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Ben May: Ways to recover lost income post Covid-19

10 Aug 2020 Expert insight

In the wake of the pandemic, Ben May from Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), looks at how charities can recover lost income and discusses how charities can rethink operating models.

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I don’t have to tell you that the Covid-19 pandemic has been devastating for charities. The income that’s been lost during the past few months is hitting the finances of charities of all sizes hard. 

At first this was seen by the huge response to the many emergency funds that popped up to support charities, including our own Coronavirus Emergency Fund, which received 5,000 applications in 8 days in March. More recently we’re seeing it impact the structure of charities. The National Trust, Comic Relief, and Blood Cancer UK are some of the organisations that have announced proposals for large-scale redundancies recently.

As charities consider how they can return from the trauma inflicted by the coronavirus, top of mind will be how they can continue to fund their work. Those that step up, face the issues head on, explore new options and put plans in place will be more ready to tackle the challenges – and opportunities – of the next normal, than those that don’t. 

So how do you do this? Through our Survive. Adapt. Thrive. campaign we’ve been sharing some different approaches to help charities make it through this difficult time. We’ve also been talking to many of the charities that we support to find out how what they are doing. Bringing all this together, here are things to consider.

What are your primary sources of revenue?

It’s important to identify your primary sources of revenue and, on that basis, make the “now or never” moves that need to happen before the recovery starts. 

This may include launching targeted campaigns to win back loyal donors; adjusting pricing and promotions in charity shops or for social enterprise activity; reskilling staff to support fundraising; or digitising fundraising channels, like the MS Trust has done with their virtual home festival.

Whatever it may be, take some time to think about how you can get more from these sources of income, now. 

Also, now is not the time to take these sources of income for granted. Make sure your grant reporting isn’t late and keep your donors informed on what you’re doing.

Rethink your operating model

Covid-19 has forced charities to adapt. Organisations like Waypoint Church which is delivering services online and Help & Care whose staff, like so many of us, has adopted Microsoft Teams.

These new ways of working have been challenging but they hold many lessons. I like the way that Mark Sharman, the CEO of Help & Care framed it when we interviewed him recently, “we’re not going back to work, we’re going forward to work”.

Now’s the time to rethink your operating model. How do your people and services work best? Remote ways of delivering what you do might be more cost-effective than going back to how things were done before.

It’s also time to act with a sense of urgency. Charities have worked faster than ever over the last months to adapt and this way of working will need to continue in the short to medium term.

To do this you’ll have to embrace more agile ways of working. Get used to jumping on video calls to solve problems and give remote workers, and volunteers, more decision-making responsibilities. This will need to continue as you look to recover revenue and remain responsive to your donors, volunteers and beneficiaries’ changing needs.

Remain mission-focused

Make sure you keep laser focused on your mission during times of uncertainty. Remember what your organisation exists for and make sure you’re doing it all the time.

If you’re a trustee a good way to support your leaders is to remind them of your organisation’s purpose. It’ll help them step away from the day to day and make decisions for the benefit of the charity and its users.

Having a mission-driven approach to donors will also help with the finances. Understand what people are valuing post Covid-19 and how your purpose meets that need. Then develop new stories about your work and tailor your messages around this in your fundraising activity.


Collaboration and partnerships have been key to the survival of charities during the pandemic. In times of crisis it can be the only way that organisations are able to respond to a surge in demand for support. 

As the recovery unfolds collaboration also offers opportunities for the future. Think about what you can continue to deliver with the partnerships you’ve formed. This way of working may be bringing more benefits to the users you support so why would you stop?

Continue to look for new opportunities to collaborate. Place-based giving is a new concept and one that’s gaining traction. These schemes bring together residents, philanthropists, corporate donors, public sector organisations, and civil society organisations to raise money and address local priorities.

I hope this has given you some food for thought. It’s a difficult time for the sector with many excellent charity professionals facing redundancy. But the sector can’t afford to stand still. As we move towards that awful phrase ‘new normal’ it’s so important to explore new ways to be there for those who rely your work. 

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