Fundraising is in a weird position. Many fundraising efforts have been severely hampered, as they rely on massive events and crowds — both of which will remain banned, in the name of public health, for some time.
The London Marathon, for example, raised over $70m for charity, and it’s been canceled. Most marathons are actually important fundraising efforts, as are most major sporting events in general. In 2018, 25 sports events raised over £150m for charities in the UK alone. Now, all those events have been delayed or canceled.
It’s very unlikely that we will have any marathons in the near future, or triathlons or any type of crowd-gathering event, for that matter, where fundraising can be carried out. Even door to door fundraising has been canceled for the foreseeable future.
It’s hard to say just how long the situation will continue, but since there is no vaccine or approved antiviral treatment, large gatherings — the bread and butter of fundraising — won’t likely be allowed in the next 12-24 months.
“If coronavirus peaks over the next couple of months and then life starts returning to normal towards mid-summer, we will have lost maybe £1m, but in the grand scheme of things we can still carry on doing what we are doing,” says Richard Lee, director of fundraising at Crisis, a national charity for homeless people. “If it lasts into autumn or winter, then we risk really significant impact.”
There’s also the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis: people’s incomes are taking a serious hit, and this might cascade into their willingness to support charities.
Just in the UK, the coronavirus pandemic could lead to £4 billion in lost income across the charity sector, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) warned.
It’s also worth noting that while online fundraising is expected to increase in the following period, it’s hard to believe it can compensate for real-life events. Small-scale events tend to bring the community together, while larger-scale events tend to bring in massive support for charities.
While overall charities are taking a hit in this period, medical research fundraising — and especially, anything related to the coronavirus itself — has seen an impressive surge.
The BBC’s Big Night In raised a whopping £67m during its three-hour telethon on Thursday night, April 23.
Meanwhile, Virgin Money Giving, the not-for-profit fundraising platform, said donations had increased 72% compared to year-to-year data. Revolut, a popular financial app for Europeans, recorded a 59% rise in donations brokered by the app.
Troubled times are handled with creativity
As stated earlier, the 40th London Marathon has had to be canceled due to the pandemic. However, the organizers flexed their creative muscles and thought of something to do instead. In place of the 26-mile race, the nation has been invited to join the 2.6 Challenge.
Participants in the 2.6 Challenge are encouraged to participate in any sporting activity of their choosing, as long as the numbers two and six are featured. For example, cycling 2.6km or doing 26 press-ups. This is also expected to garner attention and funds for charitable causes.
What this all means
These are very uncertain times for charities, but organizers shouldn’t give up. Some donors are going to pull back on giving for the time being. But there will be others who step up to help during a time of extreme need.
Unfortunately, some causes will have to wait as most of the support and donations will be directed towards medical charities aiming to help medical staff and those most vulnerable to the COVID-19 crisis.
In any event, fundraisers shouldn’t despair. The sky won’t fall and the world is not going to end. Our society has gone through many desperate episodes, from world wars to natural calamities. But even during stressful times, even the poorest and most unfortunate had found a place for charitable giving.