Four quick wins for the community sector

Here are four ways that tangata whenua, community and voluntary organisations can be better supported by Government and philanthropic sector – starting today.


At the end of last year we released the 2021 findings of the sector hauora survey. It was the result of a survey and focus groups with people from more than 600 organisations in the tangata whenua, community and voluntary sector.  

The themes were not a surprise to us – they were continuation of what we had seen in the 2020 survey. At the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic response, organisations continue to face increased demand for their services. But their funding has stayed static or in some cases it’s decreased.  

The work is starting to take its toll on leaders and kaimahi, with real worries about burnout; and the stress that communities are experiencing is also grinding people down.  

There were of course silver linings to COVID-19 – those in the community sector are eternal optimists – like the chance to be more flexible; opportunities to collaborate with partners; and there was a feeling their work was being seen and appreciated more.  

What I’d like to hone in on is the where to now – what are some of the solutions to these challenges, and how can we harness some of the good that has come from the last 20 months?  

Here are a few ideas, much of which can be put in place immediately by the government and philanthropic sector, that would support the community sector to keep doing what it does best – looking after people and whenua.  

  1. Recognise that kin and non-kin relationships are vital 

People in the sector have found a source of wellness in whakawhanaungatanga since the pandemic arrived. Connecting with people and strengthening relationships have been key to the wellbeing of organisations and communities during the pandemic. Grassroots networks have demonstrated their power during this crisis. It’s time to grow understanding of whakawhanaungatanga, recognise its value, and build it into policies and practices.  

  1. Provide incentives for collaboration and remove competitive funding models  

There are a few funders that are starting to fund collaboration, but we’ve got a long way to go. The competitive funding model, which often means small, already under-resourced organisations have to fill out often complex applications and reports for the same small pool of money, is not serving anyone.  

One survey respondent put it well: “The paradigm that we exist in has just become so economically driven, especially in the community development sector. We’re just constantly put under pressure to deliver KPIs, and we are still in a competitive funding regime.” 

We need trust-based funding models that respond to local need; that respect hapū, iwi and local communities to deliver what they know is needed; support locally-led planning and resourcing. The contracts also need to be multi-year to reduce the great deal of work required to justify the money.   

  1. Invest in people  

We need funding for salaries and operational costs, not just project costs – if funders allowed up to 40 percent of grants to go towards behind-the-scenes stuff it would go a long way toward creating more stability in the sector. That might include a budget for the support and wellbeing of those delivering the projects too – counsellors, external supervisors, professional development. Those working in the sector – especially now – need more than a pat on the back, they need resourcing for wellbeing and development.  

It might also mean investing in the development of new leaders for the sector. This research participant pointed out why we need a change: “…Now we need Māori, indigenous and Pasifik[a] all in these lead roles, where they should have had ages ago … they need them because they understand what it means when you’re working with mana whenua.” 

  1. Put equity at the heart of change 

There are some easy wins for more equitable outcomes, like making sure information is provided in accessible ways and multiple languages. 

But there’s harder stuff we need to start addressing too. Most funding decisions are made using Pakeha funding models – what would it look like if we used different models?  

What would happen if there was equal representation and power-sharing – with tangata whenua, with migrant and refugee background communities, with people who have disabilities?  

Whether conscious or not, we make decisions based on our life experience and our values – could COVID-19 provide us with an opportunity to reevaluate?  

One research participant nailed it: “I think that’s a really, really important opportunity for us to start reframing our future, and re-evaluating what we do and reevaluating the values that we operate under and reviewing the paradigm.” 

There’s plenty more detail on the survey, and ideas for change, on this page.