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How are Civil Society Organizations affected by COVID-19?

By: Rich Fromer

LINC’s mission is to work alongside local, regional and national civil society to create sustained social change. During this time of global pandemic, we have been increasingly concerned about the fate of local civil society in low- and middle-income countries. We are well-aware of the need to engage local civil society organizations (COSs) in an effective response to the pandemic, and we are also aware that the pandemic is impeding CSOs from delivering their necessary programs and services to their communities.

In an effort to support CSOs through this difficult time, LINC conducted an independent, self-funded survey of CSOs from April 3 to 14, 2020 to understand how the pandemic is affecting their staff, their ongoing operations, and the communities they serve. The survey was conducted in English, French and Spanish, and includes about 125 CSOs from low- and middle-income countries in Asia, Africa, Southeastern Europe and Latin America, and across a range of technical sectors.


  • Every CSO surveyed has been negatively affected by COVID-19 in some way
  • Almost 65% of CSOs surveyed reported currently conducting activities to respond directly to the pandemic
  • Funding is top of mind:
    • Almost 50% of CSOs (including well-established CSOs with decades of service to their communities) reported they would have to close in the next 3 months without additional funding
    • Two-thirds of CSOs surveyed have taken at least one cost-cutting measure – the most common being to cut back on services
    • Three-quarters of CSOs surveyed fear that there will be less funding available for their work
  • Activities supporting vulnerable populations are suffering:
    • Nearly 20% of CSOs reported that they were unable to provide programming remotely
    • While 95% of CSOs reported participating in coordination platforms for their work, over 40% of those said coordination was paused due to COVID-19

CSOs have already taken measures to cut costs, and plan to take more soon

How are Civil Society Organizations affected by COVID-19? - Graph on blog
Actions taken as a consequence of COVID-19


CSOs shared specific examples of needed support and voiced their concerns and doubts around international provision of resources in the short- and long-term:

  • Unrestricted / flexible funding and core support increases resilience and speed of response
  • Local foundations and community reserve funding will prevent closure of valued local CSOs
  • Common and serious development problems are being de-prioritized during the pandemic
  • Grass roots organizations represent an opportunity for more targeted response in emergencies
  • Information sharing and multi stakeholder collaboration can make responses more efficient


We also gave respondents the opportunity to ask questions of international financial and technical support providers. Questions fall into a few clear categories with some example questions highlighted below.

Availability of Funding

  • Is there any “clearinghouse” or database of funding available globally to respond to COVID-19?
  • What funding is currently available to support critical non-COVID-19 programs and services?
  • Are accelerated or rapid processes in place for emergency funding?

Shifting Donor Priorities

  • Will planned financial support be reduced and redistributed to respond to COVID-19-related priorities?
  • Do donors foresee any longer-term changes in funding priorities as a result of COVID-19 or will work generally return to previous priorities?
  • What are the strategies of various donors and INGOs for responding to the secondary impacts of COVID-19 on our communities?

CSO Operations and Management

  • How can we continue to manage our human resources while working from home / remotely?
  • What strategies can we employ to reduce costs during periods of difficult financial situations?
  • How can we use the challenging impacts of the coronavirus pandemic to create opportunities to improve our organizational management?

Adapting Programs, Services and Activities

  • What tools or approaches can be used to mobilize community members or other groups while working from home?
  • What can CSO field staff do to protect themselves and others from COVID-19 while working with local community members?

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