Bracing for impact: preparing the non-profit sector for the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic
Updated: Jan 28, 2021
How should development NGOs fundraise after Coronavirus?
LIVES AROUND THE WORLD were changed when COVID-19 first appeared in Wuhan in January 2020, a year we’ll all remember as the year we realised the true importance of public health when living in a super connected, increasingly urbanised world. We learnt to pull together and to support the unsung heroes that keep our society functioning. We also learnt to juggle meetings on Zoom with home-schooling children, how to entertain ourselves with only our creativity, and the importance of toilet paper.
When the crisis hit, most of us were caught unaware. The international development sector, a fragile ecosystem at the best of times, was no exception. Plans were disrupted, strategies were thrown out the window, and normal ways of working were shaken up. Now, as we start to come out from the crisis, uncertainty remains, but it’s an essential time for everyone, especially NGOs, to plan the next steps of their journey.
For NGOs central to the immediate COVID-19 response, or who are able to effectively articulate their relevance to the pandemic’s far-reaching impacts, the path forward will be clear, but for NGOs that don’t fall into these categories, there will be a lot of uncertainty ahead. This unstable environment can lead to NGOs taking the wrong path, especially when considering their fundraising strategy.
While I don’t have a crystal ball to see the future, I do have seven key pieces of advice on how NGOs that aren't on the frontline of COVID-19 response can find relief, support, and even opportunities in this time of crisis.
Overcommit to responding to the COVID-19 crisis if that is not your NGO’s core mission. Even though there is the lure of funding for COVID-19 response, consider the time it will take to pivot or transition into a health-related activity before deciding to start a new project. Experience in crises shows that there is an acute interest in the short-term, but that interest is not guaranteed to be sustained over the long-term so opportunities that seem plentiful now might quickly drop off.
Overlook the long-term impact of COVID-19. The pandemic is likely to continue to significantly impact the world well into 2021, and possibly beyond. The crisis has exposed some real vulnerabilities in the global system that will need to be addressed to build the resilience necessary to reduce the risk of shocks, especially in lower-income countries with less resilient economies and weaker health systems.
Get relief if you need it. No one has been completely unaffected by the pandemic. Donations in many areas have dried up, grant opportunities have been delayed or cancelled, and projects have been disrupted. There are opportunities for charities to get relief through emergency funds to keep them afloat during this turbulent time. Charity Exellence Framework's database offers a comprehensive look at funding opportunities for NGOs affected by COVID-19 in the UK.
Expect funding pipelines to change in the short-term. Some donor funds will be reallocated from existing programmes, meaning that organisations that are not directly fighting COVID-19 may experience a short-term lack of funds. However, most pipelines will be maintained, and some will increase. In many cases, funding priorities may not shift too significantly in the medium- to long-term, so it’s important for NGOs to not lose sight of the steps they need to take and relationships they need to build in pursuit of their core mission, even if it is not directly linked to the COVID-19 response. That said, while funding priorities might not shift, governments might reduce ODA to pay down the debts incurred from furlough and other support programmes, and the pie may shrink, or overall ODA funding will remain the same and COVID-19 response will take a piece, which will squeeze funding pipelines for other priority areas.
NGOs with existing infrastructures can consider facilitating supply chains and procurement channels for medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE). One of my clients, a social enterprise in India, is seeking to leverage its distribution network to supply PPE to rural communities to ease the burden on healthcare infrastructure. One significant benefit of a procurement or distribution contract over project-based grant funding is that procurement contracts provide unrestricted funding.
Additionally, NGOs that specialise in media and communications can contribute to awareness-raising campaigns. For example, Coronavirus West Africa's website has collected resources created by NGOs to raise awareness about COVID-19 in West and Central Africa. Funding is likely to be available for the creation of local-language sensitisation media.
If you need support in navigating the post-COVID fundraising landscape, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
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