Life Flight reinvents fundraising as Covid-19 wrecks face-to-face plans

Life Flight, the not-for-profit which operates an air medical programme transporting sick and injured patients, has had to reinvent itself this year after Covid-19 event cancellations slashed their fundraising target by $300,000.

The Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter Source: Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust

Chief executive Mark Johnson told 1 NEWS the organisation ran an open day in Wellington in March.

But when New Zealand went into Covid-19 lockdown later that month the decision was made to cancel or postpone Life Flight's fundraising efforts for the rest of year.

Some of the key fundraisers which had to be canned were the Westpac Chopper Street Appeal, the Life Flight Gala, Highlight 2020 and its annual AFNZ Golf Day.

Johnson said due to the uncertainty of the pandemic and given they work closely with the nation's district health boards they didn't want to go ahead with the events which could make people feel uncomfortable or at risk.

"We felt it was most practical and sensible not to put anyone in that situation of a larger group setting," he said, adding that the gala could get around 250 people attend each year.

The events were expected to bring in $485,000 to $500,000, but they've been able to "claw back" some of that with event organisers, including the Champions Charity Luncheon organised by Ian Klinac, which have persevered and been able to go ahead with events in recent weeks.

As well, Johnson said Westpac had "come to the party" with $1 million in funding, along with donations from others in the community.

Like many other businesses and organisations, he said they had to work differently this year - moving from face-to-face street appeals and events to a more online base to "pick up the slack".

"We've done far more online this year. We're moving more of our activity into that digital space."

With banks phasing out cheque payment, which was common for not-for-profits, Johnson said Covid-19 had been a push for people to get comfortable using online.

But while it has been a different year for Life Flight's fundraising, the need for it's 24/7 services hasn't stopped.

Life Flight's Westpac Rescue Helicopter missions are up on last year, with Johnson expecting it to be an even busier summer compared to previous years as Kiwis get out and holiday in New Zealand more.

In the year to December 1 there were 374 missions, compared to 352 in the same period last year.

However, plane missions were down compared to last year due to hospitals transferring less patients in lockdown.

Johnson said it meant the organisation managed to hold onto some savings in things like fuel and other operating costs.

"You cut your cloth accordingly and to your means really."

Throughout the unprecedented year, though, Johnson had been proud of his team's efforts, including transporting seven suspecting Covid-19 cases. All later tested negative for the virus.

"Everybody pulled together," he said. "They're very professional and sensitive to the challenging situations that come with people in need."

Life Flight is now running it's Christmas appeal, hoping its online presence, donors' generosity and costs savings will mean they break even by the end of the year, despite currently being down $300,000 from their fundraising stoppages.

Johnson said many other not-for-profits had been struggling too so urged people not to forget about the groups just because they've not in the public as much in 2020.