The turbulence of the coronavirus pandemic, and its economic shocks, have thrown social sector organizations all around the world into a time of unprecedented turbulence. For many organizations, the funding outlook for 2020 and beyond is the foremost concern, in terms of the disruption to both field activities and funders’ plans, taking place within the wider economic disruptions the pandemic has caused. In the UK, for example, up to 10% of charities may face bankruptcy by the end of 2020, according to a recent report in The Guardian.
During the past several weeks I’ve been part of several online discussions around fundraising for conservation and African civil society organizations. Here are the three top tips that emerged from those conversations and which we are emphasizing in all our work to support our partners at Maliasili.
1. Look to the future- and its risks
While some conservation organizations have been hard hit by COVID, others aren’t feeling the same pressures right now. However, many international organizations are projecting a 20-30% decline in revenue in 2021 due to global economic conditions, and organizations need to start planning for potential challenges in the years ahead. The upshot is that all organizations need to use a longer planning outlook than they might under normal conditions. Specifically, every organization needs to be thinking about its 2021 budget and revenue outlook right now, and really pressure-testing it in terms of potential risks within the funding portfolio as the year ahead approaches.
Some specific questions to focus on:
- What funding do you have secured for 2021?
- What are the most at-risk funding sources or prospects in your 2021 funding portfolio?
- What are your organization’s top priorities that are essential to achieving your mission next year, and that absolutely must be funded?
- If you have to make cuts in 2021, what cuts can you make that won’t compromise your core mission?
Depending on your organization’s assessment of your risk exposure in your 2021 budget, the main thing you can do today is to cut or delay expenditures. Some cuts are likely inevitable due to field work and operations that won’t happen this year and may result in savings. But other cuts taken today can create ‘insurance’ against the risk of revenue shortfalls in coming months. Of course, no budget cuts can be taken lightly, so the effective response needs to weigh all these risks- with a clear eye to the future.
2. Maintain an ‘opportunity mindset’
The flip side of evaluating future risks as a result of COVID is equally being attuned to opportunities- which one can lose sight of during periods of stress. From the beginning, our outlook has been that organizations that are agile, adaptive, and attuned to new opportunities will be the ones that come out of the pandemic in the best shape possible. And future funding is likely to flow more to those organizations that seize opportunities and respond strategically to the challenges of the present. We’re seeing some of the more agile and perceptive conservation organizations around rethinking their strategies, scanning the field, and working hard to understand the implications of what is happening.
Some of the specific opportunities that the pandemic is creating include:
- Crises can be an opportunity for organizations to come together and forge closer ties during periods of extreme pressure. We’re seeing this with some relationships between funders and grantees, as they develop much closer partnerships and work to respond to the crisis.
- Organizations that are thinking and acting creatively in response to the crisis can create new opportunities for fundraising and distinguish themselves from the rest of the field.
- On the management side, funding pressures create an opportunity to look afresh at one’s programming and expenditures, and think hard about what are the best investments of resources and where there might be opportunities to stop doing certain things that might have been muddling along with mediocre results for a while. This can benefit an organization by bringing added focus and discipline to its work and allocation of resources.
3. Double down on communications
Communications are a critical foundation for all fundraising- from having a clear and simple articulation of an organization’s mission, value-add and core strategy, to presenting impacts and achievements in attractive and compelling packages. This is a great time for all organizations to be reinvesting in their communications, ensuring their work is presented in a clear and compelling way. With a lot of things not happening in the field, in conferences, or in meetings, everyone is spending a lot more time on the internet, reading online articles, and in webinars. Make sure your organization’s brand and profile is presented effectively in those online formats.
It’s also really important that organizations communicate frequently with their funders, especially those that are core funders, many of whom are stepping up to provide flexible and critical support during COVID. These donors don’t just want to know about what’s happening in the field, but they also want to know what’s happening at the organizational level: how are you planning? What resources do you have (or don’t have)? What staffing and management changes are you making? Funders want to know that you’re being thoughtful and adaptive and thinking through these crisis scenarios.
The pandemic brings both risks and opportunities for all organizations. Keeping these three areas in clear focus will help you navigate the crisis as it continues to unfold.
For more fundraising tips, including advice from a recently convened panel of funders, see the links in this recent Maliasili Reader.