Leanne Raven, Crohn’s and Colitis Australia’s CEO, has experienced many of the key issues identified in the RESET2020 study, from the hit to the organisation’s revenues and national volunteer numbers, to the valuable help from the Federal government’s JobKeeper package.
But CCA also had some good timing: 12 months ago, the organisation embarked on a digital transformation program that enabled it to mobilise quickly and ensure that working from home was less disruptive and time-consuming than it could have been for its 12 staff.
The membership base had its own problems when COVID-19 arrived. CCA works with people who have a chronic illness – an inflammatory bowel disease – and many already have reduced immunity. They isolated early but there was anxiety about how susceptible they may be to the virus. Compounding the problem was the shortage of toilet paper in the early days of the lockdown when panic buying stripped supermarket shelves of toilet rolls. Some people whose disease may not be under control can use the toilet 20-30 times a day, so toilet paper is a critical part of their life. There were some who were living alone who couldn’t get out to buy food and groceries. So CCA contacted Woolworths to help provide special deliveries to those with reduced immunity. Toilet paper manufacturer Quilton also got in on the act by running a competition asking people to nominate charities in need of toilet paper. The result was that CCA finished up with 500 donated packs of Quilton toilet paper to distribute.
That generosity did, however, pose another challenge. “As a small charity we’re not a distribution company,’’ Leanne says, “How are we going to get this out to people? Some of these people were in regional and remote locations…we ended up partnering with a distribution company [and] Australia Post helped us. We were able to get a reduced rate and we’ve been sending these out to people all around Australia, and we never thought we’d be doing that.’’
The response from CCA’s constituency has been worth it. “So much good feedback and it really has helped reduce the anxiety and the fear people have been having,’’ Leanne says. Other elements have changed – the face-to-face member support groups went virtual (and now as some states emerge from lockdown, there are groups who are keen to continue digital support), and CCA has increased its communication with its fortnightly newsletter now produced weekly. “We feel like we’re more in touch with our members than we were, which is a good thing because we’ve had to reduce some of our services, and people understand,’’ Leanne explains.
She acknowledges that CCA has the benefit of several on-going Commonwealth government programs that will support the organisation, especially in the tricky first six months of next year. And Leanne is also encouraged by the recent changes to JobKeeper, which will ease some pressure. But there is no doubt that the pandemic has forced a rethink, not just at the start, back in March, but the longer it’s gone on.
“We recognised early that there would be opportunities for the organisation; we recognised that it’s not going to be business as usual so there will be challenges but there will definitely be opportunities that emerge and we don’t want to miss them,’’ Leanne said.
Five months later, and after a stellar demonstration of the CCA community’s generosity that led to an EOFY appeal generating twice its usual amount, CCA is about to go into a strategic review with a clear idea of the challenge ahead: “How can we structure ourselves so that we can deliver in terms of these different channels of communication and service?,’’ Leanne says “And we’re going to have to resource that.’’
Leanne knows that there will still be uncertainties. “I don’t think there’s anyone who wouldn’t feel uncertain about the way things will be,’’ she says. “We’re looking at three-five years here: it’s not going to be back to normal next year.’’