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Fundraising After the Tsunami -Your Comments

24 January 2005 at 12:01 pm
Staff Reporter
As the out-pouring of support for the victims of the Tsunami continues concerns about fundraising by domestic charities are reflected in your comments since our last edition.

Staff Reporter | 24 January 2005 at 12:01 pm


Fundraising After the Tsunami -Your Comments
24 January 2005 at 12:01 pm

As the out-pouring of support for the victims of the Tsunami continues concerns about fundraising by domestic charities are reflected in your comments since our last edition. Professional fundraiser John Allen offers his opinion on the future of fundraising.

John Allen is a practising fundraiser with 20 years experience and a national board member of the Fundraising Institute of Australia.

He writes:

I am not a soothsayer or crystal ball gazer but I believe fundraisers around the globe will need to be diligent like never before over the next twelve months. Many Australian charities dealing with national, regional and local issues will be hit by the inevitable drying up of traditional funding sources. These sources will not dry-up forever, but there will be a drought and strategies will have to change and be cleverly thought out to compensate for the huge transference of wealth.

In my capacity as a Professional Fundraiser, I have encountered two identified corporate sources of funds that have advised me that their gifts for 2005 have been allocated to disaster relief. In fact, both stated that they have over-spent their charity budget.

I have to date received eight phone calls from fellow Fundraisers wishing to gain second opinions of what may happen to their smaller agencies in terms of fundraising in the short to medium term. The tone is one of a sense of shock and grave concern for their agencies fundraising fortunes.

But already our own local tragedy has struck in the form of the devastating South Australian bushfires with its tragic loss of life and the loss of livelihoods and the devastation to the environment.

Planned on-going fundraising will always play second-best to immediate natural disasters with their high profile impacts.

Some fundraisers seem to be ecstatic that a whole new pool of first time givers has been unleashed. But common sense and reality will tell us that they are not in the general domain. The names and addresses will be “locked-up” in the databases of the overseas aid agencies and exposed only to their Direct Mail and Telemarketing campaigns for the foreseeable future. Of course some of the “new” donors will not give again at least for a long time. For others, and in time, a trickle effect will happen and they will change their giving habits moving to other areas of interest and sharing their gifts more widely.

The Not-for-Profits that will feel the impact of tsunami support most seriously will be in the areas of welfare (especially youth and aged care), animal welfare, the arts and the environment.

Let’s be honest, there is only so much money to go around and it will take time for funding sources to recover.

The point I am trying to highlight is people will give again, right away, to calls for support (if they are made) to the victims of the South Australian fires. But after each event other good causes will slip down the scale. What will happen to the old folk of the Eyre Peninsula, or its disadvantaged youth, its kindergartens in need of a couple of thousand, or the local landcare group who need some funding? And so on. Naturally, common sense dictates these worth causes will be prioritised downwards … come back and ask me again this time next year.

So, I argue that agencies right across Australia to which supporters traditionally give their money WILL suffer, at least in the short term. I argue that this is the nub of the problem to be faced by smaller agencies and that even a short term hiatus will affect smaller agencies greatly. A six-month donation hiatus could cause years of problems to existing programs and identified projects. A twelve-month hiatus will compound the problem even further.

Realities must be faced, the fundraising landscape has changed forever both for better and for worse. Smaller agencies will have to reassess their fundraising strategies in at least the short to medium term:

– Acquiring new donors will be more difficult than ever and the “new” givers are locked into the overseas aid agencies for the foreseeable future.

– Traditional givers to smaller agencies have probably given to tsunami relief efforts affecting there capacities to support traditional sources for the next six months or longer. And don’t loose sight of how the overseas aid agencies will work hard on the next gift from these sources – the more traditional donors to other agencies. Their marketing will have tremendous pulling power.

– Corporate Australia will fit the same scenario – many have over-extended their generosity and will “close shop” with their giving for the next 12 months. We will also hear a lot more in coming weeks and months about corporate responsibility to share holders versus their social responsibility. Shareholders will undoubtedly want to see rational corporate–social partnerships offering prudent marketing opportunities. But for the time being large sums have been given and a lot of time will be spent in Board rooms and marketing meetings rationalising this giving spree and determining the budget realignment.

Of course there will always be the exceptions to the above, thank God, and they are the ones small agencies must look for and diligently nurture.

I foresee that health agencies will recover the quickest because people will turn back to reflecting on their own health and the health of their loved ones within a relatively short space of time. And for similar reasons so will education.

But the hard gained donors of “lesser” charities, those with harder messages to sell, will feel the “after shock” for a long time to come.

Fundraisers must look for new and innovative opportunities. Maybe this is now the time for similar agencies to consider joint ventures. Co-operative ventures are well received by donors and can be extended to marketing and fundraising campaigns.

The diminishing divide between Professional Fundraising (practiced now by most charitable organisations) and the Philanthropic sector could be further diminished by a “coming together” of ideas and a fresh, new collective approach to fundraising. I call upon Philanthropy Australia and the Fundraising Institute Australia to take the initiative in exploring new ways of philanthropic support and promoting the noble and rewarding act of giving.

Above all, don’t despair and give up. Whether the cause is human suffering, the environment, animal welfare, the arts or education, agency staff must remember that someone or something depends on them to continue working positively on their behalf. I urge Fundraisers to remain confident and positive.

(John Allen is the director of Philanthropy Trust for Nature.)

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