Non profits under lockdown
What began as a fundraising disaster – with many non-profits forced to cancel income generating events and close charity shops – turned into a golden opportunity for those with the courage and agility to adapt quickly to the new reality.
People stuck at home with plenty of time on their hands and – initially at least – an almost obsessive interest in what was happening in the world, were keen to do something ... anything ... to help. There can’t be many South Africans who weren’t concerned about the plight of hundreds of thousands of their fellow men going hungry, as wages dried up and the promised government aid failed to materialise quickly enough.
Appeals for donations towards food parcels resulted in an unprecedented outpouring of generosity, even from those whose own future was uncertain. Inevitably food parcel distribution came with its own challenges, including looting of food trucks and angry protests by those who, for one reason or another, were excluded.
I’m not sure who first came up with the concept of SMS food vouchers, but it was a real game changer! People in need could apply to organisations like the Domino Foundation and Siyabonga Africa and within 24 hours, receive a R400/R500 voucher by SMS to spend at grocery stores like Checkers, Usave, Shoprite, Boxer and Pick ‘n Pay.
With one innovative idea, and the technology available via mobile phone, the whole food parcel distribution exercise was completely revolutionalised. Think of the saving in man power. No need for truckloads of food to be delivered to a central point, volunteers and staff to pack the parcels and expose themselves to the risk of infection. No time consuming house to house deliveries – or gathering of recipients in numbers at a distribution point.
Plus, recipients were able to buy what they needed most, and support their local stores, many of which were also struggling to survive under restricted trading conditions.
But community service and feeding schemes weren’t the only fundraising winners. Support for causes completely unrelated to Covid-19 also surged.
One of the organisations with which we work raised over 6.5 times as much this April as they did in April 2019, to help offset the loss of income from their events and charity shop. They achieved this by coming up with innovative ideas to engage with their supporters, keep their organisation top of mind, and develop new and appealing ways for people to continue supporting them. Virtual events, appeals built around the common lockdown experience, moving their charity shop online, and developing innovative lockdown products all contributed to their success.
Another client raised over R130 000 towards a Covdi-19 relief initiave in just two days. However, don't imagine that this was an overnight success. They were able to send the right message, to the right audience, at the right time because they've spent years developing and nurturing an effective fundraising programme.
Speaking of virtual events – who hasn’t heard of the success of the Hillcrest Aids Centre Trust FutureLife Bambalela Marathon? Instead of postponing their race, scheduled to take place on Easter Monday, 13 April, HACT challenged runners to complete the distance over their own ‘garden route’.
The response was phenomenal. Over 720 runners and walkers took part, raising an incredible R125 743 for HACT in the process. Apart from the fun runners who walked or jogged 5km around their gardens or houses, others completed a full marathon’s distance of 42.2km. And let us not forget Dean Wight of Beloved Long Runs, who completed all four distances (42.2km, 5km, 10km & 21.1km) back-to-back on the day. Altogether he ran a mind-boggling 78.3km – 1566 laps around his 50m garden. Dean also personally raised over R8000 for HACT by getting friends and colleagues to sponsor his 4-in-1 challenge.
Because the event was virtual, there were no restrictions on who could enter. A mother and son in Alaska walked 42km in the snow in support of the Bambalela Marathon, while 81 year-old Ursula Stredwick was one of 13 German runners and walkers who showed their support on the day. She completed 5km in her zimmer frame and electric wheelchair.
Adding to the fun were printable race numbers emailed to all participants ahead of the run, and race certificates and e-medals (a customised Facebook profile frame) issued on an honesty basis afterwards.
When I first started out in fundraising all those years ago, Terry Murray used to say, “There is no shortage of funds – just a shortage of good ideas to raise those funds.” I’m sure there are many, many more success stories out there that I’m not aware of. If you developed innovative ways to motivate donors during lockdown, please do share your success with us.