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New report uncovers COVID-19 mental health toll on NFP sector

The financial pressures placed on charities and not for profits during the COVID-19 pandemic are beginning to have an impact on the mental health of staff and volunteers, new research shows.

The RESET 2020 National Impact+Need Research Study contains findings from 380 survey respondents across a variety of social purpose organisations and uncovers a sector facing falling revenues and an inability to provide its usual services.

Nearly two thirds (64 per cent) of respondents said their organisation had lost revenue since March, with almost half (45 per cent) reporting they had operating reserves of six months or less.

And while more than a third of organisations (35 per cent) reported increased service demand, 18 per cent said the impact to their revenue was so severe that they were either struggling to deliver their usual services or needed immediate financial help to continue. 

Julia Keady, the founder and CEO of The Xfactor Collective – which commissioned the research – told Pro Bono News the financial impacts were becoming dire.

“Even back in April/May, one in 10 organisations needed urgent financial assistance to continue,” Keady said.

“This financial pressure has a flow-on effect, as organisations can’t deliver their services in the usual manner.”

Keady noted that the other impact of the financial pressures was on the health and wellbeing of staff. 

More than a quarter (28 per cent) of respondents said that staff and volunteer mental health and wellbeing was being impacted by the crisis.

“Through this research and the live sessions we’ve been running, many leaders have told us they feel incredibly anxious and fearful, unprepared for this level of disaster, and some feel unskilled to deal with it,” Keady said.

“We know that mental and emotional exhaustion is increasing, brought on by increased workloads, anxiety and fears about the future and job security, loneliness and isolation for many, as well as an increase in vicarious and front-line trauma.”

Keady said this was especially true for lockdown-hit Victoria, with a “layer of depression starting to emerge” as the stark realities of the crisis hit home. 

She said that the impact on volunteers should also not be downplayed. 

Researchers found that 70 per cent of organisations have had to stand down volunteers or reduce their hours.

“Thousands of volunteers have been stood down, many of whom derive significant purpose from their volunteer work, and this is having a severe impact on many,” Keady said.

“Likewise, organisations not being able to rely on their volunteer power is putting enormous strain on resourcing.”

The report said extra funding was at the top of the sector’s wish list as the crisis rolls on, with advocacy to government and public relations support also high on the agenda.

Keady said an array of responses was needed, noting that ongoing financial support was just a small piece of the puzzle.

“The opportunity here is for us to rebuild through collaboration – it’s time for greater investment in alliances, coalitions, clusters and collectives,” she said.

“It’s time to rewire how we think about organisational resilience and re-engineer and build new infrastructure for a new era.

“And we need to recalibrate with a focus on wellbeing, not just financial wellbeing. The focus is often on our beneficiaries and the communities we serve, but not on us as changemakers, and that needs to be a stronger priority.” 

The RESET 2020 survey will run again in September and a full data set will be made available. 

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