FOR the charity sector, just as for every other sector, the effects of the Covid pandemic have been significant, sustained and far-reaching.
Detailed information — from regulatory filings, company documents and sector surveys — which is becoming available for 2020 paints a diverse picture. In some sub-sectors — for example, residential health care or disability services M1 charities have been responding to life and death issues for the vulnerable people in their care. In other sub-sectors like the arts and culture, it is the organisations — theatres, festivals, production companies — that are on life support. Charities that depend on face-to-face fundraising such as Church gate collections or fundraising events, have taken a severe hit to their income.
As we look hopefully towards a brighter future, with the virus in retreat and necessary lockdown restrictions being unwound, there has been much reflection within the sector, on how charities have responded to the emergency — how many will recover and whether the changes imposed by the lockdowns will have lasting impacts.
Not all of the impacts have been negative. Many charities, especially those working in social services and local development, report a renewed sense of recognition of the value of their work.
Local charities have worked more collaboratively with one another and with public officials. Some charities, particularly those equipped for digital fundraising, ended 2020 with increased funds from this source and other charities are scrambling to emulate them.
It is undeniable that the response of the State — the largest single provider of funding to Irish charities — was significant, prompt and forthcoming. Additional funds were provided at the frontline of health, social care, homelessness and disability service providers. An increase in funding for the arts and culture sectors, which had seen their ability to generate incomes (via events/ticket sales etc) fell to zero overnight, followed the report of a task force convened specifically to address the needs of that sub-sector.
My organisation Benefacts, which provides comprehensive data analysis on the nonprofit sector to enable increased transparency and aid evidenced-based decision making, has identified an 11% increase in funding to charities in 2020, using financial data provided to us by nine of the largest Government Departments and Agencies.
Benefacts analysis shows that increased State funding to Cork charities was far in advance of the national average. The value of State funding to the charity sector in Cork grew from €570.6m to €724.4m, an increase of 27%. Cork health charities saw the biggest total increase at €100.6 million, followed by education charities at €39.2m. The biggest percentage increase in State support for charities, at 56%, went to Cork arts charities.
Cork has a vibrant and diverse community of 1,171 registered charities. The biggest single group are 466 schools or colleges of education. There are 187 social care providers, 158 involved in local development, 88 church bodies or religious associations, 72 arts and culture organisations, and 62 involved in health care. The rest are involved in fund-raising and philanthropy (50), environment and animal welfare (30), international development or affiliation (24), and advocacy (22). The charity sector in Cork is also a durable one, with at least 210 Cork-based charities established for more than 20 years, and eight for more than 50 years. Aside from uncounted numbers of volunteers, there are at least 14,915 people working in Cork charities (not including schools).
As Cork charities count the costs of the last 15 months and plan for 2022, few are expecting a return to “business as usual”.
Organisations as well as people are scarred by the impacts of Covid, and perhaps for some charities the prolonged closure will be terminal. Others will find that ongoing caution and changes in public behaviour pose challenges for the way they work, requiring alternative ways of working or delivering services.
And of course many charities are bracing themselves for a “correction” in State funding, given that double-digit increases – however needed or welcome – may not be sustained over time.
Earned revenues and fundraising, which are charities’ principal other sources of income, will not immediately bounce back to February 2020 levels, as restrictions on large events continue and changes in public behaviour may be permanent.
Charity trustees and directors who make up the voluntary boards of charities have been addressing themselves to these questions for more than a year now. Their ingenuity and vision is being put to the test in a world which is more highly competitive and more regulated than it was 20 years ago.
Because the social economy, like the wider economy, is always growing and evolving. In 2020, there were 466 new nonprofit startups in Ireland, 59 of them in Cork alone. Only 1 of these is yet registered as a charity, others may be added to the register in due course.
Here at Benefacts, we are documenting, reporting and analysing this significant population of campaigners, cultural animators, social enterprises, care providers and affiliation or recreational hubs. We provide transparency on a sector that receives billions of euros in State funding each year, and we support evidenced-based decision making. This means that charity leaders, like leaders on other sectors, now have clear trend data and other kinds of business intelligence to inform the tough decisions and hard choices that will follow the tough 15 months they have just come through. We are all the stronger for this.