Finding creative philanthropic solutions in a world ravaged by the pandemic

Fundraising during the pandemic required new and more innovative methods than ever before. Here, State Schools Relief CEO Sue Karzis explains how she got creative and succeeded in raising funds for thousands of underprivileged school children.

In the context of COVID-19, securing philanthropic funding was particularly difficult for NFPs.

Foundations and philanthropic organizations have been inundated with requests for support following the drop in donations. NFPs have also taken a hit with traditional events and dormant fundraising strategies, meaning that incomes have declined. It’s much easier to turn away from a computer screen with online events than it is to turn away from a raffle or physical auction. On top of that, grants are often tied to finished projects rather than ongoing support.

Most NFPs rely on a combination of funding models to achieve their strategic objectives. These can often include government and philanthropic grants, corporate fundraising, and fundraising through fundraising events or platforms.

While we may find our way on the COVID hurdle, potentially emerging safe from lockdown, the challenges for NFPs are going nowhere. In fact, many nonprofits expect funding to continue to be a challenge due to the stiff competition to access the funding that is actually available.

At State Schools’ Relief (SSR), we rely heavily on school fundraisers, such as Gold Coin Donation Days and other school events to help us raise much needed funds. Not surprisingly, this form of fundraising has declined dramatically over the past two years. So we had to devise new and more innovative ways to raise funds to help support thousands of students.

As CEO, risk mitigation is at the heart of every decision and strategic plan. Income diversification was an important strategic imperative for our organization. Not only is it crucial for building long-term sustainability, but it presents opportunities for harnessing creativity and innovation. And there are ways for every NFP to increase their income, even in light of the obstacles that stand in their way.

Start with small goals

For SSR, we needed to analyze our current income streams and consider the consequences of drying up those streams. It was evident that without the current level of government funding and other grants, the assistance that had been provided to over 70,000 students in the previous fiscal year could not be sustained.

However, developing additional sources of income does not happen overnight. We had to start with small, achievable goals that aligned with our vision and core values, and then develop a plan. We had to ask ourselves what were the appropriate additional sources of income, the pros and cons of each idea, the financial implications, and if there would be any staffing ramifications.

We also had to, of course, ensure that the strategy aligned with our goals and was consistent with our operating model. We also had to make sure it was simple and didn’t involve expensive expenses or require additional space or staff.

What was our solution? Retail sale of uniforms and shoes.

It may sound simple, but it was difficult in many ways. But, for an organization that built its reputation on interactions with Victorian public schools, it made a lot of sense.

As an NFP, it can be risky to undertake a business activity that is incompatible with an organization’s vision and mission. For SSR, we stuck to activities that were familiar to us and were part of the fabric of our NFP. And we started small.

Our first goal was to sell our school shoes online and through a small number of outlets. It involved a lot of background work to prepare for online sales, ensuring that we had the necessary processes for it. Once this first milestone was reached, we then turned to uniforms.

Increase in supply

Over the past three years, we have steadily increased the number of schools we supply uniforms to, and along the way, we have refined our processes and developed our knowledge and acumen in this area.

We have also explored new niche markets and recently branched out into workwear for VCAL students. As a bonus, other companies support our work by purchasing their work clothes through SSR. Parents who buy our “purpose shoes” also do so knowing that their purchase is funding another pair of shoes for a student in need.

So what does success look like?

For SSR, our social enterprise has grown steadily and presented an opportunity to diversify into community relations, increase brand profile and sustainability for the future, continuing to grow and diversify this new stream of income.

Most importantly, it is a strategic direction that aligns with our goals and values, and allows us to do more of what we do – help those in need.


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