What the tangata whenua, community and voluntary sector needs to be sustainable


Funding: seen as the cause of, and solution to, the majority of the problems for not-for-profit organisations.

Community organisations often start their lives as small, voluntary groups. They initially run on passion and spare time, but eventually reach a stage where they need money if they want to grow or sustain their current mahi.  

Luckily for our communities, there’s usually money out there for the work – the government and philanthropic organisations are key partners for the sector. A great deal of the work done by community organisations would not be possible without that generous funding. 

Room for improvement

But there is a lot of room for improvement. Our sector hauora survey last year showed that changes are needed in the way funding is delivered if together we’re to create a sustainable flow of funding to community organisations.  

One urgent change needed is a shift from short-term, project-based funding to high trust, multi-year funding.  

While the outlook for community organisation’s funding appears to have improved since our first sector hauora survey in 2020, it was still not a great picture in 2021:  

  • Just over half (53.3%) of respondents said they had money to run for a year or more 
  • Just under a quarter (23.9%) said they had funds for the next six to 12 months  
  • Another quarter (22.9%) said they had funding for just six months or less.

The vital work of the community & voluntary sector

These are organisations doing vital work for our community: they’re the ones delivering food parcels, addressing family violence, lobbying government for strong action on climate change, supporting Māori communities to thrive, supporting migrants and former refugees to find their feet, making homes warm and dry, promoting peace and equity.

The work they do matters – so why are we funding them twelve months at a time? This needs to change.  

Impacts of funding constraints

Funding also needs to allow for salary and operational costs – the boring but important stuff like keeping the lights on and paying the staff at least a living wage. Without money for people, there’s a high risk of burning out and churning through staff.  

One survey respondent put it this way: “You are all working flat out, but there’s actually no funding to support those [support staff, GM] roles. But if those roles aren’t there, then nothing’s going to happen.”  

Extra pressure is put on those staff by the nature of the funding model too – all community organisations are competing for the same pot of money.  

Someone in a focus group we ran said: “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.” 

What we need now more than ever, is collaboration, not competition. Māori and Pacific respondents pointed out that the current funding model is very much a product of Pakeha ways of working, which can make the funding process – at best – difficult for other cultures to work with and – at worst – totally inaccessible.  

Accountability for funds will always be important, but the application and reporting processes right now are overly long and complex, almost never translated into different languages, and can often exclude the diverse needs of Māori, Pacific and Ethnic communities. 

Now is the time to change our funding landscape

This is how one survey focus group participant summed up the funding landscape: “Under-funding of community services is endemic. There is no slack in the system and New Zealanders attitude of provision of service on the ‘smell of an oily rag’ has shown when a global event like COVID hits, it hits hard and there is a limit to how quickly or effectively our organisations can pivot as we … did not have a lot of money in the first instance.”

If we really value the work that community organisations do, we need to change the way we’re funding them to create more equitable and sustainable outcomes for Aotearoa New Zealand.