Fundraising on the frontline during Covid: Community and Events Fundraising

Our Community and Events Fundraising Manager, Dani, shares her experiences of fundraising on the frontline during the coronavirus outbreak.
Published on: Thursday 11 Jun 2020 at 09:55

St Clare Hospice’s income generation team have the mammoth task of raising over £3million each year to enable us to provide free, specialist palliative care services to all adults in our local community who are affected by a life-limiting illness.

As the coronavirus outbreak hit, the Community and Events Fundraising team had just been about to start their busiest and most lucrative time of year. Their summer programme of events may have been put in to lockdown, but the team are still committed to meeting their target of £200,000 over the next 6 months – and they certainly haven’t been standing still.

The team has been swiftly diversifying their fundraising events and campaigns, as well as taking on new, vital roles to ensure the safety of their clinical colleagues, and to make sure our care services have continued to run for all those who need them. This really is, frontline fundraising.

Q: How have you been doing?

A: I’m not going to lie, this has been a pretty crazy ten weeks! I have been worried, for myself and my family, and my colleagues, but there has been a lot of positivity and great things to have come out of this situation too.

I am five years into my job in community fundraising at St Clare, and you start to think that you know what to expect. Then suddenly a mass pandemic comes along and throws it all up in the air!

Q: What has the impact been on community and events fundraising?

A: When the lockdown was announced, within 12 hours we had 20 events cancelled. Overnight the emails kept coming in and everything was cancelled or postponed. Especially working in community fundraising where we rely on members of the public holding their own fundraising events – we know they had no choice but to cancel, but it meant we felt like we had literally had that blanket of security pulled out from under us.

As a team we are used to managing events, and making changes and adapting – whether it’s because of bad weather, or combatting low sign-ups. But this is something else. When it was announced that the London Marathon had been postponed, that is when the reality really started to sink in. The severity of what we were facing, and that this was something we had no control over – the Government had told us to stop our events, and we didn’t have a choice, for the safety of our participants and supporters, we had to stop.

In April we would have held our 26th annual 10k race. It has run for 25 years and has never been postponed. It was pretty devastating to ask the team to make those phone calls to our supporters and let them know it wouldn’t be taking place until the autumn.

But on the flip side, there has been a lot of excitement in the team as we develop new events. There is always a buzz and a sense of adrenalin when you are working on something new and getting a new project off the ground. And that is what we have been doing the whole time since lockdown – and in actual fact we have seen some real successes in adapting, especially with our virtual events.

You have to try and pull out the positives and look for solutions. These are different times, and it requires a different way of working, and learning as you go.

We had never done virtual coffee mornings, or quizzes or runs before. My role was always about meeting people and encouraging them to organise physical coffee mornings, quizzes and mass participation events! So we have had to adapt, try new ways of working, and see how things go.

Q: How have you had to adapt your role during the coronavirus outbreak?

A: As the outbreak first developed, the severity of the need for PPE (personal protective equipment) for our staff, became apparent. Our normal stocks were not sufficient, and all healthcare providers were finding that supply chains were over-run, so ordering stock was difficult. That’s when our Senior Leadership Team asked that the income generation team got involved and used our connections in the community to see if our supporters could help with donations in kind.

My role is within our communities, and I have all the local contacts, so it became clear that I would have a part to play in managing this direct appeal for equipment. I became the main co-ordinator of the PPE appeal for the hospice, working closely with my colleague from Corporate Partnerships.

The urgency with which we needed to ask our supporters in the community for PPE to keep our nurses safe, really brought home to me the severity of the situation. I knew this was vital to make sure my colleagues and our patients were kept safe – so it felt like a really important task.

Overnight my role transferred from fundraising, to keeping people safe. Normally, I am raising money for our care services – but now I was gathering the direct items to enable us to keep caring.

In those first few days money couldn’t even buy the items we needed – you physically couldn’t order it. The only way we could keep our services going safely, was to appeal for the items we needed. My role felt really different – but the same as well. More than ever, I knew that our supporters were making a difference, and they literally were keeping us going.

Q: What was the response like from the supporters?

A: The response we had from the community was amazing. On the 24th March I posted out on social media – and we had over 260 shares within a day. Then the messages of support and help came flooding in. I had a lot of calls and messages to reply to.

The first few weeks of lockdown I spent day after day, going out and collecting dozens of donations of hand sanitizer, gloves, masks and aprons. It was strange, I would collect the items from in front of a closed front door, or from the end of someone’s drive way. It went against my normal way of acting – as I couldn’t even look our supporters in the eye and thank them.

One day I collected 5 litres of hand sanitizer, and it felt like I was collecting a £10,000 cheque!

I just knew what it meant for our nurses, and that it would keep them safe, and it felt like the most wonderful donation ever. But not being able to thank the person face to face was horrible.

Our supporters were amazing – with some even going out and spending their own money to purchase equipment for us. People were so selfless – literally giving the clothes off their own back. We had donations of aprons and gloves that people needed, but they said that we needed them more, and that they would find some elsewhere for themselves. It was so heart-warming to see – and just shows the regard that people have for St Clare Hospice. Without those generous gifts of safety equipment, we wouldn’t have been able to carry on caring.

Everything that I collected from supporters had thank-you notes attached – thanking St Clare Hospice for the work we are doing caring for people. It felt odd, to receive so much thanks, when they were the ones helping us, who deserved all the thanks!

My experience on the frontline of fundraising during coronavirus gave me a unique way to view this brand-new world we are living in, very quickly.

It felt like I was fighting the virus, alongside my clinical colleagues, by gathering the equipment they needed to fight it face-to-face. It was also a privilege to see how loving and forthcoming the community were – it just shows how much people love St Clare and what we mean to our community.

Q: What have you learnt from fundraising during coronavirus that you will be taking forward?

A: Working in Community and Events fundraising, relationships with supporters is key. I like to keep in regular contact with supporters –  be that a catch up over the phone, or meeting them for a cup of tea – and this pandemic has really thrown that all up in the air.

The routine that I and my team are normally in, vanished overnight and we had to adapt – and adapt quickly.

We would normally be meeting our supporters regularly – at events, whilst giving talks, or at cheque presentations – but with chances to physically meet still on hold, we need to make sure we stay connected to our supporters in other ways. This has been an experience in itself – needless to say I have become very acquainted with Zoom!

The appeal for PPE and gifts in kind, gave people a way to help – a real opportunity to support those caring on the frontline. It was a real and genuine need – our nursing teams were on the frontline and they needed adequate PPE rapidly in order to stay safe.

Supporters wanted to feel that they were helping practically – not ‘just’ giving money – and they got a real sense that they were making a difference because they were giving physical items and they really were making a difference.

Fundraising really isn’t always about raising funds – it is also about growing awareness of our cause and brand awareness. The awareness that came from our PPE appeal, and the reach which our Facebook shares generated, were phenomenal.

Thankfully, we now have our PPE supply chains secured, and regular orders coming in. But going forward there will still be ways people can support us practically, with gifts in kind. It will be important for us to harness this desire to help us with practical, physical donations, so that we can continue to make the most of this support – and help our supporters to give in the way that means the most to them.

It has also shown us that there are new supporters out there – who not only gave to our PPE appeal, but also took part in our virtual events (with supporters from as far afield as Marrakech!) who hadn’t been supporters before.

So, through this pandemic we have discovered new ways of giving, new ways of reaching supporters, and a real silver lining – which is that people stepped up and supported us more fervently than ever.

Going forward, we need to think of ways to continue to harness this desire to help in practical, meaningful and tangible ways – and make sure that we come up with future campaigns and events that really speak to our supporters about the difference they can make, both virtually and, when lockdown rules are lifted face to face.

This experience has also shown me the importance of keeping our relationships with our supporters going – and staying in touch.

And that also means making sure our supporters still feel connected to the cause, when physically, they are further from it than ever – being unable to come to the hospice site. So that means making sure we are sharing the stories, of both our patients and staff, and showing the difference their support makes to the real lives of people who are local to them.

I’ve always known the importance of St Clare but these past months I have really come to also realise the importance of a building – and that building being the Hospice. We have a Memory Tree in the reception area that visitors can no longer see, we have a beautiful pond area that no one can sit around at the moment and we have Percy the Peacock who visits us every year. These are things that play a huge part in people’s lives, they play a part in remembering their loved ones, and sadly they can’t have those experiences at the moment.

I have learnt from fundraising during coronavirus that we are here for our community, and our community is here for us – through the highs and lows, pandemics included.

I have learnt the importance of hospice care now, more than ever, and I have learnt that I am extremely proud to work at St Clare and couldn’t have wished to be amongst a better or more resilient team, and to have been surrounded by a more supportive community.

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