In this section, we first introduce the quantitative data, starting with a description of the (financial) impact of the crisis on PDIs and a reflection on the experienced concerns and opportunities related to the crisis. Thereafter we analyse what determines the impact of the crisis on PDIs by looking at the core characteristics of organisations and country differences. Subsequently, we present the findings of the interviews with PDI members.
The upper part of Table 3 presents the descriptive statistics of the main features of our sample, and the lower part shows the descriptive data on the impact of the crisis and the experienced concerns and opportunities.
What Happened to Their Development Interventions?
The COVID-19 crisis directly affected 88% (N = 376) of PDIs’ regular projects and programmes between January and September 2020. Of these PDIs, nearly 25% had to stop (part of) their regular activities permanently. Around half continued their regular activities less intensively (47.6%) and/or postponed their regular activities (62.5%). Belgian PDIs more frequently (38.5%) permanently stopped (part of) their regular activities, followed by Danish (30.4%) and French PDIs (26.3%). Only 16.5% of Dutch PDIs decided to stop their regular activities. A small number of PDIs started offering their activities online (17.8%), and some accelerated the implementation of their regular activities (5.6%). Danish PDIs appeared to be most flexible in continuing to offer their activities online (37%), while those in Belgium (19.2%), France (15.8%) and the Netherlands (13.1%) did so to a lesser extent.
In addition to country differences, we find as well that organisations with a higher budget, are better positioned to continue their regular programs (X2 (2) = 6.17, p < .05). Also, the flexibility to adapt programs to an online version is depending on the resources of organisations. We find a significant positive relation between both the number of paid staff members (X2 (2) = 4.89, p < .05) and the annual budget of organisations (X2 (2) = 7.16, p < .05) and the possibility of organisations offering regular activities online.
Reasons to adapt or stop the (implementation of) regular activities ranged from limiting the health risks for local employees and/or the target group (60.4%), (travel) restrictions from authorities in project countries (58.2%) or in PDIs’ home countries (48.7%), to limiting health risks for employees and volunteers in PDIs’ home country (31.6%). In the fourth place, PDIs mention decreased income (35.9%) as a reason to stop or adapt their interventions. In particular younger PDIs (X2 (2) = 6.77, p < .05) and PDIs in Belgium (X2 (2) = 25.17, p < .001) were more likely to adapt their interventions due to decreased income. We also found that differences could be (partly) explained by PDIs’ core characteristics: PDIs with a higher annual budget (X2 (2) = 6.85, p < .05) and/or paid staff (X2 (2) = 5.11, p < .05) more often changed their projects to limit the health risks for local employees and/or their target group. Travel restrictions in project countries also had a significant negative effect on the continuation of regular activities for organisations with a higher annual budget, X2 (2) = 9.15, p < .01. PDIs with more volunteers more often changed their projects to limit health risks for employees/volunteers in the PDI’s home country, X2 (2) = 15.27, p < .001.
Over half of PDIs (61%) experienced increased demand for support from their local counterparts. In particular, partners of Danish PDIs made an increased appeal (71.2%) for support. While PDIs are mostly involved in long(er)-term development processes, over half of the PDIs (n = 202) mentioned they started COVID-19-related emergency projects.
We found a significant, positive relation between the budget of PDIs and the start of COVID-19 emergency projects: PDIs with a larger annual budget were more likely to have started COVID-19 emergency projects, X2 (2) = 9.42, p < .01. To get insight in the type and scope of PDIs’ response, we analysed the project databases of PDI support organisations that provided financial support to COVID-19-related projects. In the period between March and November 2020, CISU, La Guilde, Province of West-Flanders and Stichting Wilde Ganzen supported 322 PDIs with a total of 327 projects spread over 58 different countries, worth a total amount of over 5,390,000 euro. Together these projects aimed to reach just over two million beneficiaries. Of these projects, 68.2% focused on health (e.g. supply of face masks and alcohol gel) combined with food security (e.g. distribution of food packages). The thematic focus of projects was different across countries. Projects of Dutch PDIs mostly focus on either food security (35%) or health (35%), but less so combine both themes within one project (3%). Belgian (41%) and French PDIs (32%) on the other hand often combine food and health within one project or focus on health alone (23% and 17%, respectively), rather than food (0%; 3%). French PDIs furthermore focussed with 35% most on care and welfare projects, followed by Belgian (23%) and Dutch PDIs (9%).
The geographical focus of the PDIs’ COVID-19 emergency aid projects was largely on Africa. Of the 327 emergency aid projects, 221 (68%) were executed in Africa, with Kenya (n = 25) and Uganda (n = 23) having the largest concentration of interventions, followed by Burkina Faso (n = 17) Senegal (n = 14), Cameroon (n = 13) and South Africa (n = 12). With 17 projects, India holds the most projects in Asia, and Peru (n = 14) stands out in Latin America.
The Differential Organisational Impact
Although many PDIs responded rapidly to the COVID-19 pandemic in solidarity with their partner organisations and the communities wherein they work, PDIs themselves were also heavily affected. Of the 428 organisations that participated in our study, overall, 63.1% experienced a decrease in income, 24.8% indicated their budget so far was not affected by the crisis and the budget of 12.1% of PDIs even increased.
The crisis impacted PDIs significantly differently in the countries of study, with medium to large effect size differences between the countries (H(3) = 38.96, Cohen’s f = .32). While the majority of Danish PDIs did not experience a negative impact on their budget thus far, Belgian PDIs took the hardest hit with more than half of the PDIs’ budgets substantially decreased, followed by France and the Netherlands (see Fig. 3).
To understand what determines the impact of the crisis on PDIs budget, we conducted a regression analysis. Table 4 shows the results of the analyses. In order to be able to distinguish possible country differences, we included two different models. The first model tests the relation between the dependent variables we expected to be of influence and our dependent variable ‘impact budget’. The second model includes those same variables and contains the home countries of the PDIs. In this model, the Netherlands is included as the reference country.
Interestingly enough, we do not find organisational characteristics, such as age or annual budget, to be of influence on the extent the crisis affected the budget of PDIs. Whereas we find (see above) that the number of resources (i.e. number of paid staff and budget) determines organisations’ ability to continue their regular programs, to adapt to online working and to start COVID-19 emergency projects, we do not find these factors to determine the financial resilience of PDIs. We do find that, compared to Dutch PDIs, Belgian PDIs are significantly harder hit by the crisis (b = − .435; p < .05). This might be resulting from a longer and stricter lockdown compared to the other countries having a more negative impact on the PDIs fundraising activities and (private) donors’ willingness to donate.
The results of the regression analyses show that while different revenue sources do not significantly determine the extent to which organisations’ budget is being affected, the type of fundraising strategies organisations undertake does determine the impact. We find a significant negative impact from direct fundraising activities (b = − .138; p < .01). Especially in Belgium and France, PDIs strongly rely on direct fundraising strategies with particularly Belgian PDIs organising a large number of fundraising activities in schools (see Fig. 1). Because of the lockdown, restricting or prohibiting public events and schools being closed during a longer period of time, a large number of fundraising activities were cancelled.
PDIs explained that their regular donors continued to support their work, and donors sometimes even increased their donations. Overall, we find that PDIs especially experienced a severe loss in income from direct fundraising activities (see Fig. 4). PDIs did not manage to compensate for this loss via online fundraising activities. The older age of PDI members might have hampered the organisations in developing and implementing a successful online fundraising strategy. Indeed, online fundraising activities merely functioned as a damage reduction strategy, as PDIs struggled to reach the status quo of normal financial circumstances. Only Danish PDIs managed to generate increased revenues via online mailings and social media campaigns.
When asked how PDIs expected the crisis to continue to affect their income in the near future, 65.7% expected a decrease, one quarter expected the budget of the organisation to remain stable, and 8.3% anticipated an increase in income.
Overall, we found that PDIs in France followed by those in Belgium were most concerned, while Danish and Dutch PDIs tended to be less concerned. With the majority of PDIs organising events, it comes as no surprise that PDIs are overall most concerned about the ability to organise fundraising activities. Belgian PDIs, especially, followed by French organisations, were most concerned about this perhaps due to their heavy reliance on direct fundraising activities. Danish PDIs expressed more concern related to upholding relationships with their local counterparts and meeting donor conditions. Interestingly enough, despite the negative (expected) impact of the crisis on PDIs’ financial situation and their interventions, overall, PDIs were not particularly worried about the continuation of their organisation or the survival of their local counterparts. French PDIs were more worried about this than those in other countries. Figure 5 shows an overview of the level of concern experienced by PDIs.
Despite the negative impact of the crisis on PDIs, they also identified opportunities resulting from it. Overall, Danish PDIs saw the most opportunities resulting from the crisis, followed by Dutch PDIs. Most opportunities (see Fig. 6) were seen in increasing the local ownership of the partner organisation(s); 12.8% of PDIs indicated their partner had gained ownership to execute the project due to the COVID-19 crisis. Increasing local ownership has been a long-standing priority of PDIs but has been hard to implement in practice, and COVID might actually create a tipping point in this domain (Kinsbergen et al., 2020a, 2020b, 2020c, 2020d). There were no significant country differences here.
Although data do not allow to make firm statements on this, we expect that the severity of the COVID-19 crisis and the different measures taken by the governments in the different countries of study, might affect the impact of the crisis on PDIs and, related to this, the level of concern and opportunities expressed by PDIs. For example, compared to the Netherlands and Denmark, Belgium and France suffered a longer and more restrictive first lockdown in the spring of 2020 (e.g. restriction in travel distance, curfew, more limited number of visitors). Considering that these two latter countries strongly rely on physical fundraising events, this might explain the stronger negative impact of the crisis on the budget of PDIs in these countries. During the second and consecutive lockdowns in Europe, the policies were more in sync. Yet these episodes occurred after the end of the research (Figs. 7, 8).
The interviews with PDI members allow to deepen our understanding of both the response of PDIs to the crisis and the (expected) impact of the crisis on the organisations and their operations both in the global north and south.
Most of the PDIs describe how the COVID-19 regulations heavily affect their abilities to raise funds and therewith, their budget. One of the Belgian PDIs interviewed indicated that they had more than 20 festivals scheduled at the beginning of 2020 where they were planning to work in return for financial contributions to their PDI. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, all of these festivals were cancelled, and consequently, this organisation saw a big part of its income disappear (Interview PDI, case 11).
Despite these financial challenges many of them experience, most interviewees describe how they immediately agreed to provide COVID-19 support to their partner organisations without even thinking about how to raise funds. When doing so, PDIs supported both interventions targeting the direct consequences of the COVID-19 crisis (e.g. distribution of hand sanitisers or masks) and projects responding to the consequences of the lockdown (e.g. food distribution). Their often-long-standing presence in specific regions and their durable partnerships with local organisations resulted in a strong commitment to respond (despite their own organisational challenges). It also allowed them to respond quickly. Their flexible funding base enabled them to make funds available in the short term or to generate new funding to finance the COVID-19 response of their counterparts (Figs. 9, 10).
While some of the regular projects PDIs were supporting before COVID-19 are currently running as before (e.g. construction work), other projects have experienced a more fundamental impact, as in the case of PDIs supporting schools or day-care centres. Where the school might have already reopened, parents are often no longer able to pay the tuition fees, preventing them from sending their children to school, but also affecting the financial self-reliance of the schools. All this results in some PDIs expressing feelings of insecurity. ‘It feels like all the efforts of the past years of both ourselves and our partner organisation have faded away’ (Interview PDI, case 11).
In addition to the impact of the crisis on the continuation of their regular projects and programs, some PDIs also expressed concern related to local ownership. They mentioned how the current crisis negatively affected the (financial) independence of their local counterparts and at times even stagnated or reversed exit strategies, as explained by the founder of one the PDIs:
Given our age, we had in mind to continue for a couple more years. We also discussed this during our last visit, that at a certain point, the ownership has to be handed over.… We had some ideas about this, but at the moment [due to the COVID-19 crisis], this is not at stake. (Interview PDI, case 8)
Others, however, describe how the enforced distance fastens the process of handing over responsibilities to local partners organisations.
PDIs do not only share concerns related to their work in the global south, and they also explain how travel restrictions to project countries negatively impact the motivation of PDI members. In the interviews, PDIs expressed that they would never think about quitting, but that they miss the positive energy resulting from visiting their local counterparts and projects. Not being able to see the results of their (fundraising) efforts makes the work more difficult:
I get the most energy when I am ‘in the field’. When I am there and I am busy with the kids, or making connections between people, that is my power. My passion is there in Brazil and I arrange the necessary stuff in the Netherlands. Thus, I did not get the positive energy that I always get from my annual visit and that is something that I missed. (Interview PDI case 3)
Next to this, PDI members also worry that a long-lasting COVID-19 crisis might impact the visibility of PDIs in their own communities. This does not only affect their fundraising activities, but also the role they play in contributing to global citizenship. During the interviews, one of the Belgian PDIs mentioned that because of this they also had fewer opportunities to inform people about the situation of people living in the Global South. That is, PDIs experienced the cancellation of these events as a threat to their role as contributors to global citizenship. This concern was also expressed by an interviewee:
In the beginning I had the impression the COVID-crisis had a positive effect on feelings of solidarity with our projects. After I sent the first mailing, people spontaneously donated money, but I don’t think that this will last. […] I also believe that these days people are more likely to take care of each other here [in Belgium]. The projects in the global South are far away for them, and we cannot organise events anymore to keep them involved. Normally, we would show up everywhere, on Christmas markets, everywhere (Interview PDI, case 11)
Especially for those countries where PDIs are subsidised because they are believed to contribute to strengthened public support for development cooperation and contributors to the notion of global citizenship, the crisis might result in a double burden: while impacting their work in the Global South, it also hampers them in reaching out to people in their own communities to involve them in the work of their organisations. Especially in Belgium and France, support organisations and PDIs themselves see a clear role for PDIs in their own society as contributors to global citizenship. This is being reflected in the fundraising strategies of such organisations in France and Belgium. This results in a stronger negative impact of the current crisis on the incomes of PDIs and prevents them from realising their goals in the Global South.
However, even though most PDIs indicate their organisations have been (heavily) influenced by the crisis, almost none of them question the survival of their organisation, and all of them are planning to continue their work in the future:
No way… There is really no way that we will let our partner organisation down now. They are getting back on track after the lockdown, and with all the problems going on now (Interview PDI, case 11)