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The True Impact of COVID-19 on the Social Sector

Image Source: Chris Davis

“We can’t go back” 80% say pre-pandemic sector constraints a major determinant of current burnout…”

With burnout and fatigue increasing among employees and volunteers in the Social Purpose sector, latest research also uncovers a strong message about pre-existing systemic impacts on the sector’s mental health and wellbeing.

The latest interval of The Xfactor Collective’s RESET 2020 National Impact+Need Research Study has found 40-45% of the sector are now often or always in high levels of stress, exhaustion and overwhelm, with 80% stating that the existing (pre-pandemic) ways of working are partly to blame. This compares to pre-pandemic wellbeing indicators that already showed nearly 1 in 5 were not taking good care of themselves, 16% felt their workload was unachievable, and 1 in 10 were overwhelmed, exhausted and stressed.

Conducted over September and October, the research overall paints a picture of a workforce who are finishing the year working longer hours (now at 38%, up from 17% in May 2020), with less volunteer support (23% lost volunteers due to illness/caring responsibilities since June 2020), and less income (58% have had a decline in revenue since June 2020).

Operating reserves continue to be a lifeline, with 44% of organisations drawing on reserves since June 2020, and 40% having six months or less of reserves. Access to JobKeeper and other grant support has been important, although 37% of respondents were not receiving any form of assistance (including 49% not receiving JobKeeper).

Julia Keady, Founder/CEO, The Xfactor Collective, who has led the RESET 2020 project, said while the wellbeing findings largely validate what organisation and sector leaders are observing, there is a strong message from the research about sector recovery and rebuilding.

“The research clearly says ‘We can’t go back!’ – that existing constraints in the sector exacerbate the impacts on mental health and wellbeing.

“Research participants have called for funders of the sector to use the pandemic as a chance to re-think the way they fund and grant, with some citing ‘dreadful grants management practices’, and ‘short term funding “strategies”, and asking funders to “move away from program/project-based funding and fund core and capacity”.

“The current research is a must-read for all, showing clearly what organisations need in terms of practical strategic and operational support, but it’s also giving us a chance to reflect on the culture of self-sacrifice and increasingly a sector working under unacceptable health conditions.”

The RESET 2020 research project has been a collective and collaborative effort to capture the impacts of COVID-19, initiated and lead by The Xfactor Collective, supported by Equity Trustees and has included wide outreach from 20+ sector leaders and outreach partners.

Jodi Kennedy, General Manager,Trusts and Philanthropy, Equity Trustees said the RESET 2020 data continues to provide valuable insights for the sector, to inform future interventions and support.

“We are now able to track the ongoing and evolving impacts against a June 2020 baseline and monitor a broad range of measures that will continue to provide invaluable insights as we all navigate the coming months and years together.

“This study has highlighted that we are at a real tipping point for the sector, and that we have the opportunity to reconsider how we work, how we better support one another so that we can ensure we are there for those who need the sector’s support.”

Both of the RESET 2020 data sets are available for free users in Seer data platform. Organisations can extract tailored insights to use in funding and advocacy efforts in 2021. Both written reports and a pack of graphics are also available for download from The Xfactor Collective website.

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