We need to get out of lockdown: Charity groups raising money for cancer, dementia and vulnerable communities losing millions in donations

Charities raising money for cancer research and to support vulnerable communities have had a hole ripped in their revenue over the last 18 months.

Prostate Cancer Foundation chief executive Peter Dickens tells the Herald his organisation is facing a shortfall of more than $500,000 over the last two years due to disruptions to fundraising efforts.

“In 2018 and 2019 we were able to raise over a million and just over $900,000 respectively, but with the impact of Covid we only made it to just over $600,000 last year,” Dickens said.

“This year, we are holding our breath as the figures come in. We feel it’s going to be worse than last year and less than 50 per cent of the result we’ve been able to achieve in previous years. As you can imagine, the impact is going to be significant.”

The annual Blue September drive has traditionally played a critical role in driving revenue for the Prostate Cancer Foundation, but this year’s efforts look set to only deliver half the usual figure.

“Although we have been trying to come up with creative ideas that work for people within their bubbles, it really has impacted our ability to raise the funds that we need,” Dickens said.

The Prostate Cancer Foundation offers support to 42,000 men currently living with prostate cancer around the country – and the lack of funding could impact critical tools the organisation uses to help cancer patients.

“The current situation could cause the charity’s 0800 information helpline to be threatened, meaning over 400 men diagnosed with prostate cancer would next year miss out on information vital to making critical decisions on their treatment and support pathways,” Dickens said.

Dickens said the charity still has sufficient cash reserves to keep going but says the lack of funds will affect some of the ambitions for the future of the organisation.

“It’s heartbreaking to think that our plans to make this important work possible might be set back so significantly,” he said.

This isn’t the only charity to have been smashed by the latest lockdown.

Dementia Auckland boss Martin Bremmer’s not-for-profit has long been reliant on events to generate funds – something which simply isn’t possible amid restrictions on public gatherings.

“Education events such as our Dementia Talks and Masterclass series, and fundraising events such as our Walk for Dementia, Still Me Gala Dinner, and Magnolia Tea Party, as well as the Countdown Golf Day … were all cancelled or significantly disrupted over the last couple of years,” Bremmer said.

“This represents hundreds of thousands of dollars, which is very significant to a charity organisation this size.”

The organisation works with Aucklanders affected by Dementia, offering education, support and care group facilities.

The organisation is trying to plug the gap and replace the declining profit by innovating with digital services, but there is no guarantee this will be enough to make up the difference.

“Now we have Zoom audiences at our in-person events when they’re possible, and we are delivering Zoom-only education events during this outbreak,” Bremmer said.

“This is an example of a broader shift in the organisation as a result of the Covid-19 experience. Rather than just thinking about how to ‘fund-raise’ for our key services, we now look to generate revenue by developing new profit-making services using our IP and brand, so we can continue to deliver to our community. The new communication capability we have developed is part of delivering and marketing these new services.”

These activities are starting to generate some revenue, but it’s still a long way to go to fill the hole caused by Covid-19.

“If the new ventures do not cover the cost of our core services we will have to cease delivery of them,” Bremmer said.

Another charity that spoke to the Herald was the Tōtara Hospice, which has similarly been hit hard by the lockdown conditions.

The Tōtara Hospice offers palliative care services to individuals and their families in south and southeast Auckland.

The organisation’s chief executive Tina McCafferty says the organisation relies heavily on retail store sales, which have been totally removed during the lockdown.

“Under usual operations, we generate approximately $400,000 per month in independent revenue. Retail alone provides $230,000 of that. The loss impact is clear, and the longer level 3 or 4 continue, a detrimental loss grows to a potentially devastating one,” McCafferty told the Herald.

The lockdown conditions have affected the entire supply chain of their retail stores, given that the donation and sorting processes are even halted.

Even once Auckland does return to level 2, it will take time to recover given that that retail stores will then have to wait for donations to come in and then sort them.

“We have missed out on weeks of donated saleable products that the community would have usually given. We cannot make up for the scale of revenue that would otherwise have been realised,” McCafferty said.

The pandemic may have stopped the revenue side of the business, but it hasn’t removed the need for the services the hospice continues to provide on a daily basis.

“The somewhat cruel irony of this situation is that the loss of revenues that directly support the provision of care and support, comes at a time in our operating history where demand for services and the extent of patient and whānau/family needs are more complex and greater in volume that ever before,” McCafferty said.

The organisation’s revenue was down $2.7 million for the 2019/2020 financial year, and McCafferty expects that trend to continue when the latest financial figures are released at the end of October.

The communities Tōtara Hospice helps in Auckland are largely from one of the three most economically disadvantaged regions in New Zealand, which makes the challenge of raising funds even greater.

Much like the Prostate Cancer Foundation and Dementia Auckland, the Tōtara Hospice has been working on several digital events to raise funds but these don’t come close to filling the hole.

“The longer any one lockdown goes on and the more individual lockdowns that occur, the greater the pressure on our financial position,” McCafferty tells the Herald.

“Squeezed finances lead to greater vulnerabilities regarding service viability.We are constantly adapting, modifying strategies, managing costs – trying to do things in the most efficient way, to keep going. However, the reality is, there will come a point when we just can’t continue to provide the range of services that we do without putting the Hospice in its entirety at risk.

“We need to get out of lockdown.”

The Prostate Cancer Foundation ($125,000), Dementia Auckland ($245,000) and theTōtara Hospice ($759,000) have all applied for and received the wage subsidy over the last 18 months, but this still doesn’t come close to covering the loss in usual donation earnings.

The experiences of these three groups are in line with a JBWere study released this week showing the impact of the pandemic on charity fundraising efforts.

That report showed that the arts and culture sector was the worst affected, with more than a third of organisations suffering a 50 per cent decline in revenue.

Sports and recreation was the second hardest hit with 27 per cent of those organisations losing half their revenue.

The JBWere report shows that New Zealand’s charity sector contributed $12.1 billion to New Zealand’s GDP in 2018.

Similarly to the retail, hospitality and events sectors, charities remain dependent on real-world activities to earn the money they need to operate.

The longer the lockdown conditions remain, the greater the pressure will become on charity organisations and some will ultimately have to terminate their services.

The question now is who will be locked out of important services when those doors close – and who will step in to help them?

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