Safe and responsible fundraising for the future: lessons from the coronavirus pandemic

By Charlotte Urwin, Head of Policy at the Fundraising Regulator

During the past two years, fundraising organisations across the UK had to pause or cancel in-person fundraising, and get to grips with new online platforms to fundraise virtually, as they responded to the pandemic. Many organisations are now fundraising and working differently. In many cases, they have done so with diligence and with the safety of their staff, volunteers, and supporters at the forefront of their decision making as they fundraise in line with the Code of Fundraising Practice.

The need for formal pandemic guidance has ceased

The Fundraising Regulator and Chartered Institute of Fundraising provided joint guidance throughout the pandemic to help fundraising organisations navigate the way forward. It provided a framework for decision making as organisations returned to public fundraising in a safe and responsible way. We have removed the guidance from our website, as legal restrictions have lifted in all four UK nations, and we move beyond the pandemic. 

Nevertheless, the virus is still present this winter. So as you look ahead to your future fundraising activity, it is vital that organisations continue to fundraise in a safe and responsible way. We want to make sure that you remain supported, so I’ve shared some of the lessons we have learnt from the pandemic, reflecting on conversations with fundraisers, enquiries we’ve received and complaints from the public. 

Effective risk assessment is so important

The pandemic showed the importance of effective risk assessment before carrying out fundraising activity. The scope of the risk assessment will vary depending on the activity. But members of the governing body must take reasonable steps to assess and manage any risks fundraising poses to their charitable institution’s activities, beneficiaries, property, work and reputation. Risk assessments are essential so that you can identify risks and respond, where appropriate. 

Plan for changing circumstances

Many organisations found truth in the phrase ‘by failing to plan, you are preparing to fail’, as they had to switch between in-person and online events, or pause activities, in response to the changing circumstances. Planning not just how you will deliver your activities, but what you will do if things need to change, means that organisations can be confident their fundraising can still take place in times of uncertainty. 

Anticipate varied public responses

There was no one ‘public mood’ throughout the pandemic. Anecdotally, we know that lots of people engaged with online fundraising events. But the sample charity data from our recent Annual Complaints Report presents a mixed picture in terms of the activity carried out and public engagement with different fundraising methods. It’s important to provide appropriate training to fundraisers on new approaches, so that they are ready to explain honestly, openly and respectfully about why and how they are fundraising if asked. If you work with a fundraising agency or partner, talk to them about their approach and agree appropriate measures for monitoring and compliance before activities start. 

Listen to and respond to feedback

Finally, the pandemic showed the value of considering, evaluating and reviewing fundraising decisions. This included listening to and consulting with fundraising teams and partners, to make sure that they had all they needed and to respond to their feedback. Organisations must make sure that there is proper management and oversight of decision making, with appropriate documentation. Trustees are crucial in making sure there is proper oversight of fundraising decisions as they have ultimate responsibility for charities’ fundraising. So, deciding on the right level of board involvement and agreeing a process for signing off plans at an appropriate level is key.

We know that the sector faces more uncertainty in the coming months. I believe that the lessons identified above are helpful and provide reassurance for fundraising organisations across the UK. We look forward to seeing innovative and creative fundraising campaigns continuing to be carried out safely and responsibly in the years ahead.