The funder view – a snapshot of Covid-19 impacts

September 10, 2021

Produced 9 September 2021

By Sue McCabe, Chief Executive of Philanthropy New Zealand, Tōpūtanga Tuku Aroha o Aotearoa


Philanthropy New Zealand, Tōpūtanga Tuku Aroha o Aotearoa, has been gathering information from its philanthropic and grant making members over the past few weeks as to changing community need resulting from the last lockdown.

This funder insight adds to the valuable information collected and shared by other community groups and Government to feed into decision making. It’s been written for a general audience.

It’s been a qualitative exercise, with information being gathered through conversations with funders, and through fora at which the impacts of Covid have been an agenda item.  Thanks to all who have contributed.


Main themes


Greater inequity

The situation for many households has become more severe with each lockdown, particularly in Auckland due to the incidence of Covid and the time the region has spent in the higher alert levels. Funders are seeing increased inequity and expect this will continue for some time.

Employment, therefore income, is affected for a range of reasons including those not receiving income while they need to isolate, or who are unable to work from home during levels three and four, or their employment ends.

Funders are again hearing examples of young people’s education being sacrificed to boost household income where needed.

In a nutshell, those least able to face further hardship are the people experiencing the greatest financial, social, health and wellbeing impacts from Covid.


Food insecurity

Philanthropic and grantmaking funders are seeing significantly increased demand for funding for food support. This is in addition to and despite the significant increase of Government funding for food security. Many people are needing to access food support for the first time in their lives.

Government has made improvements to the food security system since the shock of the March 2020 lockdown, but the greater infectivity of the Delta variant has seen supply chains tightened and fewer volunteers available to distribute the help. Funders are hearing that some families that could access food in previous lockdowns are now struggling. Food distributed may not be appropriate for cultural reasons (eg halal).

As the Salvation Army said in this recent report, the need for food parcels is a symptom of wider issues like housing and mental health. This is consistent with what funders are seeing in requests for support for basic necessities of life.


Digital access

The lack of a device; knowledge of how to set up and use it; lack of internet connectivity; or a safe space to go online is having many impacts. It’s affecting students’ ability to learn online and their education outcomes; connection for groups within the population that access support outside of their bubble; vulnerable communities accessing the information and services they require for their health and wellbeing; and charities being able to provide help digitally.

The digital divide has been highlighted as a significant issue in previous lockdowns. A change this time is that a global shortage of devices is affecting the ability to distribute more devices.

While there have been significant advances in community groups being able to shift service delivery online, funders report that there is still more work to be done in this space as some charities still lack equipment and resources.

One funder commented that some Auckland community groups are struggling to apply for funds online due to lack of digital capability and access to required information while in lockdown.

As with the food space, there’s been much progress since the first lockdown due to focussed efforts by Government, philanthropy and community organisations. Philanthropic organisations and not for profits have established The Digital Equity Coalition Aotearoa to progress the complex issues behind the digital divide. They had more than 130 groups attend an online hui this week – with this high number reflecting the seriousness of the issue; the number of players involved; and also the commitment to progress.


Demand for philanthropic funding

There are mixed responses as to whether funders are seeing increased requests for funding. This reflects the many different types of philanthropic and grantmaking funders, their location and what and how they fund. It also highlights the massive diversity in the not for profit sector and how community groups operate.

At a meeting of about 20 Auckland funders on September 8, significantly increased demand for funding for immediate community need for necessities was reported.

Some funders who are not seeing increased funding requests say their engagement tells them that this is due to a range of factors including that some charities are receiving additional Government funding, while others are hunkering down and getting through rather than looking ahead.


Funder response

In 2020 many of our funder members moved quickly to reassure charities that their funding was secure, could be repurposed for emerging needs, spent over a longer timeframe, and offered other flexibility. See a Philanthropy New Zealand (PNZ) open letter which highlights changes made. We are aware that many of our funders over the past month have checked in with community organisations to assess whether they have changed needs.

Some funders report that they are putting aside allocated funds for small grants where decisions are made within days and funding distributed immediately to charities. While some funders are making more funding available immediately for immediate lockdown response needs; others continue to look to the medium and longer-term knowing that the community need will continue to evolve.


Changes to available philanthropic funding

In 2020 PNZ released survey findings which included estimates of changes to available philanthropic funding. At that time, 21 per cent of funders surveyed expected to distribute less money due to predicted lower investment returns.
We do not have updated data on changes to funding. The 2020 survey did not include the significant loss of gaming funds being distributed to communities due to gaming establishments being shut under levels three and four. However gaming establishments closures in the latest lockdown will impact those relying on gaming funds.
On a more positive note, we are aware many funders’ investments performed well in the past financial year. For example Bay Trust’s strong investment returns saw its granting level increase.



Public generosity

BNZ released data data that showed public credit card spending on donations to charities is down. Again, there has been mixed responses from funders around this over the past year.

Perpetual Guardian’s Givealittle has continued to report strong public giving. Some services that invest funds for people and then distribute the returns to charities, like the Gift Trust and community foundations, or other generosity schemes like the One Per Cent Collective and The Good Registry, report a mix of new donors; donors giving more due to knowing the community need; but also some people needing to pull back on donations as they’ve been impacted financially.

Two fundraising organisations at the Auckland meeting this week reported less public generosity for recent campaigns.



Funders reported the exhaustion that many community groups they engage with are feeling and that this has become far more visible in the latest lockdown. It was noted that community groups closest to people needing additional support were often leanly resourced and dependent on volunteers and there are heavy burdens on them. Some communities have multiple events impacting them, for example the lockdown occurring on the back of being impacted by overseas crisis like that in Afghanistan; and the West Auckland terrorist attack.


Looking ahead – messages from funders


Moving to the new normal

Funders have remarked that the current state of going from level one life to crisis response in level four is not sustainable as it’s causing burn-out. Covid will be with us for some years and we need to move to a new normal where we have a system that can more easily cope with ongoing fluctuations in covid levels and community support required. This will involve increasing the support for and therefore resilience of organisations that are critical to the response. Community organisations that are well funded and strong in everyday life will be able to better cope with emergency responses and periods of increased need. The role that iwi have played has been cited as an example of this, as marae are critical institutions in food support, vaccination clinics, providing connection and information needed to access services, and offering other wellbeing support. We need to identify those doing the critical work and back them.


Support community-led

It is tempting to reach for the macro solution in a time of crisis and centralise support for efficiency purposes. However, support is best delivered by those closest to the communities. Community led initiatives will generate the best results in terms of uptake of services and positive outcomes. Therefore funding, policy and programmes needs to allow for this. It’s more complex to plan and support community-led initiatives, but one size will not fit all and it will be those most in need that miss out.


Prioritise collaboration

The issues behind the uneven impact of Covid-19 are complex. The pandemic exacerbates existing inequities. While simple responses, like a food parcel, are certainly needed, systemic change is required to mitigate the impacts of this and future events. This requires collaboration within sectors (like community groups; funders, Government agencies; business networks) and then across sectors. The Digital Equity Coalition is an example of a cross-sector movement working on the complex change required by many different parts of the system.


Give if you can

Donations by members of the public can make a huge difference. This J B Were report, produced in collaboration with PNZ, estimates that 55 per cent of the $3.6b in donations and grants given each year comes from individuals (with the remainder from philanthropic and grantmaking organisations). Charities make a little amount of money go a long way, in terms of additional food or services for people in need. There are many ways to give – direct to a charity either as a one-off donation or regularly; through payroll giving; or using intermediaries to help you decide where to give. Charities Services has released information on how to help during a pandemic.


On a positive note


The above information highlights the uneven impact of Covid-19. Given the intentional focus of this snapshot, it doesn’t do justice to the many positive developments occurring across the community sector, with many not for profits innovating and strengthening their online, and therefore often more accessible, services. Funders do get to see the opportunity and the innovation as well as the most serious need.

PNZ would like to acknowledge the amazing work occurring to respond to Covid-19 by community groups, caring individuals, essential workers, iwi, good employers and businesses; and the Government.

PNZ would like to shout out the significant contribution of many philanthropists and grantmakers to the Covid 19 response. This is not just in the form of distributing money, but through advocacy for their causes, and through relationship-based support in many ways to the charities and causes they engage with.

Many funders have significant experience in supporting communities around major events, and this has been collated in this funders’ guide to readiness, response and recovery.

Thanks to the members of PNZ for sharing information with each other and collaborating as a way to ensure funding and support gets to where it’s most needed.