Daniel Ferrell-Schweppenstedde

Former Policy and Public Affairs Manager

Charities Aid Foundation

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What can donors do about the pandemic?

19 March 2020

Charities are a big part of the response

The coronavirus pandemic is unfolding rapidly, affecting large parts of society - with constraints on travel, events cancelled due to the outbreak, and huge numbers of employees shifting to working from home. Charities and the voluntary sector make up a significant part of the UK economy- there are over 167,000 registered charities in England and Wales alone, having an income of £23 billion, employing over 1 million people and being supported by over 4 million volunteers - so like many other sectors they are feeling the impact of these events.

But charities are also driven by their mission and a goal to help others, so they are on the front line of tackling the impact of the pandemic and ensuring that the ongoing needs of people and communities around the world are not forgotten as attention is understandably drawn towards the coronavirus response.

charities need your support during the coronavirus

There are charities working on loneliness, tackling food poverty or providing care for elderly people - all of which could see a large increase in demand in the coming weeks and months. The same applies to community transport or services that help people access food, medicines and other assistance for those living in isolation. If schools and nurseries close, childcare could be another area heavily impacted.

Any economic slowdown that may occur as a result of the virus will also have an impact on vulnerable people: foodbanks are already responding to a rise in demand. A range of community groups are self-organising, with individuals coordinating their efforts on Facebook and WhatsApp groups in the spirit of self-help and mutual aid.

…but also increasingly under pressure

Charities were already facing high demand for their services before the pandemic. This new crisis will bring additional strain in terms of service uptake and increase pressure on already strained financial resources. Many charities have had to cancel or postpone fundraising events due to new social distancing measures, including high profile examples like the London Marathon. Others organisations which rely on trading incomes from charity shops, cafes or entrance fees are facing huge shortfalls as people stop going out.

While exact figures detailing the financial impact on charities are as yet unknown, organisations like the Institute of Fundraising (IoF) are providing guidance and attempting to get a clear view on the numbers, which are likely in the millions. We have heard from individual charities that the pandemic may have already negatively affected income – this coming against the backdrop of existing concerns that we are seeing a worrying decline in charitable giving already.

Government assistance has been announced, but details are still lacking and there are concerns that charities may not be eligible for some support aimed at businesses. That is why many charities and sector bodies are now calling for extra support in light of an unfolding cash crisis.

Charities continue to rely on the generosity of the millions of people who give to them every day. And it is more important than ever that we all continue to support the causes we care about at this hugely challenging time.

For donors who want to help, there are many things they can do.

How to help

Give a little bit more to your favourite charity

Many of us have a favourite charity or cause. If you know your charity of choice is struggling at the moment then they could use the additional support. Those of us who are lucky enough to be working from home could donate the cost of commuting, morning coffee, lunch, afternoon treat or after-work pint to their favourite charity. There is also a range of CAF products you can use to make your giving go further.

Give to charities that are helping to mitigate the impact of the pandemic

Many charities will see an uptake of their services because they serve individuals particularly affected by the pandemic (such as elderly people or other vulnerable groups) or do other specialised work that is needed right now (such as charities working on healthcare) and are launching their own appeals

Give general support

Most individual giving is core support. But even if you are supporting a special COVID-19 campaign by a charity you should ensure that your giving is not earmarked for a specific project or programme. This allows charities to allocate funding to where they need it most.  This gives charities power and flexibility to respond quickly to emerging and ever changing needs in the current situation.

Give locally

The network of community foundations around the UK exists to help donors give in their local area and to give grants to local charities and community groups. For those who want to use their money to support organisations near to them, they are a great place to go for advice and support.

Give to international appeals

Vulnerable people in the developing world may have a particular struggle when it comes to accessing healthcare. There are a range of funds set up to work on this issue. The World Health Organisation (WHO) together with the United Nations Foundation and the Swiss Philanthropy Foundation have launched the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund as the leading global effort.

Giving in-kind

Giving is not only about money. Many charities rely on support from older volunteers who might not be able to be out at the moment. Looking for opportunities to volunteer locally helps charities to mitigate any drop in volunteer support they might experience. Many foodbanks also experience shortfalls in product donations and would welcome additional donations of specific products, such as canned food and hygiene products. Find more information here about what you can do as an individual to support your local community.


National Emergencies Trust Coronavirus Appeal

Support communities in the UK made most vulnerable by the coronavirus outbreak through your CAF Account.

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How you can give to charity with us

We know generous people like you want to make a difference. Find out how we can help you support the causes you care about.

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World Health Organisation Covid-19 Fund

Contribute to the global effort to support at-risk communities through your CAF Account

Find out more