A Fundraiser’s Response to Brexit

As we face stormy unchartered waters, every profession is trying to assess, “What does this mean for us?”

My belief is that there are two vital approaches to assessing what this means for your fundraising.

  1. Stay Calm and Learn from the Past

What happened to fundraising during and after the economic crisis of 2007/8?  At that time, we faced the collapse of our banking system.  The crisis and following recession was the worst seen since the war.  Things happened which one might have thought were impossible.  It was easy to think that this would be a disaster for fundraising, and that donors would simply cease to give.  But what did we actually see?

What happened to individual giving?  Surely people stopped giving?

We did indeed see a decline in the amount given (11% or £1.3bn in the UK in 2009), but we didn’t see a dramatic decline in the number of people giving (2% in the UK).  Indeed, some people gave more.  Seventy-five per cent of the wealthiest donors did not reduce their giving, and one in four donors increased their giving.

The impact on people’s wealth in times of recession is not evenly spread, and neither is the effect on giving.  What we also see is that the organisations which reported the biggest declines in their income were those that pulled back their fundraising activities.  Key message: do not stop asking or investing in fundraising.

And what about trusts, foundations, and companies?  Surely they gave less?

One might have also expected to see a dramatic fall in trust and foundation giving as investment portfolios were hit hard.  Actually, the picture wasn’t black and white here either. Some found their income decreased (though not by as much as predicted), while others reported an increase. Trusts and foundations held their nerve and continued to give. However, they did increase their scrutiny of organisations and focus on financial stability.  They also looked for more opportunities to collaborate with one another to minimise risk and maximise impact.

But surely there was more competition for trust and foundation grants?  Surely it was harder to be successful?

A pessimistic fundraiser might have thought their grant application was less likely to be successful as the volume of applications would rise.  However, trusts and foundations did not report an increase in applications. They were being more cautious about their grant giving, but they were not inundated with requests.

Similarly, there might have been an expectation that corporate giving would fall away. However, the FTSE 100 companies have doubled their charitable giving between 2007-2011.

So the real impact of the recession on fundraising appears to be less about giving declining and more about asking declining.

  1. Stay Focused on Impact and Sustainability

In challenging times, our strategy and performance must be stronger than ever.  Now is the time to cut activities which are not bringing strong returns and to invest in areas of strength.  Now is the time to focus hard on ensuring all energy in your team is focused on fundraising, donor cultivation, and stewardship. We must not say ‘no’ for donors and potential donors. We must continue to ask.

As the NCVO advise, the charity sector is more important than ever.

The work of the charitable sector is vital to the future of this country.  Now is the time to hone your case for support and tell your story beautifully.  Focus on the impact you have and how important you are for the future.  Expect donors to ask questions, and have a clear story to tell as to your financial sustainability. This was already vital in the post-Etherington fundraising world.

Now is the time to work more closely with your Finance Director.  You must understand the financial implications for your organisation and be ready to tell that story.  If you, as a fundraising leader, don’t have a seat at the top table to discuss these issues, you must push for one now.  If you are not fully informed, then you cannot respond to your donors and adjust your fundraising strategy.

Good governance is now more vital than ever.  Your trustees will be keen to assess the implications of Brexit to your organisation.  Fundraising will be part of this.  This is the perfect opportunity to involve them in your fundraising strategy and invite them to work with you.  Two posts I have written on this topic might help:

6 question trustees should ask their fundraisers

#proudfundraisers partner with their trustees

So stay calm, stay focused, tell your story, and keep asking. These principles will help guide you through these stormy waters.

-Susie Hills, Managing Director

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