Larger charities struggle as grassroots help booms
As the country mobilises around those most affected, here’s how to ensure your cash gets to the right places
Last week the government announced the latest massive cash injection, this time in a bid to keep the charity sector going.
It’s a desperate time for fundraisers – when they are needed the most – but logistics, illness, restrictions and funding crises are set to force some to either scale back or shut down altogether.
Even the most prominent are facing a real long-term impact on their work. Last week, both Cancer Research UK and Macmillan Cancer Support, the UK’s best-known cancer charities, warned that the cancellation of huge numbers of fundraising events and the closure of stores would mean hundreds of millions of pounds lost this year.
Cancer Research UK cautioned that such a huge hole in its finances is likely to set its fight against the disease back for years.
Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, responded to calls for help with a £750m package for charities experiencing a higher than normal demand for their services as a result of Covid-19.
Around £360m will be directly allocated by government departments to charities on the front line, such as St John Ambulance and domestic abuse helplines. Another £370m will go to small and medium-sized enterprises.
The government will also match donations made to the BBC’s Big Night In charity event on 23 April.
That night will be a huge test of our national psyche. When so many are watching their income levels fall, how many will put their hands in their pockets?
If the last few weeks’ worth of extraordinary actions to support the vulnerable, the ill, the elderly, those struggling across all walks of life by “ordinary” people is an indicator, the result could be historic.
“This deadly virus is threatening life as we know it in unimaginable ways. But these uncertain times have prompted some heartening examples of charitable behaviour and ingenuity,” said Helen Stephenson, the chief executive of the Charity Commission, which regulates the UK charity sector, last week.
“Hospices have developed bereavement guidance, a children’s charity launched a food truck to support families missing out on free school meals, and when St John Ambulance put a call out for 200 of its volunteers to support the new Nightingale hospitals, 750 stepped forward.
“Many individuals and new neighbourhood groups are also instinctively demonstrating the importance of charitable endeavour through their support for each other and those in need. So many volunteers have stepped forward to help the NHS that the Royal Voluntary Service has had to pause recruitment to enable it to get the new national volunteer army going.”
But that’s not even half the story.
Alongside big brands redirecting resources at a rate of knots, celebrities such as James McAvoy, Helen McCrory, Damien Lewis and Matt Lucas and media organisations like ours teaming up to do what we can, tiny, grassroots arrangements set up by single individuals are coming to life all over the country.
By now we’re all familiar with Tom Moore. In a bid to raise £1,000 for NHS Charities Together by his 100th birthday on 30 April – in thanks for recent treatment for both cancer and a broken hip – the Second World War veteran pledged to complete 100 laps of his 25 metre garden with the help of a walking aid.
So far he is not only ahead of schedule to achieve the 1.6 miles before the big day, but looks on course to deliver £1m of sponsorship.
Also raising funds for NHS Charities Together is seven-year-old Herbie Wharton who has run and walked an entire marathon while on lockdown – completing 420 brutal laps over almost 10 hours in the Easter heat.
He aimed for £1,500 but has so far raised almost £3,800 for the charities group that supports patients and staff through both this pandemic and every other health crisis.
Or there’s dance instructor Gen Greensted, who has raised more than £1,000 for the NHS by offering daily online live barre classes in return for donations.
There are the organisations that have fundamentally changed course to help, too. Design and technology departments in empty schools are 3D printing PPE items such as face visors for use on the front line, for example, and thousands of restaurants, caterers, and food industry businesses have redirected resources and time overnight to ensure everyone from NHS staff to the elderly are fed.
Community cookery school Made in Hackney has raised more than £60,000 to offer new services to help those most vulnerable to the impact of coronavirus. The charity is now on track to provide 420 people with 250,000 fresh meals over the next three months.
The Charity Commission provides information for those managing, creating or restructuring charitable bodies including sources of emergency funding.
And what about the thousands of other groups, enthusiastically and immediately supporting their communities that have sprung up overnight determined not to let those living around them suffer?
Organisers have reported memberships growing by tens of thousands overnight as people offer to deliver prescriptions or food, check-in on the isolated or simply make a call to someone who may not have had a conversation in weeks. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations can help guide those wishing to volunteer.
Awareness, coordination, safeguarding and security have quickly become crucial.
Covid-19 Mutual Aid UK is a group of volunteers supporting local community groups organising mutual aid throughout the outbreak in the UK. It is focused on providing resources and connecting people to their nearest local groups, willing volunteers and those in need.
“Whilst we’re all at risk of Covid-19, there are some people who are more vulnerable and need greater support from the community,” the group says.
“The basic idea is to coordinate care efforts… especially if they are part of a more at-risk demographic including the elderly, disabled and people with other pre-existing health issues.”
Elsewhere, the Helping Hand Project was recently launched by tech firm chief technology officer James Valentine, whose growing concern was that the thousands of social media groups set up to help those in need weren’t secure – undermining their efforts.
Starting in Newcastle and now being rolled out across the UK, it provides a link between those in isolation and volunteer groups, food banks and other local support services simply by texting the word “hand” to register to receive a list and a map.
There are also established services to help you find organisations that align to your area of most concern, such as The Big Give, a fund-matching platform that connects charities, individuals and philanthropists.
Getting help to the right places
“Charities are a lifeline to many local communities and play a vital role in supporting people across the UK, particularly at a time of national crisis,” says Toby Harris, the chair of the Fundraising Regulator.
“In what is the most significant public health emergency in generations, we encourage the public to continue to give generously to charity throughout these difficult times.”
But he adds that some individuals have used the uncertainty that surrounds the coronavirus outbreak as a means of defrauding the public.
Those giving money as well as time or expertise should give to registered charities to ensure the money is used as advertised.
Check the charity’s name and registration number. Most charities with an annual income of £5,000 or more must be registered.
Make sure the charity is genuine before giving any financial information by contacting them or finding out more online and be careful when responding to emails or clicking on links within them.
“This spirit of charity and community is front and centre of national life in so many ways, but we must not take it for granted,” says Stephenson.
“Our neighbours around the world do not enjoy this same support network – charity is something unique and special, something that we must protect.”