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I’ve been in discussions with charities all morning about adapting upcoming appeals in light of the coronavirus. I’m hearing about events cancelled, charity staff moving to work from home, questions about how to process donations if everyone is working remotely.

What nobody is talking about is cancelling direct mail appeals. Which is a good thing even if you don’t raise as much as you normally would.

Why wouldn’t you raise as much as you would during a normal disaster? I’ve always been of the view that if a disaster strikes – whether it be cyclone, earthquake or bushfire – that charities who continue their fundraising appeals will still raise money. And this is borne out by client results. A few may see a drop in income but often that’s attributable to other factors besides the disaster in question. But those who continue fundraising appeals often raise just as much if not more. Those who do extra emergency appeals may see a slight drop in income from their next appeal but the combined income from the extra appeal and the planned appeal is higher overall.

However, the coronavirus has created a situation which has affected the actual capacity of donors to give. When a cyclone occurs overseas, that doesn’t hit our donors’ hip pockets. But with many people losing work and businesses losing contracts, this may well affect your donors’ capacity to support your cause. Several charities have told me they expect a drop in major donor giving because of the decline in the sharemarket affecting their expected income.

So what to do?

  1. Keep communicating with your donors. This is one reason why continuing your direct mail and digital appeals is so important. Even if your donors can’t give right now or can’t give as much, your beneficiaries still have real and pressing needs that don’t go away just because of the coronavirus. In fact, they may be made worse because of the pandemic.
  2. Realise it’s not opportunistic to run emergency appeals related to coronavirus. If you have real needs or even new problems caused by the coronavirus then you should tell your supporters and give them a chance to support you. In fact, you can actually give donors a real and concrete way of making a difference.
  3. Show the people on the frontlines of your work. Especially if you’re working on the frontlines of fighting coronavirus. Show your people out there working and serving the community in this time of fear and uncertainty.
  4. Be sensitive to your donors’ capacity and needs. This is an opportunity to deepen connections with donors and reassure them that you do appreciate their generosity. If they’re in a position where they’re unable to give as much as previously, YOU can be the one that’s understanding and supportive and hence retain them for the future when they are able to give again.

This is a time for all of us in the charity sector to knuckle down. Keep presenting needs and asking for funds to keep your cause at the top of their minds. But be realistic about the impact the coronavirus will have on their capacity to give.

And love your donors – remember to thank them for their generosity during this difficult time.

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