Charities in the time of Covid: A blueprint for action

Guest blog

Charities in the time of Covid: A blueprint for action

28th May 2020

By Tobin Aldrich

The Coronavirus pandemic is hitting all of us hard – and charities are no exception. 

According to the Institute of Fundraising, the sector is expecting a drop in voluntary income of a staggering 48%. And the Government’s bail-out doesn’t come close to replacing that.

But history shows us that even in the depths of a recession, charitable giving might dip – but it does continue. History also shows us that charities that maintained fundraising expenditure in 2008 are the ones that are thriving today. 

Here’s my blueprint for charities operating in the time of Covid, including guiding principles and, believe it or not, fundraising opportunities for far-sighted charities who are willing to adapt. 

Above all, don’t panic! We’ll get through this time together – and hopefully, come out of it even stronger. 

In this bewildering period, it’s time to take a deep breath and take stock. Here are the principles I believe will help get you through this crisis.

Remember your Vision and Mission

Graphic of binoculars They’re not just a slogan – they are what drives you as a charity. Who are your beneficiaries? What are their needs – right now, and in the longer term? All decisions should have this at their heart.

Use your reserves

graphic of a piggy bankCharities are often criticised for holding too much in reserve – so prove why your caution was justified. Don’t use reserves just to survive, but to put the building blocks in place for a healthy organisational future.

Invest in fundraising

Graphic of a hand putting money into a donation boxIt’s tempting to reduce expenditure to weather the storm. But don’t stop fundraising during the Covid crisis – look for new channels and methods. Employ new staff – yes, really! – to bring in new talent and ideas. 

Be flexible and dynamic

Graphic of a desk calendar An adaptable approach helps you apply resources effectively. Have a one-week plan, a 30-day plan and a 90-day plan and adjust them to changing circumstances. When it comes to approaching key donors, timing is everything – next week might look very different from today.


Work on data and hypotheses, not assumptions

Graphic of a data sheetNone of us knows exactly how the pandemic will affect donations. Get all your data together and use that to form hypotheses which you can test and adjust. Don’t let fear drive your decision-making. 


Seizing opportunities

Lightbulb with digital icons around itIt’s true that some big charity money-spinners have been cancelled and charity shops are shut. If these represented significant income streams for you, it’s time for a rethink. Here’s where I think you should be focusing your efforts. 

Go digital

Graphic of a like on social mediaIf there’s one thing the pandemic has shown us, it’s that the future is digital. Even people who’d never previously touched a computer have had to adapt. So you need to sort out your digital strategy – and embed it into your fundraising. 

One innovative way is to tap into the community spirit that the pandemic has boosted. Nowadays, communities are often virtual, and even before the crisis, charities were engaging them through platforms such as Tiltify. Could this work for you?


Look to legacies

Graphic of a contract These will undoubtedly be hit in the short term due to the depletion in estate values. But the pandemic has prompted people to take stock of their lives, and charities report that enquiries for will-writing services have risen dramatically. 


Go to where your audience is

Graphic of a megaphone talking to an audienceEvents are off – so many people are sitting at home. Direct response television campaigns are reportedly doing well, thanks to high audiences and falling media costs. In terms of digital advertising, many corporates are reluctant for their ads to appear next to Covid stories, which frees up space for charities. Early signs are that direct mail campaigns are achieving incredible results too. 

And remember all those face-to-face fundraisers who are currently unemployed? Snap them up for your telephone campaigns.


Link emergency appeals to the crisis

Graphic of a first aid kitA number of charity emergency appeals are doing very well already. They’re the ones that tell people how beneficiaries are affected, and what a difference the charity makes. 


Major giving

Graphic of a gift While some philanthropists will be affected, others are aware of their good fortune and will be making significant, even once-in-a-lifetime gifts. Position your charity to benefit by building new partnerships, as some gifts may be too large for one charity to handle alone.


Don’t despair

The pandemic, lockdown and fears for the future are making us all go somewhat crazy. So it’s time to reach out for support.

Talk to your beneficiaries. Talk to your staff. Above all, talk to your supporters – if you’ve built up loyalty, they’ll reward you now if they possibly can. We’re all in this together. 

Follow your principles, seize those opportunities and remember: this time won’t last forever. But it will shape the charity sector for the next decade or more – and you want to be part of that change.


Tobin Aldrich is a highly experienced international fundraising and non-profit marketing specialist at a regional, national and global level and currently leads AAW’s Global Consulting Practice.

He’s worked with over 70 non-profits organisations internationally to develop and deliver a wide-range of strategic projects.


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