Funding for immediate impact and long-term benefits – A look at charitable fundraising during COVID-19

By CGHP Development Lead, Kristijan Marinkovic

Abstract: Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and response, many charities might struggle to secure funding in the short term, while others might receive more donations than usual to support their front-line work. In both cases, focus should be on the long term, and coming out of the crisis stronger than before.

Even as the UK economy slows and financial outlooks appear uncertain for many, the NHS and hospital charities have received overwhelming support from the public during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is an inspiring demonstration of solidarity, gratitude, pride and, ultimately, optimism, which are among the fundamental drivers of charitable activity. This support, positive energy and momentum have incredible potential to turn around the present crisis and also to carry over into longer-term benefits.

The NHS Charities Together COVID-19 Urgent Appeal aims to raise £100 million to support hospitals and is well on its way to reaching that target. The appeal has inspired a broad range of people to fundraise: from participants in the BBC’s Big Night In to celebrity initiatives like Fleabag for Charity. The British have a propensity for giving which makes the UK charity sector particularly dynamic, but people are going above and beyond in the present situation  Eagerness to give time is equally impressive, as recruitment of volunteers to support the NHS had to pause when the number of applications through the GoodSAM app reached 750,000 in a matter of days.

Major funding organizations and philanthropists have agreed that charities and NGOs need flexibility in these uncertain times and have signed a statement of solidarity to make it easier for their beneficiaries to operate. This means that grants and donations may be used for urgent needs instead of their original purpose, and that reporting deadlines may be extended. This is relevant for CGHP and our overseas activities which are now taking place remotely and under adapted timelines and formats, until regular travel and reciprocal visits can resume. 

Many of the donors and volunteers making such a difference now are people and organisations who had not engaged with charities before (or at least not regularly). This is fantastic because all this new support translates to additional impact. And one way to make that impact even more felt is to encourage these generous supporters to become regularly involved and make them lasting members of our charities’ networks. It is estimated that the sector will lose up to £4 billion in income during the pandemic and therefore realistic, long-term plans which aim to engage these new supporters are crucial.

The 2.6 Challenge, designed to help charities struggling after fundraising events were cancelled and their shops were shut, is one example of a campaign designed specifically for this unpredictable time. CGHP has joined this initiative and our partnership teams are walking, running, and cycling 2.6 miles each day for 26 days with the aim of covering the distance between Cambridge and Kampala, our nearest partner city! This effort brings together fundraising and building team spirit – if you would like to get involved and support us, read more on our front page and in the News section

CGHP 2.6 Challenge

The global response to COVID-19 has been equally extraordinary, ranging from WHO’s technical guidance and leadership, to Lady Gaga’s fundraising initiatives. The UK government is among the biggest donors to the global response, so far contributing £744 million in aid, including a recent announcement of £20 million specifically towards UK charities and NGOs operating in international contexts.

One of the mantras of global health – that disease knows no borders – rings particularly true today and is prominent in DFID’s press releases. Part of the Department’s rationale for investing so much in overseas aid is that by strengthening the health systems of developing countries, it also protects the UK from future waves of infection and builds global health security.

THET is leading the way with its Health Worker Action Fund which invites established global health partnerships to apply for grants towards providing their partners with PPE solutions, infection prevention and control (IPC) initiatives, training, and psychological support in the context of COVID-19. Many other international funders are taking similar steps and rising to the call, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is channelling significant funding to accelerate the development of vaccines, drugs, and diagnostics.

Many UK charitable trusts and foundations, as well as individual donors, are becoming more strongly aware of the relevance of global health and the benefits of health systems strengthening programmes overseas. This means that there could well be increased support for health partnerships and similar activities in the future, from stakeholders who are keen to avoid, or at least to more thoroughly prepare for, a similar pandemic.

The East of England Global Health Conference 2018 harnessed the potential for coordinated action across our region

This increased awareness and these diverse sources of funding are the silver lining for global health in the current crisis. It is a sobering reminder of the importance of maintaining and investing in preparedness, and an opportunity to invite decision makers, funders, and other partners to meet, discuss, and agree on concrete steps to support global health organisations and projects. It is also a chance for healthcare professionals’ voices to be heard and to feed into health policy decisions at the highest level, amplified by the very concrete example of what’s happening around us.  

CGHP is ideally placed to enable our partners in low- and middle-income countries and Cambridge University Hospitals, including the wider healthcare community in our region, to learn from each other and understand the various elements of best practice for containing the outbreak. Because the curve peaked earlier in the Global North, many COVID-19 lessons can already be shared with colleagues in the Global South who, equally, have in-depth knowledge of dealing with outbreaks and experience in managing limited resources. Applying to new sources of global health funding and leveraging the public’s interest in order to support this dimension of CGHP’s work is a clear strategic goal for our charity, aligned with our broader goals of impact, breadth and rigour

As has been said many times by experts and leaders, the COVID-19 crisis will not be overcome with a quick fix and in order to resolve the many underlying, complex healthcare issues the crisis has underscored we will require time and dedication. One risk is that the current, urgent priorities make us lose sight of the big picture of sustainable fundraising and that the lessons learned from this crisis are forgotten.

Similar to our healthcare system, the UK charity system is complex, too, and an emergency such as this one could trigger long-lasting effects unless we plan properly. Some insiders warn that it could prove “potentially existential” in terms of funding for both big and small charities. The way forward is to conduct timely risk assessments and develop strategies for the recovery phase, which will undoubtedly follow the current emergency phase.

CGHP hosted a high-level delegation from Myanmar to develop the next phase of our Yangon-Cambridge partnership

A long-term positive effect which may come out of this crisis is an increased appreciation of charities and enthusiasm for fundraising and volunteering. For many people, this outbreak is their first time giving to a hospital charity or coming together to organise fun and compelling challenges to raise awareness and help the NHS. By and large, people enjoy giving and feeling like they are part of something good, that they are making a difference. Not everyone will raise as much money as Captain Tom Moore, but that’s not the point. The point is that communities can become more resilient through fundraising and charitable activity, and our society as a whole stands to benefit from charities delivering their unique services.

People in the UK have been donating generously and volunteering readily since the beginning of the crisis; the government and many businesses have also launched various initiatives to support the emergency response. Despite challenges, this demonstration of the country’s resilience and capacity, as well as people’s propensity to give, has contributed to a remarkable response to the pandemic. However, this uplifting story may not translate to countries which do not have the health systems and economic resources to mount such a response on their own, despite their best intentions. This is why aid and charitable programmes need to go beyond the UK and support the global effort against COVID-19. That is the way to give ourselves the best chance of achieving long-term success, accelerating progress towards the SDGs, and health for all.