Fundrais­ing in a time of cri­sis: the rise of altruism

We’re delight­ed to share this arti­cle by SOFII trustee Richard Turn­er, who cel­e­brates the intrin­sic human need to do good in hard times.

Written by
Richard Turner
February 23, 2020

Every action has an equal an opposite reaction is a lesson I remember from physics. Amid the overwhelming feeling of despair and helplessness caused by this virus, could there be a human response that brings out the best in all of us?

Clearly societies everywhere are already feeling the impact. And it’s going to cause a huge amount of anxiety, anger, and unfortunately, grief. All very powerful feelings. 

It’s going to be devastating for some businesses and their employees. So perhaps it’s natural to compare this crisis to past recessions. But this isn’t just a financial crisis. 

I’m feeling this in a totally different way, and I bet you are too. Sure, it will hit pockets, and cause stress, but it also makes us feel a bit lost. 

How we feel can override our rational thinking too (just look at the panic buying!).

But here is the potential positive. People will want to feel like doing something good – to help counter how they are currently feeling. As we emerge through this I see the rise of compassion, empathy and altruism.

Compassion is spreading

As Beth Kanter observed on this week’s Motivate Monday, a start of the week online seminar hosted by the wonderful Pamela Grow, ‘Compassion is spreading as fast as the virus’, to which Pam added ‘Everyone is looking for a reason to care – so, don’t stop fundraising’.

Both Beth and Pam went on to share how they were listening to classical music because of how it made them feel. I find I’m doing the same!

Pam puts it beautifully:

It might be from giving a small amount, a token fundraiser, or gesture, but there will be more people wanting the feeling you get from doing good.

As Simon Scriver’s addictive stream of shared consciousness on Twitter said this week:

He’s right.

Of course, there is going to be a growing need due to the consequence of the virus. And it won’t just be charities fundraising, but organisations of all sorts including for profits under threat – but that’s not the point I’m making.

I believe more people than ever before will want to do something good. This is the time for fundraisers everywhere to show the added value they bring.

Harness the desire to do good

So, here is what I would do in anticipation of the growth of people wanting to do good (and if I am wrong these are also the actions that will help shore up your income).

1. Get on the phone. Start by speaking to supporters who were in the midst of organising fundraisers for you. How are they managing? Speak to anyone who has just given a donation. Call up long standing past donors who have given over many years. You have never had a better reason. It doesn’t need to be a labelled as a “thank-a-thon”. Make existing supporters feel good. They’ve earned it.  

And since we are being led by scientists, here is the science. By reaching out, and giving gratitude you’ll be giving them a dose of much needed serotonin, which reduces anxiety, and dopamine, known as the feel-good neurotransmitter, which makes them, well, feel good! It will make you feel good too.

Get everyone calling. Not just the person or team responsible for donor care. This could be a great chance to help embed a culture of valuing your supporters across your organisation. Priceless.

Better still make it a habit of calling donors which you carry on after this is over. I’m told a habit is when you do something 21 times. Commit to calling a different donor every day for a month. It will become the highlight of your day (and theirs).

2. Communicate the new bigger problem you will have to deal with. Arts organisations have to deal with the consequence of cancelling events and reduced revenues. Organisations dealing in critical research may have it delayed. There will be increasing mental health issues. Organisations involved in overseas development will be dealing with consequences of extremely fragile health systems. 

People will want to help solve a problem. So, communicate the problem clearly. No doubt many organisations will still be figuring out what they will do. As well as surviving the coming months, people will also understand the importance of getting prepared as we come out of this (after all preparation is exactly what the world is going to have to invest in going forward). By sharing your concerns about the people (or animals) you serve you’ll be giving people an opportunity to express altruism and gain that feeling they desire. 

Communicate the problem they can help begin to solve. It also gives you something to talk about when you call those supporters.

3. Give your supporters an opportunity to give. Having talked about the problem you must give your supporters the opportunity to give, This is one of the many takeouts from the Corona virus special podcast discussion recorded recently between seasoned fundraisers, Giles Pegram CBE and Mark Phillips. They make the point that although the financial impact will have a negative impact on millions – a vast majority will still be able, and more than willing, to give. Your charity is the “vehicle” to make that happen. Giles points out this doesn’t just apply to organisations dealing with the direct consequences. If you can articulate how the virus impacts on those you serve (and let’s face it, just about every organisation will be affected) then your supporters will want to help those they care so much about.

4. Rememberwhat donors are buying will be that feeling of doing good.

The pitfall is you think that what a donation is buying is just about saying your £x could pay for the cost of some item. That’s very rational and right now we are all feeling a bit emotional. Go beyond that – think of the impact it has.

I also urge you to rethink what a donation is worth in terms of a giving back a great feeling, not just what it ‘could’ buy for your organisation. Connect their support to your greater purpose – your WHY – as this is nearly always emotional. Ask what can you give back, in how they feel, that makes their gift to you of value to them. Make them feel good for their act of altruism. So good they will want to come back for more and tell others.

To get across what I mean I’ll borrow a sentiment I chanced across this week by fundraising advisor, Richard Perry:

5. Finally, one additional action for you personally, do an altruistic act every day. Help a neighbour, give to a food bank when you shop, donate to a charity. Perhaps, as some of us are finding from listening to classical music, you’ll benefit in some intangible way that makes you feel better. You’ll get a sense of what others can feel.

Stretching the philanthropic muscle

As a result of this crisis we will have a greater appreciation of our world, the air we breathe, and the community we live in. People will care more for each other, their neighbours, and even strangers.

I believe we will see the rise of altruism – not just because of the acute need as a result of the corona virus 19 crisis – but because people will need to exercise it for their own well-being.

Mark Phillips concludes his podcast interview with Giles Pegram by stating, “once the philanthropic muscle gets stretched it gets stronger”. So “it’s our job to harness this”, adds Giles.

Fundraisers of the world, we have a job to do. We need to step up and be great at what we do to leverage the coming wave of compassion, empathy and altruism, that will make this world a better place tomorrow.

Keep on fundraising and stay safe.

About the author: Richard Turner

Richard Turner

Richard Turner was chief fundraiser at Solar Aid from 2011 to 2016 and is senior consultant for Alan Clayton Associates. 

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