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Learnings from Swinburne’s focus on philanthropy during COVID-19

'Thanks to our partner at Pro Bono Australia who ran this article first in our RESET 2020 weekly Column' Whether to actively fundraise or not during this pandemic is a burning issue for many organisations. In the latest video from RESET 2020, Belinda Collins from Swinburne explains how their campaign has ignited a community of support and demonstrated the opportunity available by engaging meaningfully and authentically at this time.

Finding a case study for our fourth topic of “Navigating donor and funder relations during COVID-19” was a challenge six weeks ago, as many organisations had either yet to embark on a COVID-related fundraising campaign, or weren’t far enough advanced to share the experience.

When Swinburne University offered to share the early results of their student-focused $2 million mid-year campaign, we jumped at the opportunity, but were also acutely aware how alienating that might be for the thousands of small organisations who don’t have university-sized resources. But the findings and learnings shared proved otherwise, with highly relevant take-out messages for organisations of all sizes.

The live poll matched up with the insights from the RESET 2020 Research Study, with 20 per cent saying their fundraising budgets and/or staffing had been cut, and 33 per cent shared that they felt afraid to contact donors in case their donors or funders felt pressured or insulted. Alongside this, 38 per cent said their greatest challenge was that their donors wanted to focus on other cause areas, and 30 per cent also said they didn’t know how to engage donors outside of fundraising events.

Strong reminders around reflecting on purpose and why your organisation exists also came through strongly from subject matter specialists from The Xfactor Collective. Philanthropy specialist Kimberly Downes and major gifts specialist Teisha Archer were able to help organisations think about adjusting their messaging, make adjustments to strategy (but not full rewrites), take time to focus on donor retention and stewardship over donor acquisition, and take the time to go back over their “why” statements and whether they still correlate to their messaging.

Belinda Collins, director of development of Swinburne, shared two information-packed slides about the campaign strategy and results, and took the time to explain how the university had engaged everyone internally and externally in the campaign. Of note, Swinburne’s executive team took a pay cut of which 10 per cent went into the student emergency fund. Swinburne has to date received donations from 18 countries engaging with many alumni around the world, and has connected with 158 new donors. Alongside this, some 102 staff members have contributed $34,000 to the campaign.

Watch the case study interview

You can also access the full recording here

  • Gaining strong internal support: “My predecessors have been terrific at building a culture of philanthropy across the organisation where it’s understood that fundraising isn’t something that the development team goes and does, but something that needs to be right through the organisation. So very quickly we were able to get agreement on a range of things we needed to do.”
  • On major donor check-ins: “First and foremost it was important to us to check in with our major donors and make sure they are okay, and understanding the positions that they might find themselves in. It has been a key focus for us to strengthen the relationships with those who have been with us for either a short or long period of time. If they were able to provide some support, that really is secondary. It’s about treating people as people and just making sure they are okay.”
  • Repurposing historic funds: “We reached out to two trusts and foundations who had provided endowment funds in the past for the purpose of students in crisis. We reached out to explain the heightened sense of urgency right now and sought permission for those funds to be reallocated to the student emergency fund. Both were in great agreement and it’s been a terrific way of re-engaging and maintaining connection, and giving those foundations an opportunity to contribute without actually having to ask them for new money right now.”
  • COVID-19 philanthropy honour board: “We made an early decision to erect an honor board because this is such a historic time for all of us. We will all look back and remember the time we were locked in our homes for this period.”

RESET 2020 National Research and Support Program is an initiative of The Xfactor Collective. The free online live shows and case study interviews are responding to the feedback from the research study, and are designed to support organisations in this time of change and transformation.

Julia Keady is the CEO and founder of The Xfactor Collective social impact community which has a mission to improve wellbeing of social changemakers by making it easier to share/access support and advice.

Need help in your organisation? We run the sector’s first Specialist triage support service (our CONCIERGE) where we can help you find support from a range of services and solutions.


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