Dear Prime Minister,
We write to thank you and say that we appreciate what you and everyone in Government are doing in responding to Covid-19.
We want to partner with you to ensure we are able to mobilise and respond to the current crisis – and ask how we can ensure the survival of Non-Government Organisations, Charities and community groups in New Zealand during the Covid-19 crisis. This letter follows virtual meetings with many representatives of such groups held on 27 March, 3 April and 9 April.
The current situation
As the economic and social effects become clearer we want to keep you updated with what is facing our sector and to provide some recommendations. The aim in doing so is to be proactive because we know in the recovery to follow, collaboration between our organisations and Government will be key as demand for these types of services will increase greatly. We are already seeing this: In Southland a community worker in Nightcaps (population 294) has done food and drop offs to the elderly, put out fliers with essential phone numbers and given out red and green paper to put in windows to indicate wellbeing.
Our sector is already vitally involved in helping and serving our communities and perfectly positioned to keep doing so. We want to offer support as we have trained staff and volunteers who will be ready to be deployed – as long as the organisations survive the immediate crisis. Already we know of groups which may not be able to survive the next few weeks as they suddenly have no income. Closures are imminent and vital services will cease without income coming in.
We believe it is possible for you to both inspire and lead our public and the international community on what it means to be a nation who cares for our neighbours by supporting and promoting the charities and community organisations, who form the social backbone of New Zealand. This is an opportunity to exemplify New Zealand values of kindness, community and generosity both in our local and global communities. You have already demonstrated this mana in times of crisis and we believe you have the power to give us a public mandate to serve our communities.
Who we represent and the impact on them
We represent organisations that often operate unseen but provide vital support to many of those most in need. Looking at just the numbers, according to DIA Charities Services, last year there were around 130,000 people working full time in the charitable sector (5% of the workforce), with an additional 230,000 volunteers contributing 1.5 million hours each week. Those are numbers, but the impact of this sector is seen in the stories that each group could easily share: stories of kindness, caring and compassion. The cost of the sector (or a reduced sector) not being there would be huge.
As the UK Chancellor said when announcing a £750m package to support charites today, “We need the gentleness of charity in our lives.” We realise you are aware of the important role our sector plays and appreciate the announcement on 26 March of a $27 million package that will go to social sector services which help vulnerable Kiwis. We are also aware of the work of NEMA and the voices they are listening to.
However, we think that NGOs, community groups and particularly charities will be among the hardest hit as people pull back from making donations in light of the uncertainty we are all facing. This is heightened by the fact that many charities do not carry significant reserves, will not be able to access additional capital or debt easily, will not be able to fundraise like normal, international focused aid charities based in New Zealand will need to realign their ways of working to support their vital work overseas, charities will have reduced access to volunteers and yet have the same, or increased, costs. The outcome: a perfect storm that will affect the ability of many charities to survive, which in turn will most impact the vulnerable in our communities who they most often serve.
Ways we can work together
The sector is very large but diverse and spread across the country. We want to use this moment as a catalyst to better express our voice to Government going forward. We appreciate the support accessible by charities in the form of wage subsidies but have a few recommendations to offer for your consideration:
- Analysis of the best approach for support: we want to be more strategic and collaborate on the right intervention for Aotearoa, based on recent research and insights. This will need work with Government, philanthropy and the many different and important sections of the charitable sectors;
- To aid with this, we suggest recognition of a small group of key people who can represent the NGO/community/charitable sector which can provide advice when required (in the same way that Rob Fyfe is leading the business group);
- A new “charities stabilisation” fund (requiring a whole of Government response) set aside for NGOs, charities and not for profits to provide emergency grants to ensure they survive the crisis – this could involve grants for the next 6 months of between$10,000 and $100,000 (strict criteria would need to be met);
- In the absence of a fund or in combination with one, Government loan facility to ensure liquidity at an interest rate of 0% or as close to that as possible;
- Incentivise donations to registered charities through more tax relief through increasing the amount that can be claimed by donors from 33% to 50% of donations, along with a public call to support charities from Government;
- Some groups are unclear if they qualify for the wage subsidy – a dedicated support team to answer the unique questions from this sector would be helpful. In addition, consider lowering the subsidy criteria for certain vulnerable groups to qualify from 30% to 15% (which is what has been done in Australia); and many organisations will need support to completely rethink their strategy, funding models, impact models, resilience support. How can that support be made available at this critical time?
We have already taken steps to convene a cross sector group focussed on positive contribution at this time and we are having regular meetings to share our learnings. People in our organisations, both employees and volunteers, can be further mobilised to support kiwis struggling with self-isolation, find ways to support our deemed non-essential businesses, and helping those in need to find ways of gaining financial support.
We see green shoots – the crisis has led to a level of cooperation and cohesion like we have never seen before, and we are committed as a sector to working better, smarter and more aligned to a collective purpose. A strong NGO, community groups and charitable sector will in turn help Government in delivering for the people both during and beyond this crisis. We need you to stand by us and support us while we in turn support our communities.
Thank you for your attention. We appreciate this is a difficult time for everyone. Thank you for all that you and everyone in Government is doing.
Volunteering New Zealand, Community Networks Aotearoa, ComVoices, Community Housing Aotearoa, Council for International Development, Cancer Society of New Zealand, Ākina Foundation, Hui E! Community Aotearoa, Arthritis New Zealand, Te Wana, Blue Light, SociaLink, Hagar New Zealand, Hope Street Charitable Trust, Oxfam, NZ Navigator Trust, Age Concern New Zealand, Laidlaw College, Neighbourhood Support New Zealand and the National Council of Women, NZ.