Coronavirus & Public Fundraising: Doing the right thing is not always an easy decision to make

Liam McEntegart, Managing Director (Client Services) REAL Fundraising Ltd, looks at the difficulties in making public fundraising decisions around the coronavirus outbreak, and explains why getting contingencies put in place in advance means the sector should never feel they are torn between financial prosperity and public safety.

As fundraisers, we are conditioned to think we can overcome any circumstance with a strong mindset and this is my observation of how many tried to handle the recent changing landscape. If what we do starts potentially causing more harm than good we need to reflect on what it is that we are doing.

On Monday 16 March the government announced that the UK needed to stop any non-essential contact. As vital as face-to-face fundraising is to any fundraising portfolio the consequences of continuing will never outweigh the importance of protecting society’s most vulnerable and valued key workers. Many agencies and in-house managers around the country were having to make incredibly stressful decisions that they never imagined needing to make. The sort of decisions that few theoretical policy or procedures could adequately prepare them for. REAL’s policy all along was we would prefer to look back and say we made the decision to stop too early than too late and we believe in any future similar scenario the same philosophy should be universally adopted by the industry — with the IoF and Fundraising Regulator making the decision.

With contingencies formed in advance, this should make decisions easier and ensure we are never in a position as a sector where anybody feels they are torn between financial prosperity and public safety.

Communicate, communicate, communicate
Good face-to-face fundraising relies on good communication and during a time of pandemic, this is even more pertinent. From the onset, communicate with your team what you are doing, why you are doing it and how they can play their part. Clear communication to your clients also ensures that they understand the position you have taken and why you have taken it. Engage and be honest with your team.

In difficult times, it’s more important than ever to check in with the people who matter most to you: your employees, customers, colleagues and clients. Ask them for their opinion, seek feedback, ideas and input from all of the team members. It was our employee survey on the 13 March that gave us the insight to stop door to door fundraising due to public concern before the decision on the 16 March to stop all forms of fundraising. Further surveys allowed us to closely support our employees at a time of concern as we knew how they were feeling.

Culture and values win every time
People do not like change, however, if you can deliver change from a place that shows you are doing the right things, for your people and the greater community, then there will be more understanding and sympathy. Having value-based conversations across the organisation even at a time of crisis puts all the small things into perspective. It also means that welfare and wellbeing are always at the centre of each conversation because people are so used to thinking this way. It then becomes easy to do the right things because everyone’s values are aligned. Honesty still is (and always will be) the best policy. By building trust between the newest member of staff right up to the directors you will not only build stronger connections within the business but also get vital insights into how you are managing the crisis internally.

Don’t panic, make sound decisions backed up with reasoning
It is easy to scour every news site for constant updates and reaffirmations about the status of COVID-19. This, however, can start to give you a negative mindest and this mindset can lead to panic. It can make you think that that you need to take immediate action when we do not have a full understanding of the situation presented to us currently. The current status is ever-changing, we have seen a wealth of announcements from the government each day with more rumoured to follow. It is imperative that now you use the time to build data on your business, analyse every metric so that when announcements are clarified you can then make sound decisions. Do not make lots of small decisions trying to right a ship right now when you do not know which way the wind will blow — these will potentially cause you more headaches down the road.

During a time of crisis, our values will be tested, we will be judged on how we act in response to the changing landscape. We are already seeing many UK businesses be lambasted, rightly so for their decisions to put profit before the welfare of their employees and the public. In months gone by, they will be judged on their actions.

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