In April 2021, we wrote to our community to share an update on the impact that Covid-19 had on our ability to raise funds and support not only our kids, but the operations of the charity. We had to make some very hard decisions to let go of the staff who were the cogs in the machine that drives all of our fundraising. It was a challenging time, but we believed it would be short term.
Another hard decision during that time was to leverage a small percentage of charity funds to temporarily support Hands Group, which is the commercial entity that exists to cover the costs of administration and fundraising. At the time of the decision, it was agreed that 10% of income generated by the charity for 2021 and 2022 would be used to sustain Hands Group with a desire to return to Hands Group being self-sufficient once again by 2023.
So where are we now?
It pains us to share that we are not quite through the aftermath of the global pandemic. In fact, we are still feeling the impact of cancelled bike rides and events. Add to that the increased pressures on the cost of living, and the natural disasters across Australia and NZ keeping fundraising dollars closer to home, we haven’t returned to pre covid levels as quickly as we had hoped.
We are on track to raise $1.3million in donations this financial year, which is a great step but means that we are still $700,000 shy of our pre covid fundraising levels. Our corporate rides have been the biggest contributing factor to this with increased travel costs limiting participation, and we saw a delay of our largest corporate ride to April 2024. The upside of that is we are starting to see a steady flow of riders signing up for our experiences in late 2023 and early 2024, but this delay has meant that we have needed to push things out a bit at our end.
In September last year, we made the decision to bring resources back into Hands Group and employed a Fundraising Manager and Marketing Manager to support our recovery and growth as we head towards our 20th anniversary in 2024/25. We acknowledge that this is a significant investment, but without the manpower, we would be restricted in how much we could deliver to bridge the fundraising gaps.
On the back of what was the most challenging two years that we faced at Hands, we have jumped into 2023 with excitement and confidence that we are pushing towards a more financially stable operation, but, in all honesty, we are not quite there yet. Which is why we have agreed as a board to continue the funding from charity into Hands Group for a further 12 months as our recovery continues.
During this time, we are advancing our work and setting up operations in Thailand that will increase our presence on the ground from a fundraising perspective, and allow us to service and work closer with our corporate clients. A new social enterprise will be established in Thailand to replicate the model that we have here in Australia, which allows us to do two things. First, it allows us to ring fence donations that we receive in Thailand ensuring that funds go directly to our projects, and secondly, it allows us to undertake commercial activities to generate income that can be used to cover operational costs in Thailand. This setup requires an investment of time and fundraising from Australia - Hands Group - which is another reason why we need to continue leveraging a small percentage of charity funds in the short term.
We believe that the changes we are making today, the people we are bringing into the business both in Thailand and Australia, is necessary for the future growth that is required as we enter new markets. Whilst the rebuild here in Australia and our entry in Thailand from a commercial side does feel like we are back in start up again, we know it will convert to positive change for the kids and the future of Hands.
Our standard of care has not changed
It is important to remember the reason why we are doing this.
Every decision that we have had to make over the last three years was to ensure our kids receive the same level of care and support with access to medicine, accommodation, and university scholarships.
We remain committed to providing a life of choice, not chance and to give our kids access to future opportunities and job pathways through the work that we do and the support of our generous donors. The standard of care has never been compromised, and we intend for it to stay this way.
In April, the older students from all of our projects will have the opportunity to participate in a careers weekend that Game, the Director of BTN, is putting together. This weekend will provide insights into the types of study and employment they can explore once it is time for them to leave the home. Helping the kids firstly aspire to something they can’t see, and then creating pathways for them to pursue their new found dreams, is our focus.
You can support our growth
In pleasing news, we hosted our International Women’s Day breakfast on 8 March to an audience of 190, which is a clear sign that the appetite for our events are returning.
In July and August we will run our Future of Leadership series in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, which is our most profitable income stream into Hands Group. With sponsorship and ticketing opportunities available, this is a great event to get involved in if you are a business and/or run teams.
We will close out the year in October and November with the return of our popular Night of Celebration events in Sydney and Auckland.
Over in Thailand, we have a number of bike rides taking place over the year, and in May we'll be running a special Taskforce to repurpose (Baan Nam Khem) into a bicycle touring business as part of our new social enterprise, Hands Experiences Thailand.
As supporters of Hands, both large and small, we deeply value your past support and ask for your continued support and belief in our work as we wade through the weeds. We encourage you to sign up to an experience, attend an event, or watch from the sidelines until the time is right for you to engage.
Peter Baines OAM
Director and Founder Hands Across the Water