COVID-19, charities and charity
2 April 2020 at 8:34 am
We need to look after each other to look after ourselves, writes Community Council for Australia CEO David Crosbie.
“This is a moment in our shared humanity when we don’t know what happens next, but I suspect that we will need more than just an economic stimulus, we will need a stimulus in civility, in community and in charity that can only be generated from within, as we lament and then renew ourselves together,” – Rev Tim Costello.
We are all being tested in so many ways. Much of what we took for granted is now under question. So much of what we have planned for is no longer relevant.
COVID-19 means charities have lost significant income, fee producing activities are now restricted, thousands of staff have been stood down, many organisations are desperately seeking ways to re-engineer their support to on-line platforms so they can maintain some services.
The charity leaders I speak to are worried the communities they serve may not be able to get the help they need. This is what keeps charity leaders awake at night. There is also the daunting task of standing down staff, closing services, struggling to find a way to continue. Some charities now fear they will not last long enough to have a chance to rebuild, to return to doing their invaluable work.
Then there is the impact on those throughout the world who are already leading precarious lives. What will COVID-19 mean in a refugee camp where running water is scarce, conditions are crowded, and access to intensive medical care almost impossible? What will it mean in countries without the means to bolster health services and offer economic support? History tells us that it is the poor and dispossessed who suffer most in times of pandemics.
And we are only at the beginning of this story. We need to prepare ourselves for more challenges.
Of course, it is not all bad for charities – there have been some positive shifts worth noting.
Governments are now more willing to help than ever before. At CCA we know our letters to the prime minister and the treasurer have made their way to the desks of senior public servants and helped inform policy developments over the past two weeks. CCA has not achieved all the policies we would like to see enacted, but we are being listened to, and government is responding. There are still developed countries around the world where government supported economic stimulus is being offered only to business, not charities. It is pleasing that our governments now acknowledge the role we play and the need to keep as many charities as possible employing people and continuing to serve our communities.
Philanthropists have been prepared to step up and do more to support the charities sector. Some are now offering greater flexibility to the charities they provide grants to, some are giving more in this time of need. I find it uplifting that despite many foundations facing a loss of capital in their investments, there are major philanthropic groups actively looking for opportunities to reduce the negative impact of COVID-19.
A lot of the volunteers working in charities have had to isolate, partly because of their age and partly because of the nature of their work. Their withdrawal has served to highlight how valuable they are. In some cases, the army has been brought in to fulfill the role they previously played. Alongside this increased recognition, there is a growing sense of volunteerism in the way people are prepared to offer their support in their local communities and beyond.
So many people are working at home but reaching out has become the new norm. In my neighbourhood, we are all actively looking out for each other and we are not unusual.
It seems that every 10th post on my Twitter account is about people supporting each other, amusing each other, finding ways to be creative and connected. In fact, the whole tone of our social media commentary seems more positive.
The pursuit of individual gain seems less important as we focus more on collective well-being. It is recognised that we are no longer just an economy, but also an interconnected set of communities.
There have been some notable contrasts in the way people have reacted to the new challenges they face. Some of our international cruisers and jet setters have returned home to Australia to find themselves confined to a five-star hotel room in forced isolation. A few have made it very clear that this is totally unacceptable, a form of torture they should not have to endure. At the same time in Perth, the homeless, now being taken off the streets and located in hotel rooms for their protection and ours, are offering us all a model of what grace looks like. In the words of the Pan Pacific Hotel manager who helped serve meals to the previously homeless guests, they were; “polite, funny, courteous, shy and thankful”. I know which group I would rather serve.
Our work in charities has never been more important.
CCA will continue to offer support and advocacy on behalf of our generous members and the broader charities sector for as long as we have the capacity to do so. We will continue to highlight the invaluable work many charities continue to do and push for more support to enable as many charities as possible to continue building flourishing communities. We will also take the time to listen to our colleagues, many of whom we know are going to be dealing with various forms of shared grief.
All of which brings me to the primary purpose of this article, to reinforce the theme so eloquently outlined by Tim Costello earlier this week, to ask for greater charity.
I am not talking about charitable organisations, important as they are, or philanthropy giving more to charity, which is desirable, but about the way we engage with each other in this pandemic.
We need to look after each other to look after ourselves. If we can all offer a little more patience, compassion, tolerance, more time to rejoice in our privileges and lament our losses, we may still endure some hardships, but we will also grow as individuals and as a community.
About the author: David Crosbie is CEO of the Community Council for Australia. He has spent more than 20 years as CEO of significant charities including five years in his current role, four years as CEO of the Mental Health Council of Australia, seven years as CEO of the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia, and seven years as CEO of Odyssey House Victoria.
David Crosbie writes exclusively for Pro Bono News on a fortnightly basis, covering issues of importance to the broader not-for-profit sector.