Small community organisations have been hit hard by COVID-19 and need more support from government and other funders, says sector peak body Hui E! Community Aotearoa.

A survey of 1400 tangata whenua, community and voluntary organisations in May-June 2020 found that many faced slashed funding at the same time as demand for their services increased.

A deep dive of the survey data has found that the hardest hit have been organisations serving Māori, Pasifika, and other ethnic communities, and organisations with low to medium incomes and operating budgets.

A report on the key trends from the survey, and proposed solutions, was released today.

Hui E! Community Aotearoa Pou Kaiārahi (General Manager) Rochelle Stewart-Allen said the sector needed to be funded adequately.

“Our community sector needs to be properly funded so we can keep supporting Aotearoa’s wellbeing and most vulnerable. This is particularly important during times of crisis as we’ve seen as COVID-19 hit our shores.”

Three-quarters of the nearly 1000 survey respondents said their organisation was expecting, or had already experienced, a drop in revenue.

At the same time, 65 percent of all organisations expressed concern about whether they would be able to meet the increasing needs of their communities. Between 73 percent and 82 percent of organisations serving Māori, Pasifika, and other specific ethnic groups had this concern.

This situation is compounded by the overall funding landscape, according to respondents. More than half of the organisations said their biggest unmet need was help with fundraising and grant-writing – followed by support in other professional services, such as IT and communications.

On top of financial worries, the main concerns expressed were: Meeting the needs of the people the organisations support; ensuring our staff and volunteers are well supported; developing new service offerings in a changing environment; being able to pay staff; changing service provision to meet public health criteria.

Another clear trend in the findings is that the larger the organisation and its budget, the better it was doing. Small and medium organisations struggled to maintain funding and were also more likely to be concerned at losing their volunteers.

As one person said, “It’s incredibly hard for small organisations to be able to fund ourselves when we rely on volunteers to do everything. Our services are recognised by the health sector as essential, but we can’t get assured funding to meet the level of need we are experiencing despite putting a good, well-planned case for support forward.”

Only seven percent of those surveyed believed that the COVID-19 pandemic created more funding opportunities.

Community organisations were quick to acknowledge some silver linings, including increased flexibility and adaptability, and a stronger sense of community. However, many of the perceived advantages were much more commonly experienced by large organisations than by small ones.

“Our community sector is essential to growing strong and resilient communities and we contribute 4.2% ($12.1b) to New Zealand’s GDP. We are committed to contributing to rebuilding our country as we tackle the health, social and economic challenges created by this global pandemic,” says Rochelle Stewart-Allen.

A new survey of community organisations which checks in about how they are coping now, is due to be conducted later this year.