Kelvyn Eglinton, Momentum Waikato Chief Executive
Kia ora tatou everyone.
Since the start of the Covid-19 crisis people have often said to us “We should have set up an endowment fund five years ago.”
It can be difficult for an over-stretched community organisation besieged by day-to-day challenges to build its long-term resilience, to pause the urgent and focus on the important. The pandemic has however emphasised and amplified the vulnerability that comes from a dependence on contestable, application-based funding and sponsorship.
In turn, the utility and assurance of Momentum Waikato’s central mission to build a regional endowment fund, within which community entities can invest all or some of their capital reserves for secure long-term income, has become more widely apparent during the recent challenges.
As a result, since the lockdown our conversations with a range of Waikato organisations have markedly accelerated towards action, as more boards recognise that an endowment is a cornerstone of a diversified and therefore sustainable funding base.
Which is a marked shift from during the lockdown itself – we’re in the business of relationship building, so while we could maintain existing contact via video calls, the inability to meet face to face put a brake on real introductions during Level 4.
We pride ourselves on being nimble, and we certainly demonstrated that as we switched from long-term strategic projects in mid-March to a rapid emergency response by the start of April.
Our community fundraising campaign for the Waikato Regional Theatre, which we’d been working on for months, was due to go live in early April, but is now parked for the time being.
Work on the theatre project itself, which is at the procurement phase, has continued but slowed down considerably due to the primary contractor, Fosters Construction, not being able to get on to the site. We now expect to be able to announce a start date for construction some time in the next few weeks.
The 2020 edition of the Waikato Vital Signs project, which collates local social and environmental data and then presents it to the community to seek feedback on what funders should prioritise, was set back by the cancellation of most of the engagement workshops planned for the towns across the region in March and April. Instead we switched to a survey, with the resulting report due to be published in the next week or two.
What has kept us really busy however has been our direct response to the Covid-19 crisis. We pivoted from our usual focus on gathering bequests for long-term social impact investment towards short-term, quick pass-through fundraising.
The Waikato Community Funders Group, which had been just an occasional forum for the region’s funding bodies, came together in a daily meeting schedule, adopted a single gateway for funding requests and actively coordinated and shared the identification of needs and service delivery.
As ever, Momentum Waikato’s role in the regional funding eco-system was to be the flexible component, connecting and convening as we went. The ‘Here to help u’ service led by Community Waikato and Wise Group was a key element of the Funders Group response, with our staff being involved in the initial food mapping and in promoting its web gateway.
We were already working in partnership with Wise Group to set up a mental health wellness centre at the Houchens’ Retreat we own in Glenview. The operation there switched to emergency food relief from mid-March, at which point we supplied two chest freezers for the meals being produced.
In turn, we connected the community response to the Hamilton City Council’s offer to mobilise the Claudelands event centre’s kitchens from early April and funded the release of food stored there. From April through to early June, these operations produced and distributed hundreds of thousands of meals and food parcels to tens of thousands of people across the Waikato.
Momentum Waikato’s own Greatest Needs Appeal, promoted with zero budget, raised thousands of dollars from some 300 donors that was funnelled through the Here to Help u operation. Plus, we provided admin and promotional support for The Mighty Waikato Cookbook produced by Civil Defence, which has been an outstanding fundraising success.
For us, the local response to the Covid-19 crisis has affirmed that there is a huge need for apolitical community leadership that challenges the norms around funding, service delivery and organisational structures. As a community we need to do things differently if we are to have a truly equitable and prosperous region for centuries to come.
This is a role that Momentum Waikato sees itself filling, but can only do effectively by earning the trust and support of every sector of the community, something we strive to do every day.
My fear is that our society is already sliding back to doing the things the same way they’ve always been done.
What is needed now, before the next crisis hits, is to ‘build back better’ by working outside the traditional structures. Not to supersede them, but to create synergies and amplify their effectiveness by breaking out of the traditional silos of endeavour.
And in turn, now is the time to ‘plant that tree we should have planted five years ago’, by starting an endowment fund with Momentum Waikato, so your organisation is ready for the next time lightning strikes.