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Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice on fundraising

Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, we understand that charities and fundraising organisations will be working in a challenging and changing environment. We know that many organisations will be making complex decisions, not only about their fundraising activity but what that means for future income generation and the important work they do.

As is often the case, there may not always be a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ decision. We therefore encourage fundraising organisations to weigh up the benefits and risks of their ongoing fundraising activities and exercise judgement when deciding what is in the best interests of their beneficiaries, staff, volunteers and the public. 

You should keep up-to-date with official information provided by the government that may affect your fundraising activity and prepare to review or stop your activity at short notice. You should ensure that any fundraising you continue to carry out (or decide to begin as a result of the changing situation) is legal, respectful, open and honest.

We will update this advice as more information on the developing situation emerges. Please share this advice with your fundraising teams and contact us here, if you have any further questions. 

Person-to-person fundraising 

Following the government’s advice on social distancing, the Institute of Fundraising (IoF) and Fundraising Regulator advise all charities to reflect seriously on whether to continue public, house-to-house or private-site fundraising for collections of cash or goods, due to the increased health risk to the population at large, as well as to fundraisers and volunteers. 

  • A thorough risk assessment should be carried out, and any decision to continue public fundraising should be documented and made at the most senior level.   
  • Brief your fundraising team on what you want them to do in the event that their work is halted at short notice. For example, if a location is closed while they are present, they will need to keep cash secure until it can be banked.
  • Check that your fundraising plans remain legal and in line with the fundraising standards. For example, if you have a licence for a lottery draw on a particular date, will the licencing authority allow a postponement?

Direct marketing

You might need to adjust your organisation’s fundraising practices to be able to continue fundraising operations, for example if fundraisers are home working. If you intend to carry out direct marketing by telephone, email, text message or post, you must consider the following: 

  • Remind all fundraisers to keep to the principles set out in Section 1 of the Code of Fundraising Practice. In particular, fundraisers should be mindful that their behaviour is respectful and does not apply undue pressure, as people may be feeling unusually anxious at this time. 
  • Make sure you meet all standards in the Code of Fundraising Practice which relate to processing personal data. These can be found in Section 3. Other relevant sections of the code include:
  • The ICO has released new data protection guidance to help organisations remain compliant with data requirements. Ensure your data protection officers are also up-to-date with this guidance.
  • Observe any communication preferences that the individual has indicated to your organisation directly or via the Fundraising Preference Service.

Fundraising events

You should make decisions to cancel or postpone your event on a case-by-case basis, and factor this advice in to the decisions you make. Decisions will depend on your personal circumstances, for example if your event includes people who are more vulnerable to COVID-19 or if the event involves international travel. 

  • Make sure you have a way of contacting participants, volunteers and spectators to be certain they are aware of any changes to your event. Keep your databases and communications channels up-to-date so that you can contact people, and broadcast more widely, such as through social media, as appropriate.
  • If your event is cancelled you may need to refund donations made to it. Whether or not you need to will depend on the conditions under which the donation was made. For example, if money was donated on the condition that the fundraiser completes a marathon, donors should be asked if they are happy for funds to go to your organisation anyway, or if they want a refund. If there was no condition attached, for example the fundraising was carried out alongside someone’s marathon effort but without a condition of completion, then refunds may not need to be made.
  • If the donations have already reached your charity, you may need permission from either the Charity Commission for England and Wales, Charity Commission for Northern Ireland or OSCR in Scotland, to issue a refund. You can find out more in Section 2.3 of the code.
  • Section 11 (Events) of the code includes a section on event cancellation and contingency plans, including the possibility of refunding donations.
  • If your event is postponed instead of cancelled, you should be clear with participants about the new arrangements. You’ll need to have things in place to work with people who can’t attend the new date, including refunding entry fees or offering alternative event entries as necessary.
  • If your charity receives donations via online fundraising platforms, you should review their terms and conditions to establish what donors were told about refunds at the time of donating and what expectations they have set. You can read JustGiving’s advice here.
  • If events do go ahead, it is essential that you put in measures that meet current government advice for organisations on preventing the spread of the virus. There is further advice from NCVO and the Institute of Fundraising.
  • If you need to cancel overseas events, you’ll need to know where you stand if you have paid up front for trips. Section 11.11 of the code sets out the key considerations, and make sure you keep in touch with the company organising challenge events on your behalf. 
  • You should also review insurance policies you have for your events to make sure that, aside from the appropriate levels of insurance on the day, you have cover in the event of cancellation or postponement.