April 29, 2020

COVID-19 has sparked a funding crisis for NGOs

Food banks, women’s refuges, homeless shelters, mental health and addiction advocacy and peer support services, elder care services, community health promotion advisors supporting those with asthma, diabetes, and stroke survivors, disability support services, refugee and migrant support services, Whānau Ora providers, hospices, and those supporting whānau in poverty – the list goes on. We take their presence for granted, relying on them to be the safety net and the social support for one-off and enduring health and social needs.

Delivery of many social services in Aotearoa is dependent on non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Either government agencies contract not-for-profits to deliver services into communities or the organisations respond to community needs and raise their own funds. These organisations provide support, advocacy, and information to people and their whānau. They are woven into the fabric of our communities, with deep relationships and understanding of what communities need to survive and thrive.

But NGOs are almost always underfunded and the impact of COVID-19 will have a devastating impact on their ability to continue to provide support to the mounting number of people who require their services. Anyone who has worked in the community sector knows the time-consuming necessity that is applying for funding, and the uncertainty of whether the application will be successful.

NGOs are already reporting increased demand for their services – Philanthropy New Zealand said there was a 60 percent increase in requests for food assistance. A survey of 200 charities by United Way New Zealand reported more than 74 percent required additional funding and 41 percent needed additional staff and volunteers, to continue to provide the same level of support. 

The pressure is unlikely to dissipate any time soon and will without doubt become even more acute in the coming months. Funding rounds from philanthropic foundations are often based on the interest and dividends from their capital, but their investments have taken a hit with many unsure what funding rounds will look like in the near future. Gaming societies, unable to hold reserves, will also have no revenue to disperse. Public generosity peaks after an event and declines over time, and people’s pockets are not likely to be very deep in the coming months. So where are NGOs to turn for funding?

Supporting the community sector must be considered in the recovery, and positively reflected in central and local government budgets. And we can all do our part; if just a fraction of the money spent on takeaways and coffees on the first day of level 3 was regularly donated to NGOs, they could continue to provide much needed support into our communities. We have an opportunity to consider the kind of world we want to live in, and how we will act to enable our communities to recover and flourish.

To donate, visit United Way or The Good Registry. NGOs are also looking for volunteers, to find your local volunteer centre, visit Volunteering New Zealand.