Coronavirus pandemic: In times of crisis, community partnerships are ever-more crucial

Coronavirus pandemic: In times of crisis, community partnerships are ever-more crucial

Guest Bloggers | 21 April 2020

Zia Salik, Interim Head of Fundraising at Islamic Relief, explains that during a crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic, fundraising teams have to adapt rapidly and effectively to new ways of working, and why community partnerships have become an even more important fundraising stream.

As a humanitarian organisation, Islamic Relief supports vulnerable people both at home and abroad. As COVID-19 threatens communities across the globe, providing effective and speedy aid is key.

This of course, as with any other humanitarian emergency, requires funding.

However, with self-isolation and lockdown in force, organisations such as Islamic Relief have to re-think the way we work, and the way we raise funds.

Grassroots without the ground: Self-isolation and fundraising

While field staff continue to operate in increasingly limited and dangerous spaces, fundraising staff can no longer operate in the ways they have operated for so long. And yet raising funds is more critical than ever before.

Any fundraiser will know that grassroots work and relationship building is crucial. But with our entire workforce now working from home, we have to adapt rapidly and effectively.

Islamic Relief community fundraising

Community fundraising garnered great support from schools, mosques, shops and many more places up and down the country before the Coronavirus pandemic. 

Obviously, traditional out-and-about activities such as mosque collections, fundraising dinners, community and business initiatives and meetings are no longer possible. Neither are volunteer engagement seminars and fundraising collections on the street, in tube stations and across communities – which offer more “hands-on deck” opportunities and more spaces to fundraise.

We have to ensure the safety of our staff and volunteers, as well as that of the general public who are, of course, self-isolating or social distancing.

So, how have we adapted to this unusual set of circumstances?

Well, firstly it’s important to remember that community fundraising doesn't need to stop just because of the lockdown. There are many new ways of working that we are incorporating into our campaigns and appeals to engage the British Muslim community, as well as our existing supporter base.

Here is where we’ve taken a two-pronged approach: embracing the increasing power of digital fundraising/engagement and also building on our community and wider partnerships to mobilise together at this critical time.

Digital fundraising: Heading where the people are

Whilst in lockdown, the power of social media, instant messaging, WhatsApp, family networks and even the phone is more important than ever before. And we all know that more and more donors are giving online.

Whilst we’d normally leave this area of work to our marketing department and digital comms team, as community fundraisers, we’ve had to adapt over the last few weeks.
We have to go where the people go. And right now, we’re all at home!

People still want to engage, to help vulnerable people in their communities and across the globe. So it’s critical that we adapt our working methods and utilise the power of social media, web, radio, TV appeals and much more to get the message out there.

Whilst we can’t meet people face-to-face, our Coronavirus appeal is reaching people. And that’s the power of digital fundraising.

We’re blogging on the crisis and posting regular updates on our website, both on the needs of those at risk and also the challenges we all face during this crisis. This helps keep messaging relevant, personable and engaging.

We’re also emailing our donors, raising critical awareness on social media – Facebook, Twitter and YouTube – to ensure that we inform our donors of the work we’re carrying out, the needs of vulnerable communities and how they can help.

However, it’s not all about increasing paid marketing. We’ve also taken our community fundraisers and events online themselves.

We’ve re-examined our campaigns to establish the key captivating components and to explore alternative ways that those can be achieved through digital means.

For example, we usually run a series of challenge events which take place across the UK and around the world, including sponsored 5K runs. While we’re at home, and many people have taken to revamping their own exercise regimes, now is the perfect time to encourage people to take part in virtual, individual challenge events.

These encapsulate the concept of challenging oneself, but from within the confines of your own home. It’s simple really – challenge yourself, at home; but share the results online, so you’re still part of a community activity.

People can do the activity on their own and gather sponsorship from their family, friends and colleagues through a personal online fundraising page. Setting up a fundraising page is quick, simple and easy to do.

We’ve been taking ourselves online too, to ensure that we’re not out of the picture!

A familiar or intriguing face can still reach out to families at home, even if our streets are empty. Community fundraisers, our Director and a host of other supporters are connecting with the public and our donors, to keep our relationships fluid, active and alive.

For example, instead of hosting fundraising dinners with guest speakers, we’ve invited guests to conduct online webinars and provide the same talks and entertainment virtually. By adding a fundraising element to these e-events, people can support the cause online.

Marketing these can be a challenge as – apart from direct mail – we don't have the physical tools in terms of out-of-house promotion, such as posters and leaflets which would typically be distributed in mosques, through local businesses and door-to-door.

However, we can always maximise the benefits of social media, one-to-one relationships and make contact with our existing database to promote our events and activities online.

As fundraisers, we need to retain our direct links with communities. Relationships are critical and although we can’t see people face-to-face, that doesn’t mean we can’t communicate with them.

Community mobilisation: Power in partnerships

As the saying goes: there’s power in numbers. And the current crisis is a great example of how our fundraising teams have adapted and mobilised to ensure that we can reach those in need.

Other ways to increase engagement and fundraising during this period is through community, corporate and commercial partners.

Corporate partners can host fundraising initiatives through their staff networks. Essential local businesses that are still being run and accessed by the public can also set-up small-scale appeals within their establishments.

What’s more, in terms of third-sector engagement, during times of crisis, we’ve found that we’re able to quickly and effectively mobilise due to the professional working partnerships and coalitions we’ve formed. 

Islamic Relief is a proud member of the Muslim Charities Forum (MCF) and the National Emergency Trust (NET). We’re also partners with a range of national and local charities working with vulnerable communities in the UK.

When news broke out about the Coronavirus epidemic in the UK, we were immediately able to mobilise together to coordinate efforts in terms of fundraising and aid delivery.

Likewise, working as part of the Muslim Charities Forum, we’ve been able to connect with other organisations. This has helped strengthen our public messaging and show solidarity between Muslim charities and our wider national community at a time of national crisis.

We’ve maintained strong links with partners on the ground here in the UK including SUFRA, a local food bank and kitchen in Brent – one of the poorest areas of London. By sharing and celebrating our links offline with local communities online, donors can see that we’re visible, we’re active and we are making a key difference.

Finally, we mustn’t forget the individuals within our communities themselves. Getting in touch with supporters on a personalised and one-to-one basis for support is a great way to reach out and maintain communications during this isolating period. 

You may find that some individuals may donate, whilst others may wish to get involved in fundraising activities such as doing their own fundraising drive or otherwise engaging people they know to raise funds for the appeal/campaign at hand.

So, even though we’re unable to meet donors offline or touch the grassroots with our feet on the ground, thanks to the relationships that we’ve built, the reputation we’ve solidified and the skills we’ve strengthened, we’ve launched an effective UK and global appeal to serve communities in need both here at home and overseas. 

We’ve continued our community fundraising events, harnessed the power of digital tools and ensured that we’ve maintained links with our supporters. 

Yes, current times are challenging. Yes, we’re moving through an unsettling period. And yes, we have to put traditional activities on hold. 

But, when you have trust with donors, transparency and key partnerships, and are adaptable to change, community fundraising can grow, in a very special way, in these very challenging times. 

Wishing you all good health, happiness and healthy fundraising!
Zia Salik

Find out more about Islamic Relief’s COVID-19 appeal here.

Zia Salik is Interim Head of Fundraising at Islamic Relief


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