If you had asked any executive director in Canada about risk management 14 months ago, you may have had a conversation about bad investments, hacking, fraud, or perhaps senior staff leaving. Work from home schedules, staff layoffs, PPE, and how to work five different virtual meeting platforms would not have even entered their mind. Charities are struggling with funding, governance, performance, and planning issues in ways that are both new and unprecedented in scope and scale.

Our industry, like so many others, has changed. The charitable sector has been hit especially hard; reduced donations, cancelled fundraising events and an economic decline have decreased revenues while the same factors have increased the need for services that so many charities and non-profits are struggling to provide. Imagine Canada states that one out of every five organizations in the sector has ceased operations and many of those do not believe they can start up again. 

When the government started closing businesses, restricting movements and gatherings, many organizations and experts supporting the non-profit sector immediately mobilized to provide advice, training and guidance. However, the situation changed so rapidly that many ideas became irrelevant as regulations changed, outbreaks occurred in long-term care homes, the WE scandal, and race relations came to a head all around the world. But it is not all bad news.

COVID-19 is the “mother of invention”. This is especially true for organizations that find the need for their services is as great or greater than ever, but their method of delivery has been curtailed by legislation and circumstance. A breakfast program for kids delivered at school was put on hold, so the staff at the charity gave out gift certificates to buy breakfast. The charity’s board and the school had to act quickly and positively to provide the meals in a unique way and had to cooperate differently.

One-off solutions can and should be used during this crisis, but are not substitutes for fundraising that is direct, personal and focuses on the needs of the donor as they relate to the case. Hi-touch (virtually) and personal communication and stewardship practices are critical.

The Resilience Project conducted survey and focus group research during the formative months of the pandemic. A wide variety of issues and ideas were raised.  But the key themes were, that more so than ever before cooperation/collaboration between organizations is necessary and that we need to look at new ways to operate (possibly radically different from the past).  But underlying all of this is that donor and stakeholder stewardship/support, though taking place in a different way, must be carried out with perhaps even more frequency, with sincerity, sensitivity and demonstrate relevance to these people in the fallout realities of the post COVID-19 world.

No matter the medium, sincere communication with stakeholders is important. Talking about why the current case for support is still relevant during the pandemic is also essential but it is critical to remain genuine and not use the pandemic to further the cause if it is not related. Charities are going to need to examine their case for support to future-proof it.  How will their charities look in the new normal, during transition etc.?  How will they fundraise, deliver services and impact, show flexibility, safety and responsibility?  Once there is a new normal, established donors will want to continue to support their favourite causes but will have a new set of questions to ask.

Lee Pigeau
Consultant in philanthropy – BNP GOLDIE Canada