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Impact of COVID coping points to new funding approach

April 14th, 2022

Arts and social sector organisations responded to the COVID-19 pandemic’s challenges by innovating, collaborating, strengthening their employee welfare initiatives, and focusing on the short term, a new funder-supported report finds.

The COVID-19 and Beyond NFP Recovery Collaboration Project, established by the Sidney Myer Fund, the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation, the Ian Potter Foundation, the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation and Gandel Philanthropy (The Foundations), found many organisations responded to the pandemic by increasing their use of digital platforms. 

The Project report highlighted how employee welfare and demand for services were significant challenges for the sectors during the pandemic.

In addition to the pandemic responses collated by dandolopartners from 57 organisations across the arts and social sectors, the Project report also identified an elevated role for the Foundations to support innovation in the sector.

“The Foundations may wish to make general operating support a priority, incentivise innovation, support purposeful partnerships and collaborations, and use non-financial levers,’’ the report states. “We recommend the Foundations considering doing this collaboratively.’’

The Project surveyed the pandemic’s impact on the sector in 2020 but the report is only now being publicly released.

Kirsty Allen, Senior Program Manager at the Sidney Myer Fund and The Myer Foundation (and Philanthropy Australia board member), said anecdotal evidence indicated that the pandemic had continued to have an impact post-2020 as many organisations worked to support a return to the office and to face-to-face service delivery. There also appears to have been an impact on some CEOs, who had managed their organisations through the pandemic but had left when the organisation’s financial viability did not improve. There is also evidence of volunteers burn-out, amid reduced opportunities to be engaged with their organisation’s work.

The pandemic did, however, force many organisations to innovate. “Some organisations really took the opportunity presented by COVID to take out plans they had in their back pocket but hadn’t had the time to do,’’ Kirsty said.

“It pushed them down that path, to making programs more accessible… [and in some cases] putting them a year or 18 months ahead.’’

The Project report noted: “Organisations felt they had more ‘freedom to fail’ than before in trying out new approaches.’’

The first part of the Project highlighted the pandemic’s impact on organisation and the second looked at what organisations identify as the key steps to fostering greater innovation across the sector.

Chief among these were: greater collaboration among NFPs; revised funding models and foundations leveraging their influence.

“To support innovation in the sectors, The Foundations may wish to make general operating support a priority, incentivise innovation, support purposeful partnerships and collaboration and use non-financial levers,’’ the Project report said.

This recommendation chimes with the Pay What It Takes approach, Kirsty said.

“That approach enables funders to have that discussion with organisations, and it enables organisations to say: ‘What we need is untied funding’,’’ she said.

“This really intersects with Pay What It Takes - by philanthropy providing flexibility of funding, with less restrictions…The sector is not really comfortable with saying that it needs flexibility because they don’t think funders want to hear it. But this conversation is starting to happen,’’ Kirsty said.

The Project report endorses the Foundations supporting innovation by funding general operating costs; revising funding models to better incentivise innovation; encourage purposeful and well-planned collaborations between organisations and using additional non-financial levers.

“To achieve maximum impact, we recommend that Foundations implement [this] in partnership with each other, or other funders,’’ the Project report said.

Register here for our upcoming event: 'COVID-19 and beyond – NFP recovery collaboration project research launch' on Thursday 21 April.

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