It was great to join the Fundraising Every Day team and some of their clients and partners (many mutual) at their annual fedXpo in Brisbane, to hear about fundraising and charity challenges.

I was joined in the opening panel by Kristy Blake, General Manager – Animal Operations, Fundraising and Communications, RSPCA NSW, Lifeline Australia’s Lisa Cheng, Executive Director, Marketing and Fundraising, and Adam Walsh, Head of Fundraising, Kids Under Cover. Kirsty Graham, fed’s GM of Strategy and Innovation, facilitated the discussion and posed some great questions that elicited some pearls of wisdom from my fellow panellists.

Kirsty started with a biggy – how are all the current economic challenges – interest rate rises, housing shortages, increased costs of pretty much everything (!) – impacting for-purpose organisations?

From the charity perspective, my fellow panellists (from different but very connected sectors), highlighted the common themes: along with cost-of-living increases, running costs have increased substantially; housing shortages affect homelessness and people’s ability to keep and care for their pets is strained, which means animals are being kept at RSPCA for a lot longer. And with those challenges plus others, the strain on mental health services like Lifeline, is compounded.

How are charities managing cost-of-living pressures?

There has been pressure to cut costs of service delivery, and hard decisions have been made. The common themes and takeaways through the discussion, were:

  • Review service strategic priorities and examine what services are having the most impact. Organisations should be asking, what can be done differently?
  • When making the business case to your CEO and Board re: investment in fundraising and other programs and activities, prepare it as you would a case to an external donor. Why should they approve a certain budget requirement? What will happen if they don’t? What will the gap be and the consequences of the budget shortfall?
  • Invest in the strategies you know work. Refer back to benchmarking, use evidence. Bringing in external “experts” to endorse your own expertise.
  • Communicate to individual donors, grant-makers and government, what the risks are if programs cease to exist.
  • Government engagement strategies also require open conversations. Tell them what will happen if a program is de-funded. What will the consequences be? How will you demonstrate the impact of their funding to secure recurrent funding?
  • If a program is at risk of closure, let the donors know and present them with the solution. What help can they provide?
  • If revenue is down, tap into the financial reserves. They are there for a rainy day, and it is raining. If your organisation does not have healthy reserves, now is the time to consider how you build them. And a financial reserves statement or policy should be part of your organisational key messages. It is sound business practice to have reserves, you need to be able to articulate what their purpose is and when and why they are accessed.
  • Donor stewardship is paramount. It always has been and is more important than ever. In times of financial pressure, your donors want to hear how their financial support is helping your mission.
  • Volunteer shortages continue to be a challenge.
  • In some cases, it may be timely to invest in brand relevance of the organisation.
  • Bringing program teams, fundraising teams and marketing teams together is key. Internal division will lead to barriers to success.

(Hint, hint: Check out our blog on building financial reserves here:

How are charities maintaining team culture in challenging times?

A great question wrapped up the panel chat, “what strategies are you putting in place to support your team through the challenges?”

Some great ideas were presented, including:

  • Daily online riddles and puzzles for all staff to solve
  • Regular online team meetings and social gatherings. Chocolate tastings and such events are great for team building when it’s not possible to get teams together, physically
  • Online workplace communications platforms. Workplace by Meta was one example, which is great in enabling service teams to quickly update outcomes and photos of their work, which of course are then accessible by marketing and fundraising teams.
  • Flexible working arrangements, which was also highlighted in this year’s Pro Bono Salary Survey
  • Investing in team learning and development.
  • Has your organisation got an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Seeking counselling support when times are tough gives us coping mechanisms and extra support. If your organisation does not provide this level of wellbeing support, consider accessing yourself.

There’s no doubt charities are facing some tough times with rising costs, housing shortages and soaring interest rates. But fear not, they’ve got some smart strategies up their sleeves, and they are staying resilient. This is a time to review priorities, bolster your internal fundraising case for support, and as always, carefully nurture your donor relationships.

Need support boosting your grants program to weather the economic storm? Strategic Grants can support with end-to-end grants management.

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