Octopus Giving Reading time: 6 mins

What impact will coronavirus have on charities?

30 Apr 2020

Charities are facing huge challenges during the coronavirus outbreak and many are in desperate need of additional support. Below, Louise Skinner, head of our charitable foundation Octopus Giving, explains the impact the virus is having on the charity sector and tells us what Octopus people are doing to help.

I write this in what would usually be the week before the London Marathon. I’ve supported thousands of runners over the years and today is normally when I’d be calling every single one to wish them good luck and thank them. This year, life is clearly very different.

Coronavirus has had a massive impact on the charity sector. In some cases, it’s been really positive; just look at Captain Tom who smashed his target and has raised over £27 million (so far) for the NHS. For many charities though, times have been tough.

Adapting to Coronavirus

When you work for a charity, you have to get used to doing great things with no budget. But coronavirus is an entirely different reality. A Charity Finance Group survey has estimated that charity income from donations will be down 48% over the coming weeks. Fundraising events have been cancelled in line with quarantine measures – the postponement of the London Marathon alone will cost the charity sector a potential £66 million. At the same time, demand for charities’ services is looking likely to increase by around 42%.

At Octopus Giving, we work closely with a number of charities who help the most vulnerable people in society. These charities are echoing the wider issues in the sector. CALM, an organisation fighting against suicide, received 37% more calls per day in the week lockdown measures were announced in the UK. One of the CALM team told us, “We are working so hard to make sure we can be there for all the people contacting us…We’re needed more than ever – but we can’t do it alone.”

Giving quote from CALM

It’s so important for us to support charities as much as we possibly can during these trying times. We’ve done lots of things to help them over the past few weeks.

Community support

Lots of Octopus people have been helping out in their local community or taking it upon themselves to raise money in any way they can. 

A few of our team (including me!) have been distributing Red card/Green cards, a system designed for people to let their neighbours they’re struggling. This community initiative, started by a doctor, allows anyone to order a stack of cards for free. Once you’ve received your cards, you pop them through letterboxes near you. Recipients can then show they need help by putting a red card up in their window, along with a note about what they need help with, so anyone walking past can offer assistance. Or, if they’re fine, they can display a green card. 

Many of our people are also volunteering their time to help the NHS, help elderly neighbours with their shopping, or help maintain their local area. Pete Mendham (pictured) has been helping to clear up his local park. 

A large proportion of Octopus people have participated in the Run For Heroes challenge that’s been sweeping social media. It’s taken the company by such a storm that we’re getting involved in another challenge, based around the London marathon. Instead of the race, we’re taking part in the 2.6 (or 26) themed sports challenge. Participants are encouraged to take part in any activity relating to these numbers, a 2.6 mile walk or a 26 minute long hula hoop competition, for instance. Once finished, they will donate and nominate. Every donation will be matched by Octopus Giving for double the impact. 

Financial help

Unfortunately, many of the charities we work with are struggling with decreased donations. Yet now, more than ever, their services are crucial to the vulnerable people who rely on them. To that end, Octopus Giving has provided an extra grant of over £20,000 to each of our four partner charities (MyBnk, Choir with No Name, FoodCycle and Downright Excellent). We’ve also split an  additional £30,000 of grant money between our legacy charities (Beyond Autism, The Cares Family, CALM, GRIT and Greatwood).

“Thank you so, so much for offering to donate to us. It is without a doubt the best email I’ve had for a very long time!!” – The Cares Family

We’re so pleased to hear the impact these extra grants have already had on the charities. For example, CALM’s donation has enabled them to answer 564 more calls to their helplines. FoodCycle have used the money to continue their efforts to deliver food parcels, made up of surplus food, to the most vulnerable households in the country. And The Cares Family are now able to help even more people stay connected during this isolating time.

Food cycle quote

The new normal

Many of the charities we work with have been forced to change the way they provide their services to fit in with quarantine measures. It’s been especially hard for charities like Choir with No Name, who are centred around social contact, to adjust to lockdown. Octopus people have been helping as much as they can, volunteering their time to help these organisations find solutions to keep business running as close to normal as possible. 

“I can’t begin to thank you for your generosity!! The imaginative ways of supporting us outside of volunteering have helped our charity get to where we are today.” – Beyond Autism

Thanks in part to the Labs tech team, Choir with No Name will soon be using Zoom to sing together for their weekly choir practices. Beyond Autism and Downright Excellent are also using the platform to ‘meet’ families, and run virtual play and therapy sessions. And some of our charities have attended virtual training sessions to learn how to improve security and follow best practice while working with a remote team.

We know how hard it can be for charities to support their workers at times like these. To help keep charity workers and volunteers in the best shape so they can support others, our People team have been running ‘Handling the New Normal’ workshops for all our charities, giving tips for looking after wellbeing, time management, and setting up to work remotely. We’ve also given all staff at our charity partners access to OctoKids sessions, providing parents with extra ways to keep their children entertained. 

“I logged in with my little one to watch OctoKids and it was just brilliant. My boy was laughing and dancing along, so please do pass on my thanks!” – MyBnk

Lasting impact

As with most areas of life, no one knows how long the impact of coronavirus will last on the charity sector. All we can do is give as much as we can to those working to help others, and continue to support charities so they can survive these trying times. At Octopus Giving, we are continually thinking of ways we can help, whether financial or otherwise. If you have any suggestions, please get in touch on [email protected]. And if you’d like some ideas about where to volunteer, check out our handy guide.


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