Reflections on Covid-19: Impact on Face-to-Face Fundraising and Channel Recovery in North America


Where were you?

March 6, 2020. I was excited to be taking a trip. I was headed to Phoenix, Arizona, to meet up with a group of friends for a week of travel and fun leading up to a wedding the on the 14th. On the 9th, I was relaxing in New Mexico after a secluded weekend just outside Santa Fe and was without access to (or the desire to use) Wi-Fi when I thought I would check my email. When I opened that message from Ashley Bloom on March 9th suggesting we schedule a call to connect the channel to discuss the pandemic and the impact on F2F acquisition, I had not seen the news for five days and did not realize what had transpired.

I can only assume I went through the same range of emotions that most people had on first realizing the impact of the pandemic – first, shock, then a sense of purpose that we would need to work together. Like most of the people in our channel, I had one thought: "What does this mean for F2F?" After our first call and having the benefit of traveling with a nurse and two doctors, I soon realized that this meeting would be the first of many and the leadership of PFFA Board of Directors and strength of the PFFA’s membership was soon to be tested.  



It seemed unfathomable that in a week, we would be recommending a complete halt to F2F fundraising activities in the United States. It felt even more out of the realm of possibilities that this decision, like many we would all have to make in the coming months, would have lasting effects on the entire channel, sector, our communities and our families well into 2021. If you would have suggested such a thing during our first channel-wide Covid-19 discussion on March 10, 2020, I'm not sure any of us would have seen it coming.

At this time, the PFFA had no staff, and we were running all programs through volunteer efforts and our consultant, Paul Tavatgis. I wondered how we might navigate this challenge effectively and if we could provide the leadership needed by our members and the channel. We knew that the PFFA needed to react quickly to support the sector. We convened the Board and within the week, the decision was made to issue strong advice to cease all F2F activities in the U.S. This recommendation was issued by the PFFA on March 14, and I do not believe any of us knew then we wouldn't acquire a single donor through F2F in the U.S. for another two months. For many organizations, it would be five months or more.

 


Once this announcement was made, the PFFA began to work on a plan to facilitate communication and information sharing, support effective diversification pivots for F2F teams and develop guidance for market re-entry. This sounds like a great plan in hindsight, but at the time, all I could wonder was if it would be enough. Which teams would survive? How many fundraisers would be in dire financial circumstances? 

  

Facilitating Communication and Information Sharing

The PFFA Board felt that facilitating communication and information sharing was key to the sector surviving the pandemic. We started this process with one-on-one calls and emails to all PFFA members and supporters. We made an effort to speak with members and others in the community regularly to gather and share information. This started with the U.S. F2F community but quickly grew to include Canadian colleagues, the PFFA's colleagues at the IPFC, the international leads for INGOs and other sector bodies. 



The PFFA held weekly calls open to the entire sector once per week beginning in March and extending through August, when they were moved to semi-monthly and eventually monthly. These calls aimed to accomplish three goals each week:
  1. 1. What was happening in the U.S.;
  2. 2. What was happening in the rest of the world;
  3. 3. Successes and failures for F2F team pivots and other available resources.  

 

Supporting and Promoting Effective Pivots for F2F Teams

The PFFA gathered experts in telemarketing, digital lead generation, behavioral science and international markets to contribute to our channel calls and share ideas, with no idea being too big or too small. We worked to support and encourage innovation and share the results with the larger group.

The channel’s closest technology partners quickly sprang into action, providing touchless payment options, telemarketing services and integration for remote fundraiser opportunities and made it possible for many of our members to test diversifying their businesses. 


We tracked data and capacity shifts in the U.S. and around the world and worked to be a practical yet hopeful voice. 

The results were inspiring. Agencies and nonprofits shared their successes and failures, their concerns and their ideas openly on our weekly calls. This cohesive working relationship continued throughout most of the summer. Although most teams have returned to a more reserved approach in group calls now, it was truly inspiring to see all parties, non-profit and agency competitors, sharing and collaborating. We knew we were all in it together. 
 

Developing Guidance for Market Re-entry

In May 2020, the PFFA launched its Covid-19 F2F Rebuild & Recovery Plan. This plan was built with a volunteer working group of PFFA members to ensure we had a representative voice from agencies and non-profits. In addition to this first edition, we updated this guidance in October 2020, as well as in April 2021, as both markets and government/public health guidance continued to shift over this time. It has formed the backbone of the PFFA’s response and the talking points that we provided informed organizational approaches to senior leadership, donors and the public.

The PFFA received a great deal of feedback and requests for both more and different information over the course of 2020. In the fall of 2020, when it was determined that a clear case for relaunch was needed and that many non-profits had not yet received their internal green light, we rose to that occasion and facilitated several non-profit-only calls to ensure we could provide support to our non-profit members. 




The PFFA’s job was to support our members to retain sustainable programs and businesses but also to make sure that returns to the field were in line with public health requirements and community expectations. We wanted to be sure that our short-term response would not damage the long-term reputation of the sector and the channel.

The 2020 PFFA Summer Work Group was pushed back to August to ensure we could provide content that was relevant at a time when a reasonable number of teams had relaunched. This Work Group was created to include a balance of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) content, case studies of successful relaunches and pivots and to measure how we could continue to support our members and the channel best. The feedback resulted in a fall Work Group that included a great deal of open discussion, break-out rooms and input. All in all, the PFFA was called to action, and we answered with every resource we could gather.  


 


All Eyes Forward, Together

Covid-19 impacted our livelihoods, our family, our recreation, our schools, every season, every country, every city of all leanings and locations. Today, in May 2021, I look back and I see a resilience that had previously never been tested; camaraderie that had never been demanded; a channel that was often underestimated. In the face of the global pandemic, the channel grew in size and capacity without losing one face-to-face fundraising agency and gaining several. It has been an extremely challenging experience for all channel actors, but the PFFA Board of directors and I are pleased that we were able to provide the type of leadership and service that such an essential channel deserves. To stay true to our commitment of being member, and more specifically charity led, we have gathered statements from our members to share with you.


The events of the last year have shown that it is essential to have a cooperative and collaborative organization in place to support face to face fundraising and to ensure its long-term sustainability as a channel. The PFFA has shown itself to be capable of responding to huge challenges successfully – even with limited resources. There is so much more that the PFFA can do as the fundraising sector expands, and we need as much support as possible.

If you have not joined the PFFA, perhaps the voice of those that sit in your seats at other organizations will interest you. We are extremely grateful for our members, their resilience and their enormous concentrations of expertise, ethics and innovation. Thank you, PFFA members and all those that supported our channel during the past year. You have exceeded our expectations. 

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