First, the good news. People are still giving to charity. Research funded by the Gates Foundation found that 56 per cent of US households gave to charity or volunteered in response to the pandemic, an increase of 12.6 per cent in the number of new donors during the first half of this year. In the UK, donations increased, totalling £5.4bn – £800m more than during the same period in 2019. “That’s a giving level that we would usually see around Christmas,” says Caroline Mallan, head of external affairs at the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), which commissioned the research from YouGov.

The bad news is it’s not enough. Income from fundraising is significantly down, in part because lockdowns coincided with the peak season for galas, fêtes and sponsored sports events. In 2019 the latter raised £435m in the UK, with the 2019 London Marathon alone raising £66.4m. The 2020 marathon, where amateur athletes ran alone on their own routes over a wet weekend in October, raised just £16.1m. 

Emily Yap photographed this young skateboarder in front of streetwear brand Supreme’s take on the NHS logo “to show solidarity to the country’s hard-working accessible healthcare system” during the strict UK lockdown
Emily Yap photographed this young skateboarder in front of streetwear brand Supreme’s take on the NHS logo “to show solidarity to the country’s hard-working accessible healthcare system” during the strict UK lockdown

To illustrate this story, How To Spend It collaborated with BA (Hons) Photography students at London South Bank University. The images featured are from the projects of the 2020 graduating class, which were undertaken during lockdown – hence the collective title, Home Work 2020. They are also published by Ottoby Press in an accompanying book. Special thanks to course director Daniel Alexander, lead tutors Simon Terrill and Dave Lewis, and the students involved. More of their work can be seen on Instagram, at @lsbu_photo

The lockdown closure of every charity shop – Cancer Research UK’s 600 shops typically raise more than £25m a year, says the charity’s CEO, Michelle Mitchell – was another blow to income that charities are unlikely to recoup, however much decluttering went on.

But individuals are stepping up to make up at least some of the shortfall. “We have been advising people to think through their favourite charities and what they want still to be here when [the pandemic] passes,” says Mark Greer, head of private clients at CAF. Not everything is likely to survive. “Charities don’t hit the wall as fast as companies do, because they don’t usually have much debt.”

CAF’s polling reveals that “roughly 10 per cent [of UK charities] say they’ve only got about six months to go, with as many as 25 per cent saying that without significant cash coming in from somewhere, they’ve only got a year”. According to research by Pro Bono Economics in partnership with the Chartered Institute of Fundraising and the Charity Finance Group, 29 per cent of UK charities have already laid off staff, and one-third expect to do so. That amounts to about 60,000 job losses in a sector that employed 909,000 people in 2019 – almost three per cent of the UK workforce.

CAF’s advice to donors across the globe is to make unrestricted gifts rather than those that specify how the money should be used. Charities need funds for frontline work, but they also need to pay staff salaries and rent. “Core costs really matter,” says Mallan. “You need to keep the lights on.”

In terms of where to give, it’s complex. But the areas on the following pages shine a light on some of the worst affected sectors, as well as those most in need. We have listed some of the larger organisations, but there are many smaller, specific charities that deserve support just as much.

Social Activism

2020 will also be remembered for the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement – one of the few organisations whose messaging and fundraising efforts decisively broke through the Covid-19 roar. On 2 June, a day of collective action dubbed Blackout Tuesday, $41m was raised in the US in just 24 hours.

Sophie Gibbons captured a moment of silence at a Black Lives Matter protest in June
Sophie Gibbons captured a moment of silence at a Black Lives Matter protest in June

But though BLM is a nonprofit, it is not a tax-exempt charity, and this has led to confusion. A similarity of name has led to donations being given to a small California-based nonprofit called the Black Lives Matter Foundation, an entity that strives to bring “the community and police closer together”, but which is not affiliated with the better-known social justice movement.

The most effective way to donate to the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation Inc is via the Tides Foundation, a “philanthropic partner and nonprofit accelerator” that has set up the Black Lives Matter Support Fund to support BLM’s “grantmaking activities”.

In the UK it is possible to donate to an organisation calling itself Black Lives Matter UK via PayPal. It states that it operates as a “non-political, non-partisan, non-violence social platform raising awareness of racism” and is not “affiliated with any political party or group in the UK or any other land”. In September, activists of another organisation, UKBLM, which had raised £1.2m via GoFundMe, registered an organisation called Black Liberation Movement UK as a community benefit society, to which supporters will be able to donate and take advantage of the tax breaks allowable through Gift Aid. At the time of writing, a website in that name had not yet been launched.

There is a substantial number of similar charities. In November, to aid targeted giving, New York Magazine posted a directory of 174 US nonprofits that support black lives and communities of colour, ranging from victim, bail and memorial funds to police-reform organisations. The list also included youth and community groups and organisations such as the Black Career Women’s Network, the Institute for the Development of African American Youth, and the National Black Child Development Institute. For those in search of advice on this sector, it’s an invaluable resource.

Conservation and climate change

Covid has put organisations such as Greenpeace under increased pressure on issues from escalating plastic pollution – discarded PPE, retailers’ insistence on wrapping goods that were previously sold unwrapped, and cafés’ reluctance to fill reusable cups – to the challenges of getting food and medical supplies safely to remote indigenous communities who would be at acute risk from the virus if it reached them.

Gabrielle Avancini says: “The photographs I took during lockdown capture an isolated, almost idyllic moment in time. I began to understand the power of fantasy and escapism to allow us to endure”
Gabrielle Avancini says: “The photographs I took during lockdown capture an isolated, almost idyllic moment in time. I began to understand the power of fantasy and escapism to allow us to endure”

But it has been a good year for raising eco-awareness. Research published in July by Ganga Shreedhar and Susana Mourato at the London School of Economics “found that the narrative linking human destruction of nature to Covid-19 increases support for conservation”. The year began, of course, with the worst wildfires in living memory in Australia, followed by those in California. In addition, Andrew Terry, director of conservation and policy at the global conservation charity ZSL, points out that “in regions [such as Africa] where tourism revenues underpin funding for state agencies to protect wildlife, this income has gone, and teams are under huge pressure”. Support from ZSL and other charities is a lifeline. “In Kenya, we continue to support the Kenya Wildlife Service in rhino monitoring,” says Terry as an example. 

ZSL stands to lose more than £20m this financial year. Its London and Whipsnade zoos, which raise vital funds for worldwide conservation, were closed to visitors for both lockdowns, but their costs – the animals still needed to be cared for – run to £2.3m a month. It’s a similar story across the globe, and especially for charities that rely on visitor income. From the five zoos and aquariums operated by WCS in New York to the National Park Foundation, the non-profit that supports the US’s national parks, it feels especially brutal as the need to connect with nature and open spaces is more acute than ever.

Food poverty

Food poverty afflicts people the world over, even in more affluent nations, and as in so many areas, Covid-19 has deepened the crisis. “There are more and more younger people who cry with relief because they can get something to eat and refill their fridge,” said Jochen Brühl, chairman of Tafel Deutschland, Germany’s food bank umbrella group. Despite greater need this year, the organisation witnessed the closure of more than 400 of its 950 banks – partially because they could not find sufficient volunteers since many people had to shield. “Even though the federal government has initiated quick and unbureaucratic help,” he added, “some people are in dire straits.”

Sophie Gibbons’ project The Essentials focused on how we define our essential items in lockdown
Sophie Gibbons’ project The Essentials focused on how we define our essential items in lockdown

In the UK, food poverty has moved to the front of the social and political agenda in large part thanks to Marcus Rashford. In March, the Manchester United and England forward became an ambassador for FareShare, the UK’s longest-running food redistribution charity that feeds more than 930,000 people each week, two-thirds of whom are children and vulnerable families.

“Marcus Rashford’s campaign really put food poverty in people’s minds, and we’ve seen a lot of people giving to food banks,” says CAF’s Mark Greer of Rashford’s efforts. “He’s a really powerful messenger, and people have thought about these issues in ways that they perhaps hadn’t before. To hear a very wealthy young man talk in such stark terms about his own upbringing and how they didn’t have enough food to put on the table has made a huge difference.”

Rashford has not only raised awareness of child hunger but has also helped to drive a fundraising initiative that paid for more than 4.2m meals for children and families who might otherwise have gone hungry. He has also launched the Child Food Poverty Taskforce, a group of around 12 organisations, including Aldi, Deliveroo, Kellogg’s and Tesco, to support the UK government’s National Food Strategy. Other UK organisations tackling food shortages include The Felix Project and The Trussell Trust.

In the US, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos pledged to donate $100m to Feeding America, a Chicago-based nonprofit that has 200 food banks across the United States, and which launched the Covid-19 Response Fund, a national food and fundraising effort to support national food banks. “Even in ordinary times, food insecurity in American households is an important problem, and unfortunately Covid-19 is amplifying that stress,” Bezos said on Instagram

But the huge uptick in demand for food banks came in parallel with restrictions on grocery shopping and limitations on the handling of food. As a result, food banks across the world – from Banques Alimentaires, which supports more than 2m people in France, to the US’s All Faiths Food Bank – have had to pivot from accepting food donations towards taking them in cash.

Mental health

“There has never been a year like 2020,” said Ruth Sutherland, former chief executive of the suicide-prevention and mental-health charity Samaritans, which she left in November. “As soon as the crisis began, the calls I answered began to change. 

Dominik Pasulka says of his poetic shot: “Sometimes you can’t find your switch-off button. I just want people to chill out a bit, take a second to sit down, maybe watch the sunset. Just remember to take care of yourself”
Dominik Pasulka says of his poetic shot: “Sometimes you can’t find your switch-off button. I just want people to chill out a bit, take a second to sit down, maybe watch the sunset. Just remember to take care of yourself”

“For lots of people, coronavirus has magnified the pain and distress they were already experiencing. People with terminal illnesses, desperate to make the most of every minute, [were] instead spending the final months of their lives scared and alone at home. People in abusive relationships were trapped and terrified, living in constant fear of their partners.” 

“More people have experienced a mental health crisis during the pandemic than ever previously recorded,” echoed the charity Mind, after recent data analysis.

During the first 12 weeks of lockdown, Samaritans took half a million calls and emails. One in four specifically mentioned Covid-19 as a factor in their distress. Hence the emergency appeal Samaritans has launched that will allow it to invest in new systems, software and processes, enabling its volunteers to take more calls and to recruit and train more volunteer listeners. 

Davinia Diaz is drawn to nature and particularly flowers as her work attempts to find the magic in life (below). “I am attracted to photography because it forces me to be present, to slow down, to relish what life brings me,” she says
Davinia Diaz is drawn to nature and particularly flowers as her work attempts to find the magic in life (below). “I am attracted to photography because it forces me to be present, to slow down, to relish what life brings me,” she says

In the US, the National Institute for Mental Health calculates that, even before the pandemic, “nearly one in five US adults lived with a mental illness” and “with the havoc caused by the pandemic and the impending impact on economies, social structures and health systems, a global mental health crisis is arising”.

And it’s not just the psychological effects of lockdown that should worry us. The National Institute for Health Research, the largest national clinical research funder in Europe, found that almost 20 per cent of those recovering from Covid will develop a condition such as anxiety, depression or insomnia. The Institute’s Dr Max Taquet noted in November: “Having a psychiatric disorder should be added to the list of risk factors for Covid-19,” and warned that the development “urgently needs investigation”.

Children

According to Save the Children, “around 99 per cent of the world’s children have been impacted by disruptions such as school closures, stretched health systems, lost livelihoods and restricted access to nutritious food”.

Jenny Duque’s project I Never Thought Life Would Be So Shit explores her subjects’ experiences of childhood and what they imagined adult life would be like
Jenny Duque’s project I Never Thought Life Would Be So Shit explores her subjects’ experiences of childhood and what they imagined adult life would be like

Unicef’s Children In Lockdown report calculated that in the UK alone this school year, 700m days of education could be lost, which particularly affects pupils from less privileged backgrounds even in the developed world. The US Census Bureau calculates that 4.4m households had no consistent access to education during the pandemic, many of them because they had no way to access online learning. 

But Plan International’s Halting Lives report found that Covid has particularly affected girls and young women. “The message from the [7,000] girls surveyed [in 14 countries from Brazil, Ecuador and Ethiopia to Vietnam and Zambia] was bleak. There were tensions at home, they felt lonely, they missed their schools and colleges. The opportunities so hard fought for are disappearing.” Added to this, as UN secretary-general António Guterres pointed out in April, there was “a horrifying global surge in domestic violence”. In Peru, 606 girls and 309 women were reported missing between the start of its lockdown on 16 March and 30 June.

Fae Morgan allowed people to draw and write on her work for Ghosts of Playful Futility, above. She says: “The art of drawing over a printed photograph gives the image a whole new feeling”
Fae Morgan allowed people to draw and write on her work for Ghosts of Playful Futility, above. She says: “The art of drawing over a printed photograph gives the image a whole new feeling”

Calls to the NSPCC’s helpline Childline about domestic abuse on children increased by 32 per cent, to an average of one an hour, during the UK lockdown. In May it received the highest number it had ever recorded.

Organisations that support children and young people “have a crucial role to play in supporting the most vulnerable, who always suffer most at times of crisis”, says Javed Khan, chief executive of Barnardo’s, the UK’s largest such charity. He is expecting a loss of about £50m this financial year.

The arts

Though visual artists have continued to work, with galleries and museums closed, exhibitions cancelled and the commercial art world slowed, they are struggling. In the US, this has seen the establishment of Artist Relief, a coalition of arts grantmakers funded by 60 philanthropic bodies. These include eminent family foundations such as Andrew W Mellon and Pritzker Pucker, along with a handful of trusts established by superstar artists’ estates, including those of Andy Warhol, Helen Frankenthaler, Mike Kelley, Willem de Kooning, Joan Mitchell and Robert Rauschenberg.

Gennaro Maffettone’s project is an intimate series documenting drag queens both on and off the stage that aims to dispel stereotypical representations of drag culture
Gennaro Maffettone’s project is an intimate series documenting drag queens both on and off the stage that aims to dispel stereotypical representations of drag culture

By September, the fund had made grants totalling $13.5m to 2,700 distressed arts practitioners across all disciplines – performers, poets and filmmakers – since the start of the pandemic. And yet the number of people who have been helped is out of an estimated 2.5m artists in the US.

In the performing arts, with theatres and concert halls closed or subject to Covid-safety orders that reduce their capacity to less than half, these cultural institutions remain financially stricken. So too do performers, most of whom cannot find work. As the charity Help Musicians has found, 96 per cent of professional musicians in the UK have lost “the majority of their income” and 80 per cent are facing financial distress. Live, the umbrella organisation that represents the live music industry, estimates that 170,000 musicians in the UK will have given up on the profession by the end of the year.

In July, the director Sam Mendes set up the Theatre Artists Fund to provide emergency grants to theatre workers, using a donation of his own to leverage £500,000 from Netflix, because where would it be without actors? Michaela Coel, Benedict Cumberbatch, Es Devlin, Ralph Fiennes, Armando Iannucci, Peter Morgan, Steven Spielberg and Imelda Staunton were among other high-profile donors, not to mention members of the public, and £3.5m was raised within two months. Donations continue to be welcomed.

Even those who aren’t regular theatre or opera goers are being moved to help: 48 per cent of donations to the Royal Opera House’s Recovery Campaign came from people who have never bought a ticket, but many new donors had enjoyed the archive performances it streamed during lockdown. Bravo.

Medical research

When Cancer Research UK’s work was paused by the closure of workplaces, the charity stepped up, donating what Iain Foulkes, its executive director of research and innovation, called “much needed kit and machinery” to hospitals, and seconding staff to the national testing labs to help scale up testing capacity. “Some of our scientists repurposed their labs for Covid testing,” he says, “while others volunteered in testing centres. Researchers used their skills to contribute to the nationwide effort to control the epidemic.” But in July, the charity announced that as many as a quarter of its workforce – about 500 jobs – would have to go. 

George Morris focused on the way the pandemic showed that the future can be radically changed at any moment. He says: “London is a city of nine million people, but within a week the streets had emptied… It had become a ghost town”
George Morris focused on the way the pandemic showed that the future can be radically changed at any moment. He says: “London is a city of nine million people, but within a week the streets had emptied… It had become a ghost town”

The organisation, which is the world’s largest independent cancer research charity, is anticipating a decline in its income of £160m this financial year and £300m over three years as a direct result of the pandemic. “We have had no choice but to scale down our work,” says the charity’s chief executive Michelle Mitchell. “Currently we spend about £400m a year on research, but without further support we will need to make major cuts, potentially spending £150m less per year by 2024 than we’d planned.”

The shrinking of Cancer Research UK’s finances will be felt by other charities too. The Institute of Cancer Research, for example, one of the world’s leading research facilities, received 39 per cent of its research grant income last year from Cancer Research UK.

In the UK, much giving to medical research has been diverted to the 240 members of NHS Charities Together, which “represents, supports and champions” the NHS – a public service, not a charity – and promotes the “effective working of NHS charities in the UK”. Deserving, certainly, but perhaps not at the expense of the organisations that directly support medical research, which the hospitals sector has superseded in terms of popularity. 

“The cuts will have a devastating impact on the global cancer research landscape,” says Mitchell. Even so, she adds: “We are still making advances.” 

Clinical trials have continued and a landmark partnership “to pursue answers to some of cancer’s toughest questions at scale”, Cancer Grand Challenges, has just been launched with the US National Cancer Institute, which grants outstanding multidisciplinary research teams across the globe up to $25m over five years. “Cancer does not stop for a pandemic,” says Mitchell. “And our mission to save lives through research remains unchanged.”

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