The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the economics of giving, according to McGrath Foundation Chief Executive Officer Holly Masters, and forced charitable organisations to adapt.
“I think one of the great benefits we've seen has been a real openness to change,” Masters said.
This is in part a result of businesses and individuals “recognising the benefits of change before they've had a chance to really regret what they've left behind, because there's not been any choice”, she said.
“And honestly, I think one of the most important things we can do right now is to look at how we can continue to accelerate some of that change.”
Masters and Yetsenga were joined by Glyn Davis, CEO of the Paul Ramsey Foundation, for a discussion around the future of charitable giving in a post-COVID economy. You can listen to an edited version of the conversation below.
The McGrath Foundation is a charitable foundation which funds nurses who support individuals and their families experiencing breast cancer.
Masters said as the broader corporate sphere adapted to new working behaviours during the pandemic, there was less resistance to change than seen previously, particularly around the use of technology.
“You've got this openness to change that hasn't happened in quite this way before,” she said. “And for us, that's really broken down barriers and also allowed for collaboration with other organisations in a way that we've never been able to.”
Yetsenga said the supercharged nature of technology has been a defining feature of the pandemic, along with the unequal way the crisis has impacted individuals.
“In all crises, there are some winners, if you like, and some losers,” he said. “And digital and technology, clearly, the trend there has been strengthened.”
The Paul Ramsey Foundation (PRF) aims to break the cycle of disadvantage in Australia through programs which address intergenerational poverty. Davis told BlueLens on Mic the pandemic has been particularly damaging for that cause.
“For charities, this is the toughest of times,” he said. “Donations have dried up and volunteers can't be doing the work that makes most charities viable.”
Davis said research from PRF during the pandemic showed growing use of technology was particularly critical in the education space, particularly as schools operated remotely.
“Looking to find ways of making broadband available turned out to be hugely important,” he said. “Because if you don't have those things, you're completely cut off.”
“But if you can… online learning turns out to be quite effective, particularly for students who might be disaffected, disengaged, not particularly motivated in traditional classroom setting.”
Similar to education, Masters said tech was useful but firmly an “additional tool” for the McGrath Foundation.
“It doesn't replace the face to face aspects [of the foundation’s work], particularly if you're meeting a patient and their family for the first time. To not be able to do that in person does make it much more challenging.”
“For us, we love and welcome all of that additional technology and the role it's played, but [we’re] very much about the human contact.”
Masters expects some aspects of the transformation to “stick” in post-COVID times, but said a “rebalancing” of expectations was likely as time goes on.
Yetsenga said the pandemic has shown business the critical importance of giving, and of having a well-defined corporate purpose.
“Companies can't decide their own purpose in isolation,” he said. “Society, in a way, is starting to make those decisions for us. We need to recognise that.”
Yetsenga said there were parallels between the rise of technology and purpose, given the rapid rise in the importance of both at board level.
“You might have had some charitable giving at a corporate level that was quite distinct from the way you ran your business,” he said. “Clearly, I think operating your business along ethical lines, that goes hand in hand with the charitable giving, has become more important.”
Davis said recent data around giving in Australia showed how critical corporates are to philanthropy.
This is growing, he said, as businesses form the view “that shareholder value is not the only consideration”.
“And that change will be accelerated by this crisis,” he said. “A lot of corporations have worked hard to look after their own, and then look after communities that they value. And how could you not celebrate that?”
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PODCAST: Giving change