Sector Focus: Benchmarking the international charities sector - insights from 2020

01 Nov 2021 In-depth

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Since 2018, haysmacintyre has published a comprehensive benchmarking report reviewing the accounts of a large number of UK-based international charities. Our 2021 report is due to be published this upcoming month. For the second year, we are supporting our desktop research with a survey, and from our early analysis of the survey results, we have noted a number of interesting findings.

Responses to the pandemic

Our research asked respondents how their organisation had responded to the Covid-19 pandemic. Almost 90% of respondents disclosed that their organisation had implemented new projects in response to Covid-19. On the other hand, a slightly smaller proportion of organisations (around 70%) reported that they had postponed planned programmes, and almost half reported that they had reduced grants made to partner organisations. We found that use of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was high, with over three-quarters of organisations surveyed reporting use of the scheme.

Almost 90% of surveyed organisations indicated that they expect permanent changes to programme delivery following the Covid-19 pandemic. Most of these organisations suggested that moderate changes are expected, while a minority (18% of the total) suggested significant permanent changes.

Risks facing international charities

For many international charities, the pandemic has brought new risks and heightened pre-existing risks. We asked respondents to our survey to choose up to three key risks facing their organisations.

Unsurprisingly, the most common risks identified were in relation to sustainability of future funding and the Covid-19 pandemic itself. Both risks were selected by around half of organisations. The next most commonly reported group of risks were programme-related risks, which were reported by around one-third of organisations. There have also been wider threats such as the reduction of the UK’s international aid budget to 0.5% of GDP, and the merger of the Department for International Development (DfID) with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), to form the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development (FCDO) Office. Just over half of organisations responding reported that they were either somewhat concerned or very concerned with the merger of DfID and the FCO. Just over 40% of respondents reported that they receive funding from the FCDO. All of those organisations indicated that the recent announcements in relation to UK aid would impact them in some form.


We have seen an increased trend of international charities being the subject of cyber-attacks. Our research found that over 40% of charities surveyed had been the subject of a cyber-attack the past 12 months. Of these organisations, there was a broadly even split between those organisations that had successfully prevented the attack and those where the attack was successful. On a better note, none of those charities reporting a successful cyber-attack indicated any serious consequences of the attack.

Over 40% of organisations reported that they were very concerned about cybersecurity, and a further 40% reported that they were somewhat concerned. Rather surprisingly, the remainder, just under 20% of the organisations surveyed, reported that they were not concerned about cybersecurity.

We also asked organisations to report whether they had reviewed their cybersecurity measures in the past 12 months, and whether they planned to review their cybersecurity measures in the next 12 months. We found that around 40% of organisations had reviewed their cybersecurity measures in the past 12 months, with 60% reporting that they would do so in the next 12 months. A number of organisations answered yes to both questions, and in the current environment keeping cybersecurity measures and mitigations under regular review should be a priority.

What comes next?

We have explored just some of the challenges facing international charities over the coming year. As we move towards the “new normal” in the UK, the sector will need to adapt to new ways of working. There will be opportunities for some, including returns to face-to-face fundraising methods, but also continuing challenges including a number of the areas mentioned earlier. Lastly, whilst we may be moving to the next stage in the UK, there will remain significant operating challenges overseas including the low vaccination rates in many locations where UK charities deliver programmes.  

Steve Harper is partner and head of international charities at haysmacintyre



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