COVID-19 brought face-to-face fundraising to a halt in Australia and New Zealand. With F2F fundraisers getting back in the field, Ross Howe has some sound advice.

return of face-to-face fundraisingWhat a year it has been so far. As the impact and consequences of COVID-19 became apparent to the world, many activities we took for granted suddenly stopped – travelling, eating in restaurants, working out in gyms.

Naturally, face-to-face fundraising instantly STOPPED. I remember the day very well, Monday 23 March, when every face-to-face fundraiser across Australia and New Zealand had to abide by the decision taken by charities, the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association (PFRA) and agencies alike to immediately cease all operations. There were no arguments – fundraisers completely understood that we had to be part of the solution to control the spread of COVID-19, but there was many a sad face as fundraisers passionate about representing their cause had to cease campaigning.

Over the following months, many meetings between the PFRA, charities and agencies set in motion plans and strategies for the return of face to face when restrictions lifted. It couldn’t just be an adjustment to pre-pandemic behaviours and methods, it was essential that it be presented in a way that public perception of face-to-face fundraising would be accepted. It was critical that health and hygiene standards meet safety requirements, and that social distancing measures put in place ensured an environment safe for both the public and the fundraisers. New policies had to be written, new trainings had to be designed and conducted, and new rules and consequences for breaking them had to be understood and complied with. Face-to-face fundraising essentially had to re-model itself.

The work of the PFRA in both Australia and New Zealand was critical and cannot be understated. The leadership teams of both organisations completely understood that any level of negative public perception or media scrutiny could easily result in a halt to the re-opening of face-to-face fundraising. Open and transparent communication that provided clear direction to all parties not only set new standards, it provided the confidence to charity decision makers that the re-commencement of F2F fundraising should and would be handled with great sensitivity and a charity’s brand and representation given the highest consideration.

“New policies had to be written, new trainings had to be designed and conducted, and new rules and consequences for breaking them had to be understood and complied with. Face-to-face Fundraising essentially had to re-model itself.”

So, on 18 May in New Zealand and 1 June in Australia, face-to-face fundraising returned, albeit it only in shopping centres and other private sites to begin with. This occurred not just in Australia and New Zealand but around the world, and it has come at a time when the world needs our charities more than ever.

Mats to enable social distancing have been designed and produced, tablets that allow contactless interactions between pledgers and fundraisers have been utilised. COVID-19 hygiene rules are clearly visible on every fundraiser’s tablet to ensure the new standard of representation is understood and adhered to. Fundraisers are equipped with hand sanitiser, tablet disinfectant wipes and, in some cases, face shields. This is the new normal and is likely to be for many years to come.

At Cornucopia we observed that all teams in both countries found the first week back a little shaky. Many had not worked in the field for almost three months, there were strict new rules to abide by and an increased number of quality checks from the PFRA and mystery shoppers. We did note that the fundraisers who worked from home telefundraising fared better adjusting to the new conditions in the first few weeks back in the field than those who did not. We believe this was because those fundraisers had been able to keep inspiring people over the lockdown period.

It is not generally well known or understood that the majority of seasoned face-to-face fundraisers are extremely passionate about their work. They are passionate about the cause they represent and love the difference they are making. I had a laugh recently following a conversation with a residential face-to-face fundraiser who was showing me his knuckles and commented that he hadn’t campaigned for so long that he had lost his callus. He looked forward to the time when it would reappear as a sign of how many doors he’d knocked on, of how many people he had spoken to, of the many who had signed on to the charities he represents. The best fundraisers can find a positive in absolutely anything.

Face-to-face fundraising will always produce mixed emotions in many people. The most important emotion now is trust. No-one should question the need for charities to be fundraising at the moment with the pandemic crisis causing global turmoil, but for face-to-face fundraising to remain a key part of the solution we must ensure consistency of the new normal – focus on hygiene, safety and respect for all.

The keys for charities to ensure F2F fundraising is conducted safely and professionally are:

  1. Plan, plan and then plan some more for the smoothest return possible.
  2. Work closely with your agency and ask the hard questions about their plans, strategies, training, monitoring and communication.
  3. Be prepared for it all to stop or be curtailed again if there’s a spike or further lockdowns, and work with your agency to have a plan for that eventuality.
  4. Accept that this is the new normal but that there is no reason face-to-face fundraising shouldn’t have a place in your fundraising strategy and remain an exceptional source of income.

After considering what was most important to keep F2F viable and ensure its longevity in this new world, we focused our fundraiser training across the following three areas:

  1. Full compliance with CovidSAFE rules – no exceptions!
  2. Protection of vulnerable people – acknowledging that more people will be vulnerable due to the restrictions, job losses, isolation, etc.
  3. Quality over quantity by signing up the right donors – less is more – a term coined by one of our career fundraisers, “What makes a great face-to-face fundraiser is not the people they sign up – it’s the ones they don’t” sums up this philosophy.

Careful planning, agile management and strong leadership will be the order of the day for the foreseeable future as this pandemic is far from over. However, if executed correctly, all stakeholders can benefit from the return of face-to-face fundraising and it can remain a viable and vital part of a charity’s fundraising strategy.

 Ross Howe has been the Managing Director of Cornucopia, a market leader in acquisition fundraising in Australia and NZ, since 2008.

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