Charities are at the sharp end of Covid-19, with many forced into unprecedented changes as they move services online and refocus activities. Thankfully, many funders are stepping up, promising empathy and flexibility. But this is a marathon, not a sprint. No matter how quickly we curb the pandemic, it is likely to have long-lasting effects on the world we live in, our way of life, and the activities that many charities will undertake to meet their missions.
A charity’s trustees are responsible for identifying, prioritising and managing risks and opportunities. Many are rightly focusing on their immediate response. But as this crisis drags on, and the economic fallout intensifies, many will need to switch focus to how they deliver their mission over the medium term.
What do charity trustees need to be thinking about now, so that they are prepared for the new challenges ahead?
Future programmes of work
After adapting to the immediate crisis, trustees need to look ahead and across all activities; what does the post-Covid-19 world mean for your charity in the medium to long term? NPC’s strategy triangle is a great tool for trustees to work through:
- Core mission: Is your activity still relevant? Should you be starting afresh to address an emerging need? For example, UK Youth and the National Youth Agency have created an online resource that youth workers can use to help young people navigate information and advice about coronavirus and the impact of the lockdown.
- External environment: Have the needs of those we serve changed? Are the means of delivery still possible? For example, the National Childbirth Trust has moved many of its classes online but has found that marketing these new services to commissioners is much more resourceintensive than expected, because it is so difficult to get through to local hospital trusts at present.
- Internal resources and capabilities: Has a better way to spend resources emerged? How can you use what you are learning from running a remote delivery model to adapt your strategy? What unique resources do you have in the current context? For example, the most popular search terms and page views on Citizens Advice’s website have provided hugely valuable data and insights to help it and others to understand the different impacts of the virus on people’s lives.
That said, beware of adding to your activities, lest you become overwhelmed. According to NPC’s 2020 State of the Sector research, even before the current crisis charities consistently reported doing more of everything. Trustees should consider what to stop as well as what to start or change.
Opportunities: Can we maximise the good?
The Three Horizons model of transition structure from Systems Innovation can help you to consider emerging opportunities for the medium term:
- What is being born and how can we help it arrive well? Which aspects of our new way of working do we want to keep? Can more virtual working be maintained in some circumstances?
- What is ending and how can we help it to leave well? What forms of delivery will be less relevant? How can we phase them out?
- What is being disruptive and how can we harness its potential? The global nature of the crisis is bringing systems thinking out of the clouds and into the mainstream. Systems thinking goes beyond individual actions to connections, causes and consequences, using tools and frameworks to help us act in a way that reflects the complex and interconnected characteristics of our world. How can you work with others to target coordinated action at different leverage points in the system?
By considering these questions now, charities can make a successful transition more likely.
Involving service users
User involvement is now more important than ever, as is equality and inclusion, yet both are too often overlooked during a crisis. In times of significant change, users can help raise problems and help charities address them. For example, Refugee Action found that remote service delivery is problematic not just for small charities without top-notch IT but for clients too, as many asylum seekers do not have access to devices. To be most impactful, trustees need to ensure users shape future activities.
Taking action now
Trustees need to make difficult decisions about stopping and starting activities, and even about the structure of the charity. Start these conversations soon and think proactively about whether you need to merge or acquire.
By thinking through these challenges and making plans now, trustees give their charities a better chance of surviving this crisis and continuing to deliver impact for their beneficiaries after it.
Don’t leave it too late.
Charlotte Lamb is a principal at New Philanthropy Capital