As social researchers we’re constantly tracking how people and societies are changing. Through the ‘peak COVID’ periods in Australia of March, April and May we explored how Australians were responding to COVID-19, as the global health pandemic and ensuing economic challenge thrust the world into an immense time of disruption and change.

Our report Recovering from COVID-19: The Australian experience, generational impacts and the future outlook is designed to help organisations respond to these times of seemingly constant disruption. We have great partnerships with many charities, not-for-profits and organisations operating in the social & community sector, so we’ve released a special report that includes tips on how the for-purpose sector can navigate the present challenges and seize the opportunities it presents.

The need for support through COVID-19

Reach out and listen

Any response needs to start with a posture of listening. Leaders in the sector don’t assume all their staff, volunteers, donors, and broader stakeholders are experiencing the same challenges. But you won’t know until you reach out and engage with them.

We’re aware of one leading NFP that had their donor care team calling every single donor across April & May to check in with a pastoral care call. With many non-profits expecting lower donations across 2020 and into 2021, it may feel jarring to divert time from direct fundraising, but the efforts of this NFP showed they prioritised their people first, before coming with a donation ‘ask’ in a separate call in the leadup to the end of financial year.

There are many other ways to understand the realities your people are facing, and any organisational response or strategy should be aware of (if not informed by) these insights. A short, well-targeted survey can be a quick and simple way to provide valuable and timely insights to decision-makers in marketing, stakeholder relations, fundraising, or high-level insights for board/C-Suite. This may be a survey of your staff, volunteers, donors, or the general population to understand the attitudes and perceptions of your key audiences.

Don't assume everyone's handling this the same way

Recognise people have experienced COVID-19 differently

People have experienced this pandemic very differently depending on their unique circumstances. It’s crucial to recognise this as you formulate your organisation’s response to the unfolding challenges, and seek to continue adapting your strategy and tactics through a recovery that is expected to extend for some time.

For example, Gen Ys (millennials) are in their family-forming years. They are working hard to climb the career ladder and many doing so with young families in tow. So it was no surprise that more than one in three Gen Ys say the biggest negative impact they’ve felt from COVID-19 is financial (as opposed to social, mental or physical). They’ve been prioritising financial saving during the last few months and want to continue doing so.

Your organisation’s strategy to engage working families will probably need to be different to your strategy for youth or retirees.

Social Impacts of COVID-19

Reinforce social support

Our research reveals it is the negative social impact of COVID-19 – more than the financial impact – that is being most keenly felt by Australians. This will be especially true while social restrictions linger, or if they return. Two in five Australians (42%) say they have felt the biggest negative impact of COVID-19 socially (e.g. missed seeing family and friends), compared to 28% who have felt the biggest negative impact financially.

The for-purpose sector is positioned better than any other to support Australians in this time when they are feeling most socially disrupted and isolated. As well as providing much-needed financial assistance, the sector provides vital social connection for many Australians who would otherwise suffer alone. Depending on the organisation this may include avenues to connect virtually or in-person, opportunities to volunteer, partake in social or sporting interaction, or by simply providing a personal and caring interaction for someone who may need it most.

This time of social disruption and upheaval is an opportunity for our social sector to shine brightest.


Download the Australian Communities 2020 report