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The COVID-19 pandemic has affected communities across the world and reinforced the need to help the most vulnerable in our societies. But social distancing measures brought in to protect people and try to stem the spread of the virus have meant that nonprofit organisations have faced unforeseen and serious challenges to  their fundraising methods, and their service provisions and general operations. And opportunities for colleagues to undertake volunteering or other charitable activities are limited, resulting in frustrations for both employees and the nonprofits they wish to support.  Suzanne Scatliffe explains how Corporate Social Responsibility efforts have adapted to try to meet the changing circumstances.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a humanitarian disaster on a global scale. Societies have been grappling with the effects of the virus on individuals and communities as well as its economic fall-out and financial consequences. 

This has been a challenging – and often bewildering – time for us all, and we have all had to adapt to new ways of doing things. Across many industries, employees have been working from home and changing their working practices to minimise contact between people and maintain social distancing. 

For many nonprofit organisations, however, the need to maintain social distance poses twin challenges; not only does it make face-to-face delivery of services extremely difficult, many charitable organisations simply are not set up for remote working and have until now not needed to operate virtually. In addition, some nonprofits have seen an urgent need to shift their focus to help respond specifically to the pandemic and its effects on the communities in which they operate.

As with all other areas of business – and life – Corporate Social Responsibility teams have needed to take a flexible approach to try to help our communities address these challenges.

Virtual Day of Giving

At AXA XL, our Global Day of Giving has been an important annual focal point of our commitment to volunteering. Each year, colleagues across all of our offices step away from their desks and give their time and skills to charitable projects globally. 

This year’s planned event fell during a time when many countries were still in the strictest phases of their COVID-19 lockdown periods. 

As we couldn’t safely coordinate in-person volunteering, we had to make our plans virtual. We identified a range of projects that could be delivered from kitchen tables and home offices. Activities ranged from writing to isolated senior citizens, reading to children via video to improve literacy, giving career advice to young people, to tracking animal movements for zoological research. 

More than 2,400 colleagues around the world collectively donated more than 2,000 hours to 55 Virtual Day of Giving projects. 

While a virtual day of giving may not provide the same social and team-building opportunities as volunteering in person, many colleagues were able to involve their families in their efforts and the feedback we received from colleagues was overwhelmingly one of pride.

One colleague who was juggling work with childcare commented that the opportunity to work on something together was a rewarding and enjoyable one for both parent and child. Another colleague noted that the ability to take part in a virtual project at a time of their choosing was a great benefit at a busy time. 

Other colleagues noted that being able to find a digital project that fell into their line of business expertise was another bonus of the Virtual Day of Giving – a fine arts specialist, for example, was able to take part in a digital project for the Smithsonian museum. 

The Virtual Day of Giving was a great way for colleagues to be able to contribute their time and expertise during the lockdown. But the day of giving is just one part of our CSR commitment.

We also are involved in several long-term CSR projects, which require us to think flexibly about how we can provide support during the COVID-19 pandemic – and beyond.

Virtualising face-to-face services

For many nonprofits, face-to-face contact is a vital part of how they raise funds and deliver their services. 

Against the unprecedented backdrop of a global pandemic and restrictions on the movement of people, many organisations have had to drastically rethink how they could continue to serve their beneficiaries. 

Our team has been helping our nonprofit partners to find ways in which they can adapt their standard face-to-face service provision. 

Rapid Results Institute (RRI) is a US-based nonprofit which runs workshops and coaching sessions with organizations delivering critical social services. The RRI “100 Day Challenge” brings together nonprofits and public agencies serving a particular town or region, to help them work more effectively with the limited resources they have. Over the course of the 100 days, the participating communities set “unreasonable” goals, and the RRI team coaches them on how to innovate and collaborate so these goals become achievable. Typically, the programme involves several full-day, in-person workshops with presentations, interactive exercises and breakout sessions. 

We had already recruited a group of high potential AXA XL colleagues to take part in a 100 Day Challenge to support organisations working to end youth homelessness, and so we got to work with helping the RRI create their first completely virtual project. The AXA XL participants have stepped in as co-facilitators in breakouts, challenged community members to think differently by asking “outsider’s perspective” questions, and assisted with logistics and technology challenges in working virtually. While directly supporting the RRI’s work, the AXA XL team are also gaining new skills in coaching from a distance, developing forums for effective digital communications and working with extremely diverse teams - including young people who had recently experienced homelessness. They’ve also learned much more about the complex challenges of youth homelessness. 

Face-to-face contact will always be of huge importance in the nonprofit sector. But as we move out of the lockdown period, the ability of organisations to provide some services virtually may help them to expand their offering in future.

Flexibility is key

The COVID-19 pandemic has required donors and funding bodies to be flexible too. As well as adapting the ways in which they work, many nonprofits have recognised a need to adapt their activities to directly meet the challenges posed by COVID-19.

For example, RedR, a charity that provides training and technical support to NGOs and communities responding to disasters, recognised that the climate-vulnerable communities in which it works, also would need to build resilience to pandemics.

These issues need to be tackled in parallel to ensure that communities can develop resilience for both health and climate-related challenges; issues which are often interlinked. 

RedR proposed, therefore, to adapt their 2020 training programme, for which we had already provided funding, in order to incorporate preparedness and response to health epidemics, along with the originally planned content on climate adaptation. The RedR team has also replanned their training provision so it can be delivered virtually. Communities in the Philippines and Bangladesh, two of the world’s most vulnerable regions, will therefore benefit from this dual-focused training, on the same timeline as that which was planned for the in-person trainings. 

With so much uncertainty we believe that now, more than ever, corporate donors need to take a flexible approach to supporting the work being done by their nonprofit partners.

Looking forwards

It’s undeniable that the work that nonprofit organisations do will always benefit from face-to-face contact and, in some situations, there is no alternative. The adaptability and flexible approach  that some organisations, and their donors, have been able to take during this unprecedented period, however, provide great hope for the future that some activities could be expanded by using virtual methods, and that this, in turn, may help nonprofits develop a more resilient operating model.

 
  • About The Author
  • Director, Corporate Social Responsibility, AXA XL
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