We’ve been having lots of calls with people since the start of the war in Ukraine as our humanitarian friends and clients formulate their responses to the crisis. With no end in sight to the conflict, there’s no doubt we are looking at a vast humanitarian emergency for a considerable time to come.
Our jobs of course are to help mobilise the resources to fund this. All the evidence is that there is vast outpouring of support from people and organisations all over the world for the people of Ukraine. This can sit uneasily with those of us who are very conscious of the crises that haven’t have this level of attention, many of them, like Yemen and Syria, very much still ongoing. But this is the world we are in and we all know that where media attention goes, so follows the money.
I don’t think we’ve seen this level of public support for a crisis since the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004. And that was a one-off event, while this will continue.
For charities who are focused on humanitarian response, this is likely to be a pivotal moment for their fundraising. There is likely to be a huge influx of new money and new donors in a very short period of time. This creates challenges of its own and the importance of having prepared for crisis response will now be graphically demonstrated. If you haven’t thought through your gift acceptance policy for example you will be having to very rapidly work out how you deal with, say the oil company which made lots of money in Russia that is now very interested in giving you a major donation. For some reason.
And what happens next in terms of how these people are communicated with will dictate whether one-off givers become long-term supporters. It’s very difficult to think longer term in these circumstances when just answering the phone to people offering help is a full time task but this is critical for the long term of the organisation’s fundraising.
But what about everybody else? What does this mean for charities from all cause areas who are seeking to fund their work in this environment? What happens to their fundraising?
We do know a lot from past emergencies. Crises like this one do take money from giving to other causes but the evidence is that most giving is additional. Research on the Tsunami, for instance, showed that about 80% of the funds raised was new money. There are emergencies which are breakthrough moments that engage previous non-donors and attract exceptional gifts from people already giving. Ukraine will almost certainly be one.
There are some key learnings from these past crises for charities:
- Don’t panic. There might be a short-term hit on appeals and activities during the peak of media attention on the crisis but this is unlikely to last long.
- Don’t hide. The worst thing to do is to go away. Keep talking to your supporters about your cause and why it is still relevant.
- If you are relevant to the crisis say so, but don’t raise money for the crisis unless you are credibly involved. Frame your messaging in the context of the crisis where that makes sense but be authentic at all times. Don’t be afraid to signpost to other organisations for those who want to directly help the crisis.
- Be confident in your cause. An emergency doesn’t make what you do irrelevant, it just might take some focus away from your cause. But this is temporary. So if you are an NHS charity, for example, you might not feel as relevant as you did last year in the pandemic. But your cause remans deep to many people’s hearts and they will still support you if asked.
This war was the last thing the world needed and its easy to be demoralised by it. The job of fundraisers is to get on with securing the resources to make the world a better place, even if only by a little bit.
If you work for a charity responding directly to the crisis we are all here to support you. Any help we can give, you know where to come.
If you don’t, give to the DEC appeal or directly to the credible organisations responding on the ground (the Red Cross are as close as it gets) and then keep on talking to, engaging and inspiring people to support your cause. That’s what we do.