The news that the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) have launched an appeal for the Ebola crisis in West Africa is probably causing quite a bit of mixed feelings for fundraisers in the UK. Of course we all support our colleagues in the DEC in their efforts to raise as much money as possible to help people in the countries devastated by this horrifying disease (and we’re no doubt all giving ourselves). But we’re also quite worried about our own appeals hitting at this time given that this is our peak fundraising period. Sightsavers, of course, have just launched our biggest ever appeal so the timing isn’t exactly perfect for us.
Whether the DEC appeal being launched at the same time will impact on our fundraising is something we’ll find out over the next few weeks. If we do have disappointing results for our own activities, then there will definitely be a tendency to point to the impact of the Ebola appeal.
My guess though is that the DEC appeal will not unduly impact other fundraising, even for other international causes like Sightsavers. I absolutely don’t believe that fundraising is a zero sum game, where a gift for one charity results in another missing out. It would be pretty depressing if that was the case, wouldn’t it? I’ve never seen my role as being taking money off other causes to fund mine. And I don’t think it works like that.
At the margins, sure this business is competitive. A grant making trust or a company might have a fixed sum of money to distribute. You need to pitch your cause against others. And that’s fine. May the best project win.
But I don’t think individuals make their decisions to give to charities like that. Most donors don’t have a fixed charitable budget. Giving is an emotional and often spontaneous process. So the stronger and the more pressing the need and the more and better fundraising we all do, the more people are likely to give in total.
Past evidence tends to support this view. I remember quite a number of anxious conversations in charities over the years about the impact of a particular high profile appeal, a disaster or an event like Comic Relief on their fundraising. With the possible exception of the 2005 Tsunami, which did I think have some short-term impact on other charitable giving, these fears usually prove unfounded.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t wish our biggest donor appeal of the year hadn’t hit at precisely the same time a major DEC appeal was launched. But it should still be fine.