THE COVID-19 crisis has created unprecedented difficulties for the charity sector, but in this article, Rod Buckley, Director at the Rapid Relief Team UK, celebrates the spirit of collaboration which charities have shown in the face of these challenges.
2020 was an unimaginable year for all of us. We have all been impacted by the fallout from COVID-19, but one sector that has been hit particularly hard is the charity sector.
The pandemic has led to devastating economic consequences and social distancing restrictions, placing charities across the UK under huge financial strain. In June last year, Pro Bono Economics published a report stating that charities faced a £10.1billion funding gap over the next six months due to COVID-19. They predicted that incomes were expected to drop by £6.7billion at the same time as demand for their support rose by the equivalent of £3.4billion. The report also stated that small charities, with incomes of less than £500,000 a year, were especially exposed to the income squeeze. Worryingly, the report stated that close to two-in-three (63 per cent) organisations had already reduced their activity in a significant way.
Fast forward to 2021, and the situation is still problematic for the charity sector. More research published by Pro Bono Economics in November last year described a similarly dire situation with three-quarters of charities warning they are preparing for next year to bring high levels of demand for their services.
Recent research published by Nottingham Trent University, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and Sheffield Hallam University also demonstrates the vital importance of charitable work. According to their research, more than half of the 700 organisations surveyed are expecting demand for services to surge over the next month. Further to this, 8 out of 10 organisations predict the crisis will negatively impact their ability to deliver planned objectives over the next 12 months. Sadly, 1 in 10 also believe they will be forced to close within a year.
Yet, despite these statistics, charities have shown their ability to adapt and to come together to support each other and those most in need. Collaboration has been at the heart of the third sector’s response to the pandemic. Charities large and small have come together nationally and locally during the pandemic, and 2020 truly showed the best of the charity sector. From capitalising on a range of skills to maximising publicity and fundraising opportunities, charity partnerships bring a host of benefits. It is no surprise, then, we saw so many successful charity partnerships last year.
From ‘The Massive Get Together’, an online fundraising event put together by Marie Curie, Crisis and FareShare, to the ‘COVID Community Campaign’, organised by The Trussell Trust, FareShare, Magic Breakfast and Social Bite, collaboration in the charity sector this year has been truly invaluable. At the Rapid Relief Team, we are currently collaborating with the Food Foundation on an innovative map which the organisation has developed to highlight where help is available to those who need it.
Such collaboration is how the government was able to work with dozens of different organisations to coordinate the delivery of approximately 3.5million free food parcels to people in England who were shielding and needed support getting essential food supplies. While I am proud of how my own charity, the Rapid Relief Team, contributed to this effort, there can be no denying that this undertaking was made possible by the work of the wider charitable community which has been so flexible, resourceful, and innovative throughout the pandemic.
As we move deeper into this New Year, with a completely altered economic landscape and immense difficulties ahead, the key challenge for charities and voluntary organisations, is to take the learnings from the pandemic and apply them to future work.
For example, we have learnt the value of local knowledge in making sure that resources get to where they are needed. At the Rapid Relief Team, our volunteers have an excellent knowledge of the local areas in which they operate, thanks to strong relationships with local authorities, the police and social services. This is part of our community-driven approach which aims to make sure that those in need are always getting the support they need. By forging strong relationships with the community, we are able to support the individuals, schools, community centres and, indeed, other charities which need it the most.
Charity leaders should always be thinking about how best to direct their resources and expertise. Perhaps, a national charity with abundant resources but limited local expertise could reach out to a smaller organisation with fewer resources but excellent local knowledge to help with a project – that way, volunteers, time and resources can be mobilised to much better effect.
While the charity sector should be immensely proud of our efforts over the past year in supporting the public response to COVID-19, now is not the time to get complacent. When charities work together, support can be more targeted, less wasteful and create more impact in our communities. Let’s make 2021 the year when collaboration within our sector is embraced and celebrated.