A volunteer passes some soup to another person

The big charity squeeze

Published: 03/04/20 | Categories: Author: Ruth Marks

Charities and the voluntary sector in Wales are facing challenging and uncertain times during the current COVID-19 outbreak.

We’ve seen an amazing response by people wanting to volunteer and by voluntary organisations across Wales. They are doing vital work, giving people and communities the support they need in the face of this crisis – and for the longer term.

Sadly, this story is far from unique. As well as demand soaring for many voluntary organisations’ services, fundraising has dried up as many marathons, charity concerts, and bake sales have been cancelled. Community centres, retail and hospitality services have also been required to close.

The South Wales Argus has reported on the impact this has had on children’s charity Sparkles and St David’s Hospice. The BBC has reported on the impact on Hafal Cymru and Music in Mind.

Of course, voluntary organisations across Wales recognise the importance of social distancing at this time and support the cancellation of big events and the closure of non-essential businesses. However, the potential impact of this is significant.

The financial impact for charities in Wales

From a purely financial basis, many organisations are seeing their income streams completely dry up. The Centre for Social Justice estimates that 24% of charities with an income of less than £1m have NO reserves. Many of Wales’ charities are smaller than this.

This financial squeeze of course has a knock-on effect on the people that they work with. Many voluntary organisations are in a position of having to reduce their activities at exactly the time they are most needed. This is why schemes which furlough staff may not be appropriate for all charities – they mean that services will have to be reduced.

For organisations providing frontline health and social care services, this couldn’t happen at a worse time. However for charities of all types, this will mean fewer services, fewer programmes and fewer people helped in the long run.

Big charities also under threat

It was reported yesterday that Cancer Research UK and Barnardo’s are facing big drops in their income. These are two of the UK’s largest charities, and most effective fundraisers. That these large charities are experiencing difficulties reflects the huge challenge facing smaller organisations across Wales. For example, Kidney Wales has told us they expect their income to drop by 33% in the next three months.

WCVA is also being contacted by other voluntary organisations who, whether they are working directly to tackle issues around coronavirus or not, are seeing a drop in income too. CWVYS, who represent voluntary youth groups across Wales, warn that some may have to cut services or close down entirely. Many Wildlife Trusts are facing difficulty and the Cynon Valley Museum has seen its self-generating income dry up since having to temporarily close its doors. 

What support is available?

WCVA has been working with the Welsh Government on a series of funds to support volunteering and the voluntary sector in Wales, which was announced last week. This will promote volunteering and support voluntary organisations that are on the frontline, with more detail to be announced soon. We have also produced a full list of advice and guidance for charities.

There have been some reports that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport are considering options to inject cash into charities. At WCVA we’d like to see them expedite this, and to ensure it is available for charities of all sizes across the UK who are experiencing an unprecedented, sector-wide collapse in income.

Charities seeking advice on their finances should contact WCVA’s Social Investment Cymru team on SIC@wcva.cymru to discuss the options available.