Today marks the start of Charity Finance Week and this year it provides an opportunity to reflect on the experience of working through the pandemic, as well as to look forward to the part that the sector can play in the recovery.
Lockdown undoubtedly affected everybody, but the degree to which people were affected was not equal. It exposed the underlying inequalities in society and starkly revealed how many people, in one way or another, were vulnerable and in need.
These inequalities are one of the factors that has led many to say that as society recovers from the worst of the pandemic, we need to look to the future and ensure that we improve society, rather than simply return to our pre-pandemic ways. The call is to “build back better”.
This will need action across all of society, but charities will certainly be a key element in making sure improvements are made and kept.
If anybody doubts the importance of the charity sector in the recovery, then they only need look at how quickly and effectively it responded to the pandemic.
Finance teams were a crucial element of this response. They were core to the charity’s ability to keep operating at time when many fundraising streams were stopped overnight and demand increased.
Long hours and hard work
Back in the summer of 2020 as the first lockdown came to an end, Charity Finance surveyed finance directors about their experience. The results demonstrated the important role they had played and how hard they (and their teams) had worked.
One respondent summed up the situation well when they said: “Financial sustainability was at the heart of what we needed to preserve.”
During the early stages of lockdown finance teams had to quickly rebudget and rework cashflows, and played an important part in decision-making.
“Budgets that would usually be fixed are constantly fluctuating and adapting to the changing information available,” another respondent said. The finance team had to adapt to “the financial impact of a constantly changing list of scenarios”.
These teams pulled out all the stops, with one survey response saying that between the end of March and the end of June 2020, the finance and senior leadership teams worked 60 hours weeks.
The work of the finance team meant that charity could carry on offering their services and to find innovative ways of operating under the lockdown restrictions.
This innovation came in many forms. From service delivery to fundraising, charities quickly adapted and adopted new (often virtual) ways of operating.
It is highly likely that some of the changes made were temporary measures designed only to be used during the crisis. However, some will prove useful in the future and will stay in place. Lessons will have been learned that will prove invaluable in the recovery of the sector, and in the sector’s role in helping society to recover from the effects of the pandemic.
To recognise the achievements of charities during the pandemic, Civil Society Media added an additional category to the 2021 Charity Awards – The Rathbones Covid-19 Response Awards.
Three charities were named as winners during the online awards ceremony earlier this year. They were Touchstone, The Just a Drop Appeal and London Funders.
However, amongst the hundreds of other entries received for this award, there were a great many shining examples of how charities had proven the flexibility they will need in order to help in the recovery.
Over the rest of this week, alongside other Charity Finance Week content, we will share a series of case studies showing how a charity overcame the challenges presented by the pandemic.
These will demonstrate the adaptability and resilience of the sector – both qualities that will be needed to lead the recovery.