Finding creative philanthropic solutions in a pandemic-ravaged world
22 November 2021 at 3:54 pm
Fundraising during the pandemic has required new and more innovative methods than ever before. Here, the CEO of State Schools Relief, Sue Karzis, explains how she got creative and succeeded in raising money for thousands of disadvantaged school kids.
In the context of COVID-19, procuring philanthropic funding was particularly challenging for NFPs.
Foundations and philanthropic organisations have been inundated with requests for support in the wake of falling donations. NFPs have also been dealt a blow with traditional events and fundraising strategies on the backburner, meaning revenue has decreased. It’s much easier to turn away from a computer screen with online events than it is to walk away from a physical raffle or auction. In addition to this, grants are often tied to finite projects rather than ongoing support.
Most NFPs rely on a mix of funding models to achieve their strategic aims. These can often include government and philanthropic grants, corporate funding and fundraising via events or fundraising platforms.
While we may be finding our way over the COVID hurdle, potentially emerging from lockdown safe and sound, challenges for NFPs aren’t going anywhere. In fact, many NFPs expect that funding will continue to be a challenge due to high competition to access whatever funding is actually available.
At State Schools’ Relief (SSR), we rely heavily on in-school fundraisers, such as gold coin donation days and other school events to help us raise much needed funds. Not surprisingly, this form of fundraising has decreased markedly over the past two years. So, we’ve had to devise new and more innovative ways of raising funds to help support thousands of students.
As a CEO, risk mitigation is at the core of every decision and strategic plan. Diversifying revenue was an important strategic imperative for our organisation. Not only is it crucial to building long-term sustainability, but it presents opportunities for harnessing creativity and innovation. And there are ways each and every NFP can increase revenue, even in light of obstacles being thrown their way.
Start with small goals
For SSR, we needed to analyse our current revenue streams and consider the consequences of those streams drying up. It was evident that without the current level of funding received via government and other grants, the assistance that had been provided to more than 70,000 students in the previous financial year could not be sustained.
However, developing additional revenue streams doesn’t just happen overnight. We had to start with small and achievable goals which aligned with our vision and core values, and then develop a plan. We had to ask ourselves what were appropriate additional revenue streams, the pros and cons of each idea, the cost implications and whether there would be any staffing ramifications.
We also, of course, had to ensure that the strategy aligned with our goals and was consistent with our operating model. We also needed to make sure it was simple and didn’t involve costly outlays or require additional space or staffing.
What was our solution? Retailing uniforms and shoes.
It may sound straightforward but it was challenging in many ways. But, for an organisation that has built its reputation on interactions with Victorian state schools, it made a lot of sense.
As an NFP, it can be fraught with risk to undertake business activity which is inconsistent with the vision and mission of an organisation. For SSR, we were sticking with activities which were familiar and part of the fabric of our NFP. And we started small.
Our first goal was to retail our school shoes online and via a small number of retail outlets. This meant a lot of work in the background to prepare for online sales, ensuring we had the processes to support this. Once we achieved this initial milestone, we then branched out to uniforms.
Over the past three years, we have steadily increased the number of schools to which we supply uniforms, and along the way we have honed our processes and built up knowledge and acumen in this area.
We have also explored new niche markets and have recently branched out into workwear for VCAL students. As an added bonus, other businesses support our work by purchasing their workwear through SSR. Parents who purchase our ‘shoes with a purpose’ also do so knowing that their purchase is funding another pair of shoes for a student in need.
So, what does success look like?
For SSR, our social enterprise has grown steadily and has presented an opportunity for diversification in community connections, increased brand profile and sustainability for the future, by continuing to grow and diversify this new income stream.
Most importantly, it is a strategic direction which aligns with our goals and values, and allows us to do more of what we do – help those in need.