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Joshua Newton

Corporate Client Advisor
Charities Aid Foundation

T: +44 (0) 3000 123 231

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How businesses can support their NGO partners through the impact of COVID-19?

I was pleased to be on the expert panel for a Business Fights Poverty live written discussion, looking at the ways businesses can support their charity partners in a time of crisis. Here are my summary responses to the three questions we considered – on defining the problem, on the steps to support the immediate response and how to support the longer-term recovery.

You find the full discussion published here.

1. What are the particular challenges companies and NGOs are facing during the COVID-19 crisis to date which is testing existing or potential partnerships with one another?

For context I think it’s worth recognising that while corporate/charity partnerships have no doubt an increasingly important role to play, most donations from companies usually average below £5000 and the NCVO estimates corporate contributions only generate about 3-4% of a charity’s total income. 

At the moment all we know from the NGO side is what they’re telling us. CAF’s polling of the sector has found a huge rise in service demand for charities that support vulnerable groups - at the same time fundraising which is sometimes half of a charities total income has ground to a halt. Over half of the charities we’ve spoken to, say they will not be able to continue for 12 months without further support.

The news from Government of £750m to the sector is welcome, but ultimately that still leaves a huge funding chasm (possibly over £3bn) which responsible businesses will be looked to help plug. For many businesses, which are navigating an uncertain future themselves, that’s a tough ask.

A more practical challenge for both existing partnerships and those in the pipeline are how to deliver on commitments made - in some circumstances by contractual agreement - when they are no longer appropriate due to the crisis. Programmes for example planned for schools or for the Easter holidays have been cancelled. Partnerships now have to show flex and explore how projects can be repurposed to support the charities and their beneficiaries.

2. What can companies and NGOs do in order to ensure strong partnerships during this crisis? In particular managing immediate impacts?

There are a whole host of things that companies and NGOs could do together. Match funding, product donations, utilising dormant assets are just a couple of examples. To help companies distil what to prioritise, CAF have established a resources hub full of insight and set out four clear recommendations to businesses and other donors on how to manage immediate impacts:

1. Talk to your partners

2. Make funding unrestricted

3. Bring forward any planned giving

4. Do your research and be imaginative

So far, we’re seeing clients follow this guidance and find new ways of supporting their partners. For instance, M&S has increased  its  support to their partner Neighbourly, as well as other organisations, by  adding them to their Sparks card.

We’re also talking to clients in industries more adversely affected and in sectors where staff have been put on furlough. It’s complex for them to publicly announce additional support but we are seeing them doing it still.

On the whole there’s a great deal more needed. Already we’ve had over 20 large clients pledge additional £4m of funds, which is incredible but unfortunately that is just a fraction of the £60m+ that the London marathon generates alone.

3. What should companies and NGOs do to ensure their partnerships emerge from the crisis even stronger than before?

It’s a cliché but out of a crisis comes opportunity and a chance to transform the way things are done. We’re slowly transitioning from the reactive to the recovery phase and while things remain very uncertain, we do know that high impact partnerships have a crucial role in this next phase. Anecdotally we’re seeing clients show that, by ensuring they have additional resources available for later phases of the crisis.

Last week, we saw Barclays commit £100m to support the crisis and its fallout. They have taken an all assets approach which includes optimising their services, senior leaders pledging pay and earmarking extra funds to match donations made by their employees.

At CAF we’ll be encouraging clients to continue to think boldly and build on existing partnerships using three principles: openness, flexibility and dialogue. Crucial to this will be adapting business models and strategies around stakeholder groups like NGO partners. We’ve seen over the last decade companies doing this - those that don’t will have to catch up.

For advice on how your organisation is best placed to support your stakeholders and communities through the crisis, please get in touch.