How charities can prepare for the future
In this article, we review the uncertainty about the future for our sector and consider the ways in which charities can prepare for the recovery from the Covid-19 Crisis.
The last couple of months have been incredibly challenging for everyone. What has been really inspiring has been the real solidarity that organisations within our sector have shown to each other. Grant givers, donors, supporters have stepped up and provided huge amounts of financial support, flexibility and patience. Once competing organisations, are now working closely together in real and genuine partnership. Furloughteering will surely become a new entry in next year’s Oxford English Dictionary!
Now that we are past the peak of the current wave of infections, lockdown restrictions are easing. Most of us have now become used to work from home and Zoom meetings now – and of course carefully positioning our laptop in front of our extensive and very highbrow bookshelf! Most importantly though, most of us have become used to doing things differently.
The past few weeks has also enabled a few organisations to take stock of the impact of Covid-19 on the sector. This research has really confirmed the things we have suspected from the beginning. The recovery phase is going to be difficult. The £750 million support package for charities announced by the government will help, but it doesn’t fill the £4bn funding gap that has been estimated. Research by the IOF (conducted in March just as the social distancing rules were being implemented) found that charities were forecasting a 48% loss in income just as a result of lost demand, lost opportunities for fundraising and lost trading.
Whilst we know that we may well not be through the worst yet, we do know that the sector has adapted. Services have been repurposed and funders have changed their approach to ensure that finance is there for Covid-19 Response projects. The next few weeks and months are critical for all of us, but the two big questions on our minds are – what happens next? How do we prepare?
It seems intuitive to try to assess the possible impacts on fundraising by comparing the current situation with the recession of 2008. There has been extensive research into the impacts of the Global Financial Crisis and our sector and we know that whilst trust income took a real hit initially as investments lost value, it actually recovered relatively quickly (NCVO Civil Society Almanac 2017). Major donor income held up, with some donors increasing their giving (source: ‘Tomorrow’s Philanthropist’ Barclays Wealth, July 2009). Corporate income didn’t do as well – the Global Financial Crisis hit banks and investment companies hard and as these make a up such a big proportion of corporate donors, corporate income reduced and then stayed fairly flat (NCVO Civil Society Almanac 2017).
Furthermore, this time different sectors are experiencing the most severe impacts. This time, it is hospitality, retail and travel services that are suffering the most and the ramifications for fundraising are going to be different. We might expect to see reduced levels of giving from individuals as people prepare financially for potential unemployment, or people pivoting towards causes they may not have considered before.
The results from the latest Opinium surveys on charitable giving, offers some food for thought about individual donor behaviour:
- Half (49%) of UK adults have not supported a charity during the lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
- 23% of UK adults are making one off or occasional donations
- Of those who have made a donation in the last month, 37% have donated to Covid-19 related emergency funds
- Around a third of people have stated that they are donating more money than they usually do
Encouragingly, Opinium found through its research that the public was increasingly recognising the challenges faced by charities and their need for continued support, even beyond the current phase. Of those who reported increasing their donations to charities, 12% said they would donate even more in the future and 76% said they would continue to donate at the same level.
We can expect competition for funding to be tough and that available funding may be reduced. But fundraisers have been dealing with competition and limited prospects for many years.
We have the strengths and abilities to respond to this crisis, but it is important that we start to prepare now, as the recovery phase, thankfully comes closer into view.
3 Steps for charities to take to prepare for the recovery
Step 1: Understand the landscape
Before you can really prepare for the next phase of fundraising, you need to try to assess what it might look like. Every day brings a new challenge at the moment. It is exhausting, and at times it can feel like going round in circles. This is where taking the time to undertake thorough research can really help to identify future risks, opportunities and establish priorities.
There are several parts to this…
Prospect research – identifying the potential opportunities for securing funding for short and medium term priorities. This research should be broad ranging and in depth. So for example this should cover:
- Trusts and foundations – reviewing the thematic and geographic priorities, deadlines and requirements of funders and then mapping these to your objectives to create a shortlist of applications to be developed
- Donor analysis – identifying levels of current giving, opportunities to increase donations and reach different donor groups; contact mapping amongst trustees, staff and volunteers to identify potential HNWIs
- Corporates – focusing on your current corporate relationships to begin with to identify opportunities for developing these further and then moving on to new opportunities with those businesses that have maintained their Charity of the Year donations and CSR programmes
We always recommend a mixed approach – use a range of directories, online tools, your own experience and reverse searches on similar charities’ accounts
Comparator research – it is important to learn from the success and failures of others – what have others done to raise funds that you can learn from? Do they have a strong website that encourages donations? Have they successfully launched a patrons programme? Are there any big appeals already going on that could impact on your ability to raise funds? Have they managed to secure big grants from trusts and foundations you are not familiar with?
Careful review of 3-4 comparator organisations will help you build upon successful practice, give you ideas and help you understand better the range of opportunities available
Service mapping –Now is the time to really get to grips with the range of potential partners and competitors in your area – identifying those working within your locality as well as those who may be part of your community of “interest”. Be broad in your thinking about this, its not just about them delivering to the same beneficiary group or even offering a similar service. Right now, if you are referring individuals to your local foodbank – they are both a potential partner and a competitor for donations and grants!
Step 2: Tell your service users story
Trusts and Foundations have thankfully provided unique flexibility for most grantees in terms of reducing their usual requirements for grant reporting and evaluation. This has been a godsend for many, the challenges of juggling the demands of refocusing services alongside the difficulties of consulting with beneficiaries for reporting purposes have seemed insurmountable, taking this pressure off organisations, was of course a no-brainer and one of the first things funders opted to do when the crisis really began. However…
Good monitoring and evaluation is an absolutely essential part of both effective project management and strategy
development as well as a critical means through which you engage people to donate to and support your cause.
Whilst there are some limitations to consulting directly with beneficiaries of your service, the truth is that with the right use of technology and staff time and an appreciation that the perfect shouldn’t be the enemy of the good, it is still possible to evaluate your projects well. Consider things such as:
- A review of your monitoring and evaluation systems. Your previous emphasis on baseline and review processes may still apply, or they may not. If tracking people’s progress over time may be a challenge, a simple workaround can be to use one approach which gathers information retrospectively, such as a questionnaire which asks individuals to reflect upon the entirety of their journey with you.
- Developing online questionnaires and promoting these through social media, on your website etc
- Encouraging beneficiaries to write their own case studies or produce their own video testimonials. A really good way of doing this so that it is structured is to provide a short brief, such as asking them to focus on something like “the one change that worked”. A wealth of impact information and also feedback about your service can be gained in a short case study or a video that’s just a few minutes long. The beauty of this approach is that you can upload these to your website as well and they can be handy promotional tools, that haven’t cost you anything to produce.
- Involving your volunteers – they are always beneficiaries of your projects, even if they are running them! A short questionnaire or indeed case study/testimonial can also help you learn a lot about their experience with you and the things they have gained from involvement.
- Asking people to write letters of support on your behalf, especially if you are planning a building project or a new service
Step 3: Plan
We can all find ourselves reacting to events at the moment. With everything seeming to change day by day, the prospect of planning for the future is daunting. But, now that you have mapped the landscape and risks and opportunities, developing a new fundraising strategy can be straightforward. Charity Fundraising Ltd has a handy guide to developing a fundraising strategy which can help you with the process.
Another area that is often overlooked by organisations busy firefighting, is business planning. A good business plan or organisational strategy which is properly researched and which has built in flexibility for regular review will enable you to identify, develop and monitor strategic objectives, coordinate your resources and attract funding and donations. If yours is out of date, or if you have identified potential replication or expansion of services resulting from the crisis, it is imperative that you work on this before or alongside developing your fundraising strategy, so that they can be consistent with each other. There are lots of excellent guides to creating a business plan available online, the only thing that we would add to these is the importance of ensuring involvement of trustees, staff and volunteers throughout the business planning process.
Once you have created your new fundraising strategy and/or your business plan, its likely that you will have identified a need for new resources such as additional fundraising staff or evaluation, marketing, IT or consultants. Whilst you may not yet be certain of the level of income you might generate in the medium or long term, you can be generally certain of the kinds of skills and experience you are likely to need, once the recovery begins. So creating a consultancy brief and developing new job descriptions now whilst you have the time, is advisable and likely to save you time and a headache later on, when you may have more competing priorities.
The future looks uncertain for all of us, but careful research and planning ahead will provide the sound basis for taking your charity forward over the coming months.