Paul Parrish, Aspire's Director of Fundraising and Marketing, talks about the impact of COVID-19 on Aspire's fundraising.

When the Prime minister announced a full lockdown on March 23rd 2020, I looked at my partner and said “well that’s going to be the end of every small to medium sized charity in the UK”. 

I’m normally an optimist, but as a charity that doesn’t receive huge amounts from donations or legacies, we are reliant on organising events to generate the income we need to provide our services.  With a blanket restriction on any gatherings, which is a prerequisite to running any event, we couldn’t raise money.

Straight away, we had to cancel our Sports Quiz Dinner which was scheduled for 21st April 2020 and said goodbye to £50,000 of profit.  All our swimming events, of which we are so proud, looked under threat – I could see close to half a million pounds disappearing from the charity.  I have to say, 23rd March 2020 challenged any optimism I possessed.

From those dark days, there started to be rays of hope as we reacted to the situation and the restrictions around the pandemic began to relax.

Our supporters responded to our COVID-19 appeal with such generosity that it brought in over £140,000 from individual donors, corporate supporters and trusts and foundations who carried on supporting our work.  We cannot thank you enough. The furlough scheme also allowed us to save much needed cash by “resting” those fundraisers who would normally be working hard on the forthcoming event calendar.

Then came an unexpected breakthrough.  Channel boat pilots started intimating that it would be possible for our Relay Channel Swim teams to swim to France provided we landed our swimmers and hot footed it back home to Dover.  At the same time, we were given the go ahead to continue with our Solent crossings.  As a result of this we raised over £270,000 from our open water swimming programme.  Six months earlier every swim had seemed in jeopardy.

Our flagship pool based, Aspire Channel Swim didn’t fare so well.  Although we were able to sign swimmers up, the endless opening and closing of pools meant that swimmers couldn’t complete their challenge and we consequently couldn’t raise the money that we had hoped.  However, we did make nearly £50,000 which was far better than nothing. 

Despite the postponements of the Sport Quiz Dinners, John Inverdale came to our rescue and agreed to host three virtual quizzes.  We had over 450 people attend the quizzes and it allowed Aspire to keep in touch with some of the supporters we would normally expect to see at Lord's each year for the “real” quiz.

So where are we now? 

Well, we are quietly confident that after three cancellations, our Sports Quiz Dinner will finally take place.  Our remaining events should also go ahead.  However, we don’t know how the landscape will have changed.  We can already see that autumn is very congested, with every charity trying to make up for lost events.  This is diluting the strength of the Aspire portfolio and we will have to work very hard to maintain our share of the market.  Too many charities are also copying our Aspire Channel Swim and attempting to move into pool based swim challenges.  Fortunately, the specialist knowledge of open water swimming that Aspire possesses leaves us in a strong position for 2021. 

So, we are not out of the woods yet.  With that in mind I would urge you to help us in any way you can over the coming months so that we can provide the services needed to support those who have sustained a spinal cord injury.

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