28 October 2020 at 5:53 pm
As we move towards new ways of working on- and offline, Kate Larsen shares five ways that fundraisers can be allies for inclusion in a competitive, post-COVID fundraising environment.
In the wake of COVID-19, many not-for-profit organisations had to quickly adapt, pivot or completely reimagine their existing programs and fundraising activities to take advantage of new digital and remote initiatives and opportunities. And do so incredibly fast.
Conversations and processes that may have previously taken years (or never got off the ground at all) had to be implemented basically overnight. Organisations that never had work-from-home policies were suddenly working and delivering entirely from home – and communicating entirely with others doing the same thing.
It’s not surprising this led to a lot of reverse-engineering, working-it-out-on-the-job, and many organisations getting things wrong. But in addition to all of the headaches and heartaches it caused, it also made engagement and employment with those organisations more accessible, flexible or even possible for many.
All the excuses that employers used for years for why staff weren’t able to work from home (let alone from a different state or country) were suddenly blown out of the water. As were the reasons why users or audiences couldn’t access their services or activities if physically unable to attend.
In many ways, Australia’s not-for-profit sector has never been more accessible or inclusive. Organisations can reach new and bigger markets. Employees who were once told they couldn’t work from home, now can. And service users, supporters and audiences have more ways to engage than ever before.
The impact on fundraising
Organisations and independent fundraisers have also had to adapt their fundraising approach and activities, both in order to respond with sensitivity to the challenges of fundraising during an international crisis, and to take advantage of new digital and remote-delivery priorities and opportunities. As a result, it’s now rare to find organisations that don’t offer some (if not all) of their services remotely or online.
However, organisations weren’t able to be as strategic about those changes as they perhaps would have liked. So, while their remote and online programs and workplaces may be more accessible than before, that doesn’t mean that they are accessible, flexible or inclusive enough. Or whether those changes will necessarily stay in place once they all return to working and delivering onsite.
A lot rushed online without thinking about sign language interpretation, captioning or audio description, for example. Or without multilingual interpretation, even though programs could achieve national and international reach more easily than ever before. Or without an understanding of digital inequality, or the difficulties regional or remote communities face in terms of bandwidth.
Arguably, the Australian not-for-profit sector was already at its most vulnerable even before this year’s bushfires and the ongoing impact of COVID-19. Organisations have lost or significantly reduced their earned-income potential, are facing higher competition for a fewer available funds, and many stimulus initiatives have been adapted from existing programs instead of increased investment in the sector. A large proportion of our sector’s casual, “gig economy” workforce have also remained ineligible for other forms of government support.
Allies for inclusion
As our organisations and clients move towards a new-new-normal, it’s becoming clear that we don’t want to go back to the way it was before. In many ways, our former work and delivery practices were less flexible, less accessible, less diverse, less productive, and certainly less compatible with other areas of our lives.
So, what role can we as fundraisers play in drawing from the best of this recent experience to shape a more flexible, accessible and inclusive sector for us all?
While we were all rushed into this recent revolution faster and more completely that anyone could have imagined, we now need to take some time to be strategic about what happens next. To do so, we need to be allies for inclusion.
I use the term “ally” here as a verb, not a noun. As a way to describe an approach to fundraising and development that is grounded in an active and ongoing commitment to listening, learning, and acting in response.
Here are five things to think about to help get you started:
1. Put access and inclusion first
Too often, access and inclusion are included as afterthoughts in our funding submissions and project budgets, seen as obligations rather than creative opportunities, or left out entirely.
But if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that access, inclusion, outreach, representation and equity have never been more important.
So, think about budgeting for access and inclusion from the start instead. As well as how to tell the story of how you’ll use that investment to make your funded activities more relevant and representative, more diverse and to reach more people.
2. Go beyond the bare minimum
Don’t forget, if you are an Australian employer or service provider, you already have a legal obligation to make your programs, services and employment opportunities accessible for deaf and disabled people.
So, while you should still think about physical and sensory access, be cautious if including them within your fundraising submissions. Donors or assessments panels may question why you’re not already meeting your obligations in those ways.
And also think about budgeting for: outreach and relationship building work with communities; creative pathways and community-led practice (“nothing about us, without us”); and ensuring adequate representation to reflect the identities and experiences of all of the communities you work with.
Don’t forget, achieving full equity and inclusion isn’t about treating everybody equally, it’s about providing the additional support needed to make everyone equal.
3. Don’t default to the status quo
Just because some of us can start to return to our venues and offices, doesn’t mean we should automatically go back to the way things were before.
As fundraisers, we can help by questioning the status quo, and pushing back against repeating old models and “the way things have always been done”.
We can also make our appeals and applications bolder and more innovative (which has the added bonus of making them more interesting to our prospective donors and funders as well).
So, think about: how to continue to incorporate remote or online delivery into all future programs or services; run dedicated activities remotely or online; or even how to reshape your venue or office to accommodate more staff continuing to work from home into the future.
4. Act on digital inequality
The issue of digital inequality has been brought into sharp relief by COVID-19.
Digital platforms may have made our work more accessible and affordable to many, but that assumes users have the devices and bandwidth to access them, and our teams have the skills and equipment they need to deliver those programs online.
In reality, many people have been sharing devices or fighting for bandwidth with other members of their households. Some may have previously used shared equipment that they can’t access as easily anymore. Some might not be able to afford to increase data plans – particularly now that so many of their income streams have been lost. And more than 2 million Australians aren’t online at all.
So, don’t just think about what new skills or equipment will your teams need to deliver online or hybrid programs. But also, how those skills or equipment could be shared, and how you can address digital inequality for your users and audiences as a result.
5. Pitch the bigger picture
Fundraisers can also be allies through the arguments we make – not just in our funding submissions, but in speaking back to our own organisations and clients about how doing so makes good strategic and financial sense.
This includes articulating the benefits of more accessible and inclusive delivery, such as increasing regional, national and international reach (and more non-traditional markets and audiences in particular), and diversifying income streams as a result. Not to mention allowing organisations to engage staff and board members from a much broader field (including regionally and nationally). And even reducing our overhead costs (if we can shrink, share or sublet those areas that aren’t needed if we deliver our work in different ways).
Given the current complexity and pace of social change, funders and donors are likely to be thinking about these issues more closely than ever before. Poor practice could mean our organisations and clients miss out. But a focus on funding inclusion can help them articulate a point of difference and best practice, at a time when everyone’s fundraising requests have never been more similar.
It can also provide a sense of perspective – by focusing on those communities that have been most affected by the current crisis – and allow our organisations and clients to lead with hope for a better sector, rather than panic about not being able to do what they did before.
This article was originally presented as part of “Defining The New Normal”, the recent virtual global fundraising summit for arts, cultural and heritage from National Arts Fundraising School (UK).