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COVID-19 – Challenges facing the Not-for-profit sector in Australia, What action can be taken now?

3 min read

There has been a lot of commentary on the potential impacts of Covid-19 on health, businesses and the economy, but what does all this mean for Australian charities and the millions of people who rely on these services?

The not-for-profit sector has experienced no shortage of challenges over the past 6 months. The extreme drought, bushfires and floods have all significantly impacted fundraising efforts of Australian charities including donor fatigue, and now Covid-19 threatens potential workforce shortages and further funding cuts as the economy slows.

Related: COVID-19: Practical ways to keep moving forward in a pandemic

For most not-for-profits, people are the key resource required to deliver services. The prevalence of the Covid-19 is both forcing and encouraging people to self-isolate and minimise contact with others which will impact service delivery. Not-for-profits also heavily rely on volunteers, so there will likely be a decrease in volunteer availability.

The funding landscape for Australian charities has changed dramatically, with the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (“NDIS”) and transition of services to organisations which previously administered by government. Impacts of these changes include the requirement for not-for-profits to deliver the same or increased services to its clients, with the same or decreased level of funding, which has forced organisations to restructure their operations and reduce their costs. One of the likely impacts of the COVID-19, amongst other factors, will be the weakening of the Australian economy.

Related: 5-year partnership to deliver $375K to school leavers

These threats cannot be understated and below we go into more detail and highlight steps that can be taken to proactively respond to these threats.

What action can be taken now?

The challenges faced by the not-for-profit sector is unique; here are a few issues we recommend you review.

1.      Review current trading and cash flow position

Knowing exactly where your organisation stands in terms of trading and cash flow is vital in understanding how future uncertainties may impact an organisation, and what levers an organisation can pull in order to respond.

Organisations must review cash reserves and understand what amounts are tied to grants and what amounts can be drawn upon if required. A detailed understanding of expenses in the business is critical, so decisions can be made on where to adjust spending to improve the forecast cash position.

2.      Funding agreements

Some funding agreements stipulate outcomes for the number of participants and these might not be met during a health crisis. Other funding sources not-for-profits count on, like sponsorships and donations, may be at risk if programs or fundraising events are cancelled or postponed, or if the stock market continues to wreak havoc on investments. There are serious implications for not-for-profits and charities if government and non-government funders and donors back off during this time or reinforce expectations for outcomes or outputs which will not be manageable or even possible.

Ensure you have open lines of communications with funders, grant makers and sponsors.

3.      Employees and volunteers

The current situation is filled with uncertainty, so employees and volunteers are likely to be apprehensive in relation to both the impact on their everyday personal life as well as on their employment. Ensure you have strong open communication that is delivered in a calm, consistent, clear manner. In these times of uncertainty encourage your team to talk about how they are feeling with each other, loved ones and/or professionals.

Ensure that volunteers and paid employees are aware of all relevant policies and procedures. Where possible encourage employees to work remotely. Remote work isn’t possible for all not-for-profits. But for those where it is feasible, making this option available can help provide comfort to your employees that they can continue working without needing to draw own on their leave – and mandatory quarantines may make working remotely a necessity.

If employees are working remotely or are indeed confined at home, it is important that they do not feel alone and isolated. Make sure to keep in contact and use online communication tools for conference calls and online webinars including:

–         Skype (free to download)

–         Google Hangouts Premium (free through to 1 July 2020).

–         Microsoft Teams (free for the six months).

–         GoToMeeting (offering their remote work tools free for three months).

4.      Look for opportunities / Thinking outside the box

Every crisis creates opportunity. Spend time mitigating risk and time analysing opportunity.

Are there any opportunities for your service – that with some repurposing – could provide a new service to meet a new need in the current conditions (or based on conditions getting worse).

On 11 April, Parkinson’s Queensland will be holding a ‘virtual’ walk in the park to celebrate Parkinson’s Awareness month. People are encouraged to participate by setting up their own virtual walk – walk around a local park, on a treadmill, on the beach or in your own backyard. This is a good example of an innovative approach to fundraising. Still having fun and having an impact on those affected by Parkinson’s.

The real impact of the recent disasters and now COVID-19 may likely mean more charities facing non-existence and now is the time to collaborate and partner to support each other. 

In case you missed it: Brisbane finding cure for COVID-19 need donations for research


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