It’s hard to overstate the turmoil COVID-19 has caused in the non-profit sector. But if there’s one thing charities are known for, it’s their ability to rise to the toughest of challenges.
The question is, have some actually emerged from the pandemic stronger than before? Let’s take a look at the story so far...
In the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, 92% of charities expected it to have a negative effect on their ability to meet their objectives. Nearly all had taken action due to financial pressures, such as reducing activities and furloughing staff.
Perhaps surprisingly, though, research published in August 2020 by the Charities Aid Foundation found that the total amount of donations had actually risen – but the effects were uneven across the sector.
Around 11% of people reported giving to new or different causes due to COVID-19. The big winner was the ‘hospitals and hospices’ category, which saw a large increase in the number of people making donations. Much of that was down to Captain Tom, who raised £33m for NHS Charities Together.
The main loser was medical research, which saw income drop by up to £174m, largely due to the cancellation of major sponsored events.
Corporate and government funding
Another charity whose profile shot up during COVID-19 was the FareShare network, which re-distributes surplus food (e.g. from supermarkets) to those in need. Campaign work spearheaded by footballer Marcus Rashford helped to raise money and influence government policy.
Meanwhile, the Charities Aid Foundation saw a 43% rise in donations from businesses and private philanthropists, enabling it to distribute a record £958m worldwide.
And the National Emergencies Trust’s Coronavirus Appeal, led by the Duke of Cambridge, raised £11m in its first week for grassroots groups around the UK.
The government also provided various forms of support, including furlough. For example, emergency funding worth £76m was announced for domestic abuse, modern slavery and vulnerable children services.
Of course, all these charities have had to contend with rising demand and near-impossible working conditions. And it’s not certain if these funding boosts will translate into longer term financial security.
One way in which the pandemic has boosted the sector has been in accelerating the adoption of technology.
Some 81% of charities said they had changed the way they used digital technology as a result of the pandemic, helping 48% actually increase the range of services they offer.
According to Pro Bono Economics, 76% of charities had tried new delivery models. And the Christian Aid Foundation (CAF) found that one in three charities were increasingly adopting online fundraising methods, while more than half had expanded their social media presence.
All of which enables them to reach new groups such as young people – though it’s important to make sure that nobody’s left behind.
Another encouraging sign is that trust in charities has risen slightly since the start of the pandemic.
In part, this is because people have been reminded of the vital role that charities such as food banks can play in crises. The proportion of people who thought that charities were important declined between 2012 and 2019 – but it’s now risen again, to 60%.
Agility and resilience
In a fast-changing world, agility is key to resilience. CAF research found that 47% of charities are planning to diversify their income streams over the next year, at least in part due to the pandemic.
There’s undeniably trouble ahead for many, particularly when the furlough scheme finishes. But thanks to the determined and creative approach they’ve shown over the past year, 63% say they are optimistic.
We wish all of them a bright future helping the world’s most vulnerable people in these tough times.
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