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The Impact of COVID-19 on Small International Development Charities

Guest blog kindly contributed by Olivia Barker White, Chief Executive Officer, Kids Club Kampala

This piece is one of many we currently have live as part of the newly launched IG Voluntary Community Hub. We offer sector-leading policy events, leading best practice content and thought pieces from across the sector, IG Voluntary is here to support voluntary sector leaders and professionals improve outcomes and maximise the impact of all charities and NGOs. 

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Small UK charities supporting the world’s poorest during this pandemic are in real danger.

As the COVID-19 crisis continues around the world, many small UK charities working overseas are struggling to survive. Despite nearly three quarters seeing demand for their services increase, many public opportunities for funding have been put on hold because of the virus.

Responding to crisis

More than three fifths (68%) of organisations have responded to the COVID-19 crisis directly, by either continuing work as normal, or finding new and innovative ways to deliver their projects. The pandemic has definitely posed a challenge as it required a timely and flexible response. As the UK, where the small charities in the Small International Development Charities Network is based, is moving out of lockdown and restrictions are being eased, the same cannot be said for the countries and communities where these charities work. There is therefore still a huge need for these beneficiaries to be best supported during this time, and 72% of small international development charities have seen increased demand for their services.

The impoverished communities where these small NGOs work, face difficult obstacles with their countries in lockdown. Often the types of employment that beneficiaries are engaged in mean they cannot work from home and government support is not available. This means that there is a greater reliance on support from NGOs, which makes the SIDCN members’ struggles to access increased funding during this time especially hard hitting.

Barriers to funding

It has been found that the biggest single challenge facing these organisations is funding. These charities are not eligible to apply for the UK Government Coronavirus Community Support Fund, many UK funders have amended their giving criteria to only support UK-based projects and the Department for International Development (DFID) has ‘paused’ grants leaving charities in limbo.This has meant that the majority (79%) have raised their income through individual giving. This is refreshing and is a definite motivator for small charities. Even though we are in a time of financial crisis and struggle, the public still want to continue supporting vital overseas projects.

A toll has also been taken on staff teams, as one third have had to furlough staff meaning that although demand for services during this time of need has increased, capacity to fulfill this need has certainly decreased. It has been difficult for these charities as more than half (51%) do not feel represented by an overarching body due to the size and nature of their work. These challenges have left staff feeling low in morale and burned out.

Looking to the future

The crisis will continue to impact small overseas charities long into the future. What is most devastating is that, without additional funding, almost half (45%) will be forced to close their doors within 12 months. Even as lockdown draws to an end in the communities which these charities work, there will be lots of work to do and resources needed to rebuild communities, shifting energy back from meeting basic needs to providing long-term sustainable change.

Turning to the positives, some organisations have increased their volunteer intake, with many individuals from the public and private sector keen to help out since they have been furloughed. Also, the pandemic has opened up new ways to communicate with supporters through social media and as well as new, exciting and creative fundraising events. Which I am certain will continue post-pandemic.

This blog post is based upon the June 2020 report by 53 small UK non-profit organisations working overseas who are a part of the Small International Development Charities Network (SIDCN).


To hear more about the challenges facing small international development charities as a result of Covid-19 please join Bond and others including the NCVOICIA and the Department for International Development for the Virtual International Development Conference taking place on the 3rd-4th December 2020.

Online International Development Conference