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Fundraising Perspectives from Italy

Published by Stefano Malfatti on

Last week my colleague Simona Biancu asked me to reflect on her thoughts about how coronavirus will impact fundraising in Italy, which she published on this blog last week.

Curiously, even though our conversation was had at a distance, we came to many of the same reflections. I decided to elaborate here for the sake of colleagues in other countries, who might be earlier on in their crisis.

Building trust

After months of public debate and even political action in an attempt to discredit the whole non-profit sector, solidarity and of organized altruism in Italy, there are now dozens of benefactors who are donating generously to people in need.

But there is sometimes prejudice towards goodness and altruism, in Italy and the wider world.

It is true that when a person takes care of others, that person’s intentions may not be genuine. Perhaps they’re seeking visibility, gratitude, fame, votes or who knows what else. Furthermore, when solidarity and help take place in an association, an organization or an institution, many people may see hidden agendas. It is true that some people find excellent systems to benefit themselves under the guise of generosity.

But most of those who do donate are honest people, attentive to the emergency, proactive and supportive – not always with money, but with time, knowledge and professionalism used to serve the common good.

Perhaps misconceptions about giving are because altruism is often completely invisible or otherwise unnoticed, people see it as more unusual than it really is.

Altruistic gestures can sometimes take on the form of small daily actions, frequently it comes across as though a person is ‘doing something’ but it can also be through ‘leaving something out’, for example, a situation when we have the opportunity to act to our exclusive advantage to the detriment of someone else, but we prefer not to do so.

These bias, therefore, triggers dynamics which might discourage and possibly humiliate the individual’s commitment for the common good.

But in situations like the one we find ourselves in now, where the well-being of a community depends on the ability to act together, this dormant “instinct” to act generously explodes.

As fundraisers, we can help shift perceptions. Donors, benefactors, selfless individuals or groups should always be strongly encouraged and rewarded – with abundant doses of social importance even if they may seem obstinate, sometimes stubborn or annoyingly modest and often make us feel worse than what we believe we are, closed in our indifferent inertia.

A question of truth

Another element that makes us reflect on these days of precarious emergency is the question of truth.

The truth about what is happening.

People the length of Italy want to know ‘why?’ and the many cultures that make up Italy and the odd economies that cross the country are not helping them to understand the Coronavirus phenomenon and how it is deploying its strength.

As nonprofits we can challenge this by telling the daily life story of our non-profit organizations.

Many organizations in Italy are struggling these days to communicate with their donors to tell their “piece” of “Coronavirus emergency” so that they can carve out their small space for asking during these difficult days.

I have recommended to those I have spoken to, to talk about their reality and troubles in the everyday life of their mission.

Disabled people, scientific research, museums, welfare services, homeless people, people affected by cancer, are in danger of disappearing behind or inside the chaos of the Coronavirus situation.

Fake news

This truth-telling can also help us combat false news.

As I have already mentioned, we live in dark times, especially in our microcosm of the non-profit sector even with regards to some false news.

False information in the news has always existed. Yet some of the false news in our digital age, especially those in our sector, seem to have changed physiognomy, power and scope.

They spread thanks to different psychological, social and algorithmic factors. They run on the Internet facilitated by both human and artificial foolishness, the false perception of our brain, insensitivity and ignorance.

The best way to get vaccinated is to analyze these factors, unmask them by expanding our culture and awareness on the digital side, too. This means being a good fundraiser in the digital age revolution and, above all, this also means being simple and true.

It is difficult today to capture the attention of a genuine donor. Today we have a high-calorie mediatic diet. We consume a huge amount of information and our appetite is constantly increasing. Our knowledge is on the way to turning into a chaotic accumulation of notions.

The concept of ignorance is changing. We can say that we have defeated what we call the “traditional ignorance,” connected to the lack of information; however, we have discovered, thanks to the Internet, a new and more subtle type of ignorance related to the ability to elaborate information to gain awareness.

Simplicity and truth are two excellent antidotes and we as fundraisers, particularly in times like these, should dispense a lot towards an excellent goal. The common good and now health above all.

New meanings of work

A final reflection on how the concept of work, commitment and involvement in general and also for fundraisers is changing during these strange times.

Day after day, we are more aware of how much we value our free time thanks to our busy lives. We resist giving up on work, its efforts and journeys because we feel that we are not crushed as long as we still manage to work together.

Reprogramming and being flexible are just two ways and two facets of a reaction that we have in setting ourselves in motion in front of the prospect of a block or inertia: as love contrasts death, work also becomes a powerful antidote.

A fortiori, committing ourselves to our respective missions becomes a generative collective action with which we reaffirm, every day, that life is bigger and stronger than anything else.

The “relational goods” we deal with through our profession as fundraisers, sometimes ignored by economists and politicians during ordinary times, are essential as and more than goods. We suddenly realized that the strength lies not in buying or shopping, but in the relationships, we build as we do it side by side.

This imposed isolation has taught us the value and price of human relations, the safety distance of more than one meter has revealed the beauty and power of staying close.

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Stefano Malfatti

Stefano, with more than twenty years of experience in nonprofit management, is Communication and Fundraising Director at Istituto Serafico of Assisi. For 25 years he has been developing the Fundraising strategies of nonprofit organizations in the health sector, focusing his attention and experience on legacy fundraising and bequests. Blogger, trainer and educator on fundraising, he is a teacher and speaker at some of the major training organizations in the non-profit sector and for specific university Masters in Italy. Author of specific texts on legacy fundraising, in 2014 he won the Italian Fundraising Award and in October of the same year the Global Fundraising Award assigned during the IFC in Amsterdam. He is the President of the Fundraising Festival Association, which every year organizes the only Italian convention about fundraising.

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