Community orgs fight to survive

23 June 2020 | Posted In: News

The devastating impact COVID-19 has had on community organisations has been laid bare in findings from a national survey that show the sector fighting for cash, volunteers and, in many cases, survival. The survey — conducted by the Institute of Community Directors Australia — found that 70 percent of not-for-profit orgs felt their existence “threatened” by the coronavirus. The community sector spans services including health and mental wellbeing, housing and homelessness, Indigenous support, social justice, education, and the environment.

As with commercial businesses, community orgs have had their work severely disrupted by the social-distancing measures implemented by government to slow the spread of COVID-19. A total of 88 percent of respondents said their services had been affected by the rules. While some orgs have had to curtail their work, others have adapted and continued providing services in a different format. Some have closed.

Other key findings include: a 67 percent drop in fundraising, with 39 percent of respondents believing they have not received adequate government support. And 35 percent of respondents have had to reduce staff numbers, with 40 percent unsure if there will be further staff reductions.

In response to the findings, Community Council for Australia chair, Tim Costello, said: “There’s no way to sugar coat this — the COVID-19 pandemic is seismic. Community groups are the social infrastructure of our economy; they need to be fast-tracked investment from government, philanthropy and individuals before it’s too late.” Costello added: “Community groups have always had to innovate to thrive, now it goes to their ability to survive.”

Meanwhile, a survey commissioned by Volunteering Australia and conducted by researchers at the Australian National University (ANU), has found that between February and April there was a 66 percent decline in the number of community volunteers. That translates to 12.2 million hours of lost volunteer work per week.
“The findings reinforce the power of the volunteer workforce and its contribution to the economic and social wellbeing of Australia,” said ANU researchers.

Hopefully, as iso restrictions ease, it won’t be too long before volunteers feel safe to return. Already, say the researchers, community organisations that have had to cease services because of COVID-19 restrictions are seeking guidance on how to restart programs safely and to support volunteers in their transition back. “The nation needs these volunteers back supporting their communities.”