Coronavirus: How fundraisers are responding, and what are the potential impacts?

Coronavirus: How fundraisers are responding, and what are the potential impacts?

Peter Lewis | 13 March 2020

Following a meeting with the Minister for Civil Society and other sector leaders, Peter Lewis, IoF Chief Executive, looks at what the fundraising community is doing in response to the coronavirus and at some of ways the sector is likely to be impacted.

The rapidly changing situation in relation to coronavirus means it is all hands-on deck as charity fundraisers draw up contingency plans to manage different eventualities. At the IoF, we’re tracking and sharing government announcements, and will be putting in place a mechanism to try and track the impact and potential impacts on fundraising streams. Watch this space for more information.

This afternoon I met with the Minister for Civil Society, government officials and with other sector leaders to discuss the crisis. The meeting rightly focused on the charity sector’s role in helping to deal with the situation, particularly the role of charities, as events develop, in reaching vulnerable or older people who might need more support. It is very positive that the government is engaging with the sector in this way and understands the vital role we can play. I do think our primary duty at this stage is to think about the impactful role our organisations can best play at this time of national need.

At the same time, we clearly know that to offer our services, whether delivered through staff or volunteers, this needs to be underpinned by secure and sustainable income, and I shared with the government that charity income has already began to feel the effects and may suffer further as the virus continues to impact on how we all live, work, volunteer and fundraise. We joined forces with other sector bodies ahead of the budget to ask the government to provide an emergency fund for charities and we will be having more detailed follow-up discussions with officials on this next week.

I’ve heard from so many fundraisers this week – thank you for your time and insight – and I will continue to share your insights with officials and other sector bodies. It has also been good to see parts of the sector coming together in solidarity, for example this great statement of solidarity for the sector from London Funders.

Based on the conversations with fundraisers and fundraising organisations I’ve had over the last week these are some of the ways in which the sector might be affected, but if you have other specific impacts you are willing to share please do let me know.

1. Events of all kinds

Events in Scotland for over 500 people are being cancelled from next week after Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement yesterday. Fundraisers across the UK as a whole are reviewing plans, and urgently reforecasting income, based on whether events that they run, or that they have participants in such go ahead or not. It has just been announced that the London Marathon, due to take place next month, has been postponed until October, while the Glasgow Kiltwalk has also been postponed. Some are deciding to make decisions ahead of government guidance, whilst others are waiting to see whether government guidance will change. We will update ours here as things progress.

And while it is easy to focus on well know mass events such as the London Marathon or Race for Life, we know this applies equally to participation events, large and small, all around the country. We have also heard reports that people undertaking challenge events have paused their fundraising efforts, resulting in lower year on year results compared to previous years.

We also know that it is not just mass participation events that are or may be affected. We know that significant gala dinners have been cancelled, with foregone income in the hundreds of thousands of pounds. Fundraising gigs and concerts may also need to be cancelled, or postponed, with lost income for just one charity I know being over £2 million, with the likelihood that this event could not happen again until the next financial year. Corporate partners have also pulled out of events. So a genuine loss of in year income rather than just delayed.

And these impacts and potential impacts are relatively easy to calculate in figures, but the loss is clearly much more important in terms of what it means for loss or reduction in charitable activities and services.

Finally, you may or may not know I am a festival lover, and I am sure many of us enjoy the engagement with charities of all sizes up and down the country. As these festivals revise their plans, (we know some festivals are already planning moves from June to September) fundraisers are also busy reviewing their plans, and reforecasting potential income.

2. Community fundraising

We are already know that some staff and volunteers are having to self-isolate, and that some community fundraising groups have an older volunteer pool and are already seeing an impact on their volunteer numbers. I’m hearing that plans have begun to downscale the launch of volunteer-led public collections, following difficulty in volunteer recruitment and the availability of sites.

This also applies to bucket collections (with several big weeks on the horizon) as many of volunteers are elderly and are rightly nervous about their health, so organisations have reported drop-outs and cancellations with reported impacts potentially reaching six figure sums.

3. Charity shops

As any good fundraiser or charity retailer know, the business model of charity shops is built on high street foot fall, not just for purchases but also for clothing drop off, of which dropped 4% last week alone. It also relies on shop volunteers, again many of whom are retired, and who may be less likely to want to volunteer as the weeks progress and as guidance may change. Currently we have heard of some organisations who are actively building scenarios where they might have to close shops for 3 to 4 months, and considering what that would mean for their income.

4. Public fundraising

Public fundraising has been shut down in Italy, and we know organisations are reviewing likely scenarios here. It is clearly an area of fundraising that relies on direct engagement with the general public, so further guidance on what may and may not be allowed could have a huge impact, as will individual behaviour, as people are perhaps less keen to engage in conversations on the street or on their doorstep. And such changes will not just impact on this year’s income predictions, as supporters recruited in this way, tend to be long term supporters of charities. 

We know that charity and agency teams are watching this space very keenly.

5. Grant funding

We have heard concerns from organisations worried about not being able to deliver commitments to deliver public engagement events under funding agreements, and while we hope that funders will of course be understanding, we also understand organisations fears.


Cash may be king for businesses and some charities, but there is also the balance between restricted and unrestricted income to manage, with the majority of the impacts above hitting unrestricted income.

So the last couple of weeks have clearly created a further hiatus in the fundraising community, with the knock on effect not just on fundraised income, with overall estimates coming in at between a 7 and 10% hit on voluntary income, but also on fundraisers themselves naturally worrying about this constantly moving picture. So as we head into the weekend, my final plea is to make sure we are all looking after our fundraising teams who may have their own anxieties for their own personal health and their family’s – while also juggling what may or may not happen to their fundraised income. This guidance from the Mental Health Foundation may be worth sharing.

Have a good and restful weekend all.


Peter Lewis is Chief Executive of the Institute of Fundraising


Read our information for fundraisers about coronavirus.

We’ve opened our member-only email service to all fundraisers who want info, signposting, or support. Drop them a line at

Over the next few days, THINK will be sharing some guidance on how to approach fundraising activities against the backdrop of the current coronavirus outbreak. In the first in this series, Matt Smith looks at advice for event fundraisers and what they should consider in the current environment.



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