining what the impact is on beneficiaries: “For example, disabled people who attend day centres not being able to deal with educators and classmates; or what it means for communities that host children taken from families for violence and abuse that cannot attend school, cannot go out and live a “closed” situation to be “handled with care” by the caregivers.”
Ricard Valls, CEO of Zohar Consultoria & Marketing Social in Spain echoes this sentiment, saying: “Whatever type of organisation you are and whatever your mission is, tell donors how the coronavirus affects the people you serve, your audiences, inform them about what you are doing and clearly explain what your urgent and specific needs are.”
He reminds us all that this is the time to talk and write to donors, asking how they are and showing that you care about them – not just their money. He also stresses the importance of taking care of your suppliers, some of which are likely to have a very hard time.
But if there is one message that jumps out from Ricard’s top 20 reflections, it’s the opportunity of forming alliances, whether that is in conjunction with other local organisations to maximise impact or with those working on health, education or social issues, where your charity can contribute to help those impacted by COVID-19. After all, this is a cause that impacts us all.
Long-term change for good
While charities are having to change their entire approach to fundraising during the height of the coronavirus, EFA’s president and leader of the Slovak Fundraising Centre, Eduard Marček, challenges the sector to use this opportunity to review our approach, saying:
“In these uneasy times, which have so rapidly and drastically impacted our lives, work and the organisations we support, it is time to think again; to redesign and reflect.
“In this new world, we are encouraged to redefine our work, reorganise our teams and organisations so that they we can continue to achieve our mission and provide services to those in need.”
He emphasises the need for exceptional supporter care, adding: “Most importantly, we should be looking to redesign our relationships with supporters at a time when they may be feeling unsure and concerned about what the future might bring.”
What will this mean for charitable giving and fundraising over the long-term? Already the virus has carved a huge dent in the sector’s finances and ability to deliver services, and it will take time to recover. Will the damage leave the sector reeling or could this renewed sense of community spirit and generosity inspire greater solidarity in the years to come, strengthening the culture of philanthropy?
Marček concludes: “While this is almost certainly the biggest collective challenge of our lifetime, we are in this together. We have an opportunity not only to review what we do, but to unite, support one another and demonstrate the critical role of non-profits in society.”
Read Eduard’s full message via our Linked In page.
EFA will be sharing useful resources for fundraisers during the virus outbreak online. If you have tips to share that could be useful for your peers, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or via our social channels.
How to fundraise during a pandemic – Alex Blake, KEDA Consulting
French Facebook Group (Fundraisers facing Coronavirus) – Association Française des Fundraisers
20 reflections on fundraising during the coronavirus – Asociación Española de Fundraising
A wellbeing guide for charity communications professionals – Charity Comms (UK)
Coronavirus charity toolkit – How to respond to the immediate threat – Charity Excellence Framework
Donor engagement – Strategies, template resources & more – Donor Perfect
Coronavirus digital fundraising guidance & blog series – Institute of Fundraising
Love for fundraisers in a time for coronavirus – UK Fundraising
Chronicles from Italy during COVID-19 – 101 Fundraising
Support for charities:
Stay United – Non-profit IT specialist Procurios is offering associations and foundations in the Netherlands a free community platform, including their own app, to virtually continue their activities during the corona crisis at a minimum level.
Emergency Affiliate Membership for Cross-Border Giving – Chapel & York is offering charities a free emergency membership in one or more of the group’s Foundations around the world, giving charities the opportunity to access international funding and secure tax benefits for donors. Grants are also available to member organisations every other week.