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Coronavirus and charities: What the world needs now is less punditry and more practical ideas

26 March 2020 at 8:19 am
Dan Geaves
Dan Geaves shares some practical advice on how charities can adapt to this challenging new reality.

Dan Geaves | 26 March 2020 at 8:19 am


Coronavirus and charities: What the world needs now is less punditry and more practical ideas
26 March 2020 at 8:19 am

Dan Geaves shares some practical advice on how charities can adapt to this challenging new reality.

I acknowledge that this is an extremely difficult time for Australian charities and not for profits. You have access to a wealth of information about what could happen. So, coming from a provider of solutions, I wanted to share some ideas for what to do. 

Issue 1: As the pandemic takes its hold on Australia, there will be increased uncertainty over consumer confidence, and thus propensity to donate.  

Solution: No one has the right crystal ball to show what will happen to giving levels. So stop looking… instead turn to this article from 2009 by Mal Warwick for Stanford University. In it he discusses what the effect of the GFC was on the US. It shares an important meta message that you may find a useful mantra, “Cut with a scalpel not with an axe.”

Tip: If you don’t really know who Mal Warwick is, then make sure you dedicate some time to identifying who some of the most experienced and trusted fundraising practitioners are globally. At Marlin we have a mantra that “It is OK to stand on the shoulders of giants.” Using other people’s past experiences to enhance your present and future is good practice and Mal Warwick has written books just to help us all do that. 

Issue 2: Your volunteers and staff members are being encouraged or forced to avoid face-to-face contact. 

Solution: Adversity is the mother of creativity. Now is the time to digitise your service delivery operations and processes. If you want to offer support – consider a web application such as Cancer Advisor. Find a digital partner to help you develop a “minimum viable product” during this time of need, and help build the case for why this should become business as usual beyond 2020. 

Issue 3: You want to develop donor-centric communications, so are wondering whether to mention the coronavirus in your upcoming fundraising.

Solution: Yes, mention it in your upcoming activities – tax appeals, community fundraising, you name it. But it needs to be handled without suppressing response. We suggest taking the time to encourage your supporters to feel valued. Remind them of the good that their donations have achieved in the past, and what their gift will do again. Specifically mention that the need of your beneficiaries / your cause, does not diminish because of the coronavirus. 

Issue 4: Your physical community events have been cancelled. 

Solution: Marlin works closely with one furry-friend loving charity for whom this is a very real downer. But they’re not letting that stop them from the important job of fundraising. Our digital team is busily helping them switch their physical event into a virtual one. Don’t hesitate – do it. 

Issue 5:  You’re speculating that corporate giving will fall off, and you may be screwed. 

Solution: Consider whether you are already imagining a break up before you need to. Instead of worrying about your next partner, look at the ones you already have. Identify what their pain points are in this time, and see how you can as a partner – relieve them. For example: Most teams aren’t used to remote working. They won’t realise they need to call, not email. They may not know how to create team bonding experiences over video calls. So – can your charity provide stories, images and resources that would help with that? 

Tip: Remember that in difficult times, your relationships are proof of agency, compassion, and the best of human kindness. Now is a fantastic time to dial up donor care – show partners their impact and your gratitude.

Issue 6: You have a deficit in your regular giving recruits because face-to-face agencies are pulling fundraisers from street and door-to-door campaigns. 

Solution: Sadly, it is improbable that those agencies will be able to “make up” the volume when Coronavirus is calm again. So you will feel a pinch later in the year and every year from now on. OK sorry, that was punditry. We feel your pain. 

We are busily working with one international charity to develop a testing matrix for a new way to attract values-based supporters. Our hope is to use a small budget to test in June, with the intent to drill down to the best performers so that, economical forecasts willing, they can recruit larger volumes in the latter half of 2020. 


About the author: Dan Geaves is the co-owner and creative strategy director at Marlin Communications – Australia’s largest creative agency for charities. Motivated by a desire to do good in the world, Dan has helped lead a strategic revolution in Australian fundraising, championing the role of values in determining effective, cut-through communications for the not-for-profit sector, and introducing new methodologies for creativity and innovation. 

Dan Geaves  |  @ProBonoNews

Dan Geaves is the co-owner and creative strategy director at Marlin Communications.

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