As we are all aware by now, 2020 isn’t going to be like any other year. The COVID-19 crisis has changed almost every aspect of our professional and personal lives, and its effects are far from over.
As of May 5th, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports a total of 3,442,234 cases, 239,740 deaths and 215 countries, areas or territories with cases worldwide. The scale, economic impact, and humanitarian consequences of the crisis won’t be fully understood for a number of years.
In any given year, running a successful charity takes a monumental effort. Generally speaking, funds need to be raised from individuals and organizations, donor relationships need to be managed, resources need to be obtained, and services need to be provided, all whilst utilizing a small team with a tight budget.
In the past few months, charities around the world have had to continue operations, and in a lot of areas increase operations while having to account for physical distancing, having employees work from home, and ensuring that resources are well stocked as stores struggled.
These are just a few of the changes charities and nonprofits have had to adjust to. Here are some of the other ways these organizations have been impacted by the pandemic.
One important area that was immediately impacted was communication. As charities, businesses, non-government organizations (NGO’s), and governments made their own announcements about what they were doing to fight the virus, a lot of messages were struggling to stay afloat in the sea of noise.
Charities have had to quickly pivot in order to stay relevant with donors, aligning their missions with the current crisis communications, as well as having to ensure that their information was accurate and not misleading. Those deemed currently unessential, such as sports and environmental charities across the globe, are struggling to be seen or heard, making donations and operations increasingly difficult.
Moving Operations Online
With the introduction of physical distancing, charities have had to invest heavily and quickly in online resources, such as social media and webinars. In many cases fundraisers have been taken online or cancelled which can result in a loss of income from individual supporters and sponsoring organizations, as well as the loss of education and outreach opportunities. This is during a time that the organizations need it the most.
As stock markets fall around the world, organizational donors are cutting back on ad spending and sponsorships which leaves a large gap in charity income,. Meanwhile, individual donors are keeping any reserves of funds for the impending worldwide economic downturn. A recent report has published that 67.9% of charities surveyed reported a decline in contributions, due to donors giving less and the inability to reach donors.
When donors are putting their hands in their pockets it is to support those organizations and individuals on the frontlines (which is justifiably needed), but this is leaving a large gap for those not directly involved in the fight against the virus. Philanthropists, such as Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, often also donate stock to charities instead of cash. However, when the markets fall these donations can lose their value quickly.
On the ground, providing the services needed has been difficult for charities due to travel restrictions and social distancing. One study showed that ‘63% have experienced travel disruption, including cancellations and the inability to work effectively, including contacting clients, donors and recipients’.
Resources have also been difficult to obtain, one family services non-profit in Michigan, USA had to do an emergency drive for baby formula in early April after consumers in the area had stockpiled it all during the first few weeks of the crisis, leaving none for those unable to get to the store in time.
Many of those more vulnerable in the community that rely on charity services have been unable to be reached effectively, even virtually, due to a lack of access to technology. An issue that is also having a major impact on education for millions of children and adults throughout the world.
What makes all of this even more difficult is that the scale of the pandemic means some charity services are needed now more than ever. Mental health assistance, medical services, domestic abuse hotlines, and financial assistance centres are all essential organizations that are in high demand.
These organizations are faced with the task of having to figure out how to run an overloaded operation while implementing safe practices to protect employees, volunteers, and clients. Some organizations are feeling direct effects from the virus as staff members and volunteers are taken ill. One report showed ‘many organizations have staff working double the hours to meet their beneficiaries’ needs.
The Developing World
In the developing world, external support is becoming increasingly relied upon as the only source of income, food, and shelter.
In countries such as Nepal, tourism accounts for a significant portion of its GDP (7.9% in 2018) and with the loss of the Everest climbing season this year, a large number of communities will be left without this vital source of income.
As well as this huge burden on already stretched thin resources, charities on the ground also face challenges from the government itself. Despite the International Monetary Fund (IMF) offering debt relief, and the World and Asian Development Banks preparing support packages, there have been reports of corruption, inefficiencies, and the marginalization of indigenous groups.
These reports mean that during the crisis charities have to prove themselves to be trustworthy to deliver funds and resources to those that actually need them in order to gain donors confidence.
Charity Work is Still Important
Whilst these circumstances are increasingly making charity operations, communications, funding and survival more difficult, what the COVID-19 crisis is highlighting is that charity and NGO work is as important as ever for supplementing missing services around the world.
Despite the hardships on everyone globally, individuals have been donating what they can to help during the pandemic including online volunteering, creating masks at home, and donating blood. Organizations that are able to, such as Sony and Visa have established charitable foundations and are creating ‘emergency funds’ to help charities both internationally and within their own communities. Even startups like Work for Impact are getting involved. The freelance platform has committed to donating 1% of all their revenue to charities they believe in.
Whilst the short term effects on charities are extremely apparent the long-term consequences won’t be realized for a number of years. Some will struggle to survive the crisis, but those that do will have learned a number of important lessons on community, resourcefulness, and resilience.