Pandemic pressure grows on volunteers, demand, fundraising but there's hope on the horizon

Posted on 23 Jun 2021

By Matthew Schulz, journalist, Our Community

Covidsurvey 1200

Not-for-profits in Australia are coming under intense pressure a year on from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic with 52 per cent reporting more demand for services, and the majority suffering a slump in volunteers and donations. Denis Moriarty, group managing director, Our Community, said the immense pressure meant it was time for governments to do more to support the sector.

Denis Moriarty says there are major issues facing the sector. Picture: Penny Stephens.
"A trilogy of terror is threatening the Australian community sector, which is facing increased demand for services, a reduction in donations and a catastrophic collapse in volunteering. The only thing that will save Australia’s 600,000 community groups will be Australians’ continued faith in them, and a bloody big investment by government to ensure the sector can invest in technology and reskill its workforce. We need a major industry plan for the future."
Denis Moriarty

Yet there are also opportunities flagged in the findings, as community awareness of the sector's work rises, and Australians indicate a willingness to help, with 37 per cent saying they will give more time and money in the year ahead.

The COVID-19 Community Sector Impact Survey by Our Community, in partnership with Salesforce, which builds on previous findings from April 2020, surveyed 907 NFP representatives and 1,027 members of the public to examine the impact of the pandemic on the sector and what's needed to recover. It is one the biggest and most important surveys on the sector in the past few years.

2021 Challenges
Top challenges flagged by Our Community members and other survey respondents.

Key findings in the 40-page report include:

  • Demand for not-for-profit services is up
  • Volunteering has been severely disrupted with no signs of an early recovery
  • Fundraising remains down, with some glimmers of hope
  • A bounce-back in staffing should be expected
  • Organisations are investing more in training and digital technology
  • Not-for-profits are more optimistic now than they were 12 months ago
  • There's greater community awareness of the work of not-for-profits
  • Some groups have responded to the pandemic by diversifying revenue
  • There is a renewed focus on governance and strategic planning
  • Only 7% of groups see climate changes as a top challenge.

Here are a handful of observations in more detail, but we urge you to read the report in full.

2021 Volunteers
Not only have more organisations been affected by the volunteering slump this year, the study also revealed 81% of respondents said the pandemic had affected their ability to manage and recruit volunteers.

Volunteer threat looms large

One of biggest threats the survey reveals is to our volunteer army. Seventy-three per cent of NFPs rely on volunteers for programs and services, but 64 per cent of organisations reported a drop in volunteer numbers. The volunteer force has been smashed.

Fundraising turns the corner but money is still tight

Another major finding is that although the worst predictions for fundraising haven't come to pass, the picture is still grim for many, with more than one in two organisations reporting a funding downturn, and many losing at least half of their fundraising income. With the defunct JobKeeper scheme no longer providing a lifeline, it's at least encouraging to see that 37% of Australians who support not-for-profits plan to donate more this year.

Technology is part of the solution

Another trend in the report is the boost to the reliance on technology in the sector. Nearly three quarters of all groups (74%) increased their use of tech in the past year, with nearly two-thirds (64%) planning to do more in the year ahead. Andrew Hill, the regional head of Salesforce's not-for-profit and education arm, says there are opportunities for groups to use technology to boost volunteers and donations. “Now is the time to capture the increased awareness and motivation for people to give back to their communities," he said.

The gathering was a rare opportunity for community directors to discuss challenges with their peers. The networking session was hosted by both the Community Directors Council chair Susan Pascoe and ICDA’s director of learning and education, Lisa Jennings.

What next with this survey?

At Our Community, we expect these findings will enlighten community organisations and their supporters and amplify the call by advocates for more resources. The sector can only achieve its goals of social good if it can win better recognition and the investment to match. Already the study has prompted this report in The Australian: Community sector facing Covid ‘trilogy of terror’.

In the meantime, we'll continue to use these findings to inform the help we provide not-for-profits.

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