Insight number one: “The value of life has changed”- a new wave of committed donors
The charity fundraising landscape was already experiencing rumblings of change over the past few years – and now COVID-19 has brought things to a head. Fresh research by our team at Just Cause highlights the need for non-profits to think in new ways about fundraising and partnerships. We cannot sit and wait for things to go back to the way they were.
Over the past few months, we’ve been taking stock of what corporate and High Net Worth (HNW) donors in Singapore and Indonesia are thinking and doing. As the world hunkered down on lockdown, over 25 experts in this field generously took time to speak to us on the phone. We talked to charity leaders, policy-makers, CSR managers, private bankers, consultants and philanthropists across Singapore and Indonesia.
We asked all of our interviewees one basic question: what does COVID-19 mean for the future of private philanthropy and non-profit fundraising? Their responses were at times inspirational and at other times truly bleak. Some people said they simply could not predict. But woven through many of the conversations, we could see several silver linings shining through the clouds. This blog post introduces the first of those insights…
“The value of life has changed”: a new wave of committed donors
Non-profit leaders are worrying that the initial outpouring of COVID-19 donations will be short-lived and that corporate giving, for instance, may tail off in the coming months and years. “A lot of money will continue to go to COVID-19 related research etc but this will leave not enough for so-called ‘normal programmes’: so overall we are bracing ourselves for a very difficult period” said one non-profit leader in Singapore.
Some pointed to an increasingly important distinction between one-off donors versus those who are deeply committed to the cause. Non-profits have always tried to lock in long-term supporters for obvious reasons, but now this rare breed may be more important than ever: “Light finger giving will tail off if donors have no sense of ownership or partnership… If you rely on fair-weather giving it’s a storm” said another of our interviewees.
The fundraising outlook does indeed look very tough - but perhaps there is at least one light somewhere before the end of the tunnel. Several of our interviews within High Net Worth circles talked about a new kind of receptiveness out there. “This pandemic is impacting the lives of the elites so they are sensitised in a new way” said one private banker. “In Indonesia and Singapore for socialite ladies it is important to carry an expensive handbag but maybe now people will start to be more simple. For me certainly, the value of life has changed.” said one wealthy interviewee.
We got the sense that a new wave of committed wealthy donors are potentially out there. These are families or individuals who may have given in an ad-hoc way in the past, but who now might be inspired to embrace philanthropy as a more fundamental part of their lives. They may not be billionaires, but they are wealthy enough not to feel threatened by COVID-19’s economic impact. And now they have a renewed sense of just how lucky they are.
But how to reach and connect with this new wave? Any fundraiser will tell you that the key to such relationships is around building a personal connection and trust. In the past, non-profits have relied heavily on the age-old networking format of the gala dinner or the cocktail evening. But COVID-19 has put an end to all that.
The sector needs clever, COVID-19 proof ways to reach out and build trust virtually – and to make it easy and engaging for new wealthy donors to go deep. One interviewee mused about the possibility of a “virtual cocktail evening” where drinks and snacks were simultaneously delivered by courier to participants dialling in from their homes. One organisation that has moved fast is International Justice Mission, which has not only pulled off a successful virtual gala dinner (with cheese and wine delivery), but has also launched a virtual giving circle. The giving circle supports IJM’s work to fight the online sexual exploitation of children in the Philippines. It was established in honour of baby Mateo Blanding, who tragically died earlier this year, this group runs zoom calls every six weeks or so where donors in Singapore can come together with each other and also hear updates directly from frontline workers in the Philippines.
Over the next few months we will continue to investigate this new normal donor engagement challenge here at Just Cause and will hopefully have more to share on this blog in the coming months. If you’ve come across a great example or have thoughts for us on this topic please do get in touch!