Conversations is a new series created by Offord Group. In this post we highlight one of our own, Offord Group founder Nicholas Offord. As the former President of Mount Sinai Hospital Foundation, where he guided fundraising during and after SARS, he brings a wealth of experience and insight into current fundraising challenges.
Nicholas Offord, Senior Vice President, Marts & Lundy International, Senior Consultant and Principal, Offord Group
Tell us about the fundraising trends you are seeing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic from the hospital foundations you counsel.
We are seeing a variety of responses – everything from digital campaigns to major gift initiatives.
There are overwhelming concerns among Canadians for people whose jobs put them at risk of contracting COVID-19. This concern for front-line workers has been a tremendous reason for community hospitals to re-engage with the broader public about the importance of philanthropy.
Many people understand that hospitals have limited resources and are not able to easily withstand a major outbreak like this pandemic. Recognizing this need is driving a lot of donor behaviour. The emergency response fundraising has been excellent, especially for hospitals, and I think we will continue to see this through the next few months.
This is the time to re-engage with existing donors and to remind people that when things get bad, you want a strong, vibrant, and resilient local hospital. And it is donors who fuel that impact.
Now is a good time to do the things that organizations often don’t have time to do, such as:
- clean up the database;
- conduct more prospect research;
- go deeper on the understanding of your constituency;
- develop a more robust communications strategy with your community;
- build better relations with physicians and other health care staff who can support the work of the foundation;
- review your events business strategy;
- strengthen your planned giving program;
- strategize to build a pipeline that will serve your interests when there are loosening of restrictions; and
- prepare for a fall market that will be open-minded to a new ask given what’s happened.
Tell us about your experience with crisis fundraising. What did you learn from those experiences that we can apply now?
I was CEO at Mount Sinai Foundation during the SARS crisis in 2003 and this experience informed how Canada is responding to this crisis. We’ve also learned from our Offord Group clients who have been engaged in crisis fundraising. What we’ve learned is:
Canadians are among the first and fastest to respond with personal donations during a crisis. They understand that the government cannot respond to every request and struggles to move quickly during major disruptions, so they want to step up. Urgency is a core driving force for philanthropy.
Typically, following a crisis, there is an interest curve that is 4 to 6 weeks in length. This arc starts with early donations that happen fast and build up quickly. This is followed by a slower plateau, and then a decline in support once the worst of the crisis is over.
I’m encouraging our hospital foundation clients to start thinking about how they are going to demonstrate the effective use of early donations and to demonstrate the need to maintain a robust and sustainable hospital. It’s a balancing act between urgency and authenticity.
What should charities be doing now for when the market does come back?
Given the uncertainty of the future, charities should not expect to return to business as usual. This will depend on the unique circumstances of every situation. Some of the things to consider are:
1. Economic impact
There is a close co-relation between philanthropy and stock markets. It’s vital that donors feel financially secure and that they believe they have the capacity to make commitments. People’s perception of wealth is more important than the reality. Many Canadians have more than they will need to live out their lives, but psychological security is vital in their decision to make a philanthropic contribution.
Having said that, we should recognize that economic recovery might be a lot slower than we think. In the 2008 financial crisis, it took about two years for total recovery for the philanthropic marketplace.
First, many big donors will be focused on contributing to the humanitarian response and immediate health care needs. Second, donors will also be concerned about ensuring they can meet the ongoing commitments they have made to charities. Third, donors will start talking about making new commitments. The major gift marketplace may be more challenging for the next six to twelve months as it depends on the confidence people have on the economy returning to normal.
We started 2020 predicting that giving in the health sector would increase by 7 per cent and it’s likely to be close, given donations received in March and April. However, overall, we will likely see some flattening of philanthropy for the rest of the year. It’s hard to predict how much that will be.
I am pessimistic about the ability to have an event before the end of 2020. I don’t think there will be enough herd immunity or vaccines to effectively allow for large crowds to gather. Hospital foundations should be thinking about migrating to smaller events, digital formats or foregoing events altogether.
Everything should be strategically based on how the situation is evolving in your own community. It is important for institutions to be authentic in communicating with their constituencies. It should not be over-produced or over-contrived.
Technology has allowed us to have a dialogue with our community in ways we never expected. This should be managed carefully to develop a two-sided conversation with your community, rather than always pushing communication from your organization.
There is genuine caring that goes on within the hospital and people want to support this, which is an opportunity to expand the existing base of supporters.
4. Public Relations
Organizations that are having their foundations take a public leadership role are the ones that are responding best. The organizations that rely on the President of the hospital to lead marketing are frustrated because that person is completely absorbed with managing the day-to-day crisis, so they have a hard time focusing on fundraising and community engagement.
The under-investment in public relations at some hospitals has exposed big gaps in how they communicate. The foundations that are filling that gap are very smart and appropriate – providing they maintain a close, collaborative working relationship with the hospital team. It’s important to have a health care conversation, not just a fundraising conversation.
This is a tremendous time to renew and rebuild the idea that the hospital is the heart and soul of the community. This will lay the groundwork for future fundraising.