Given that there had been fears of a second wave of the coronavirus hitting in the autumn, there was perhaps a grim inevitability to tighter restrictions around this time of year.
Whether it was the Welsh 17-day “circuit breaker” that ended earlier this month, or the longer four-week lockdown that is currently in place in England, governments have had to shut down large parts of people’s lives again.
In England, there are a number of differences between the current lockdown and the one that took place earlier in the year. These include schools and universities remaining open, the ability to meet one other person outside (so long as social distancing is observed), and a date being set for when the lockdown will lift.
However, none of these changes will help charities much. Although leaving your home for volunteering is allowed, as with the first lockdown charity shops are shut again and face-to-face fundraising has stopped again. Also, the pandemic has led to an increase in demand at many charities, just as these and other income streams dry up.
These financial strains meant that the finance teams had to react quickly during the first lockdown. They clearly stepped up to meet the challenge, and the survey we conducted to mark Charity Finance Week Online shows that finance teams were at the heart of the decisions taken by charities to adapt to the pandemic.
There were strains with long hours being worked and furloughing not being a viable option due to the nature of the work that needs to be done by finance teams.
However, the lessons learnt and actions taken last time should have put finance teams in a good position to react this time around – and some of lessons may well have a longer lasting impact.
Like many others, finance teams have had to quickly adapt to remote working and the use of virtual communication tools, such as Zoom or Teams.
Lockdown has accelerated a trend to more remote working and this is one change that is likely to remain once the pandemic has passed. Flexible working is likely to become the norm throughout society, and charities will be no exception. That is not to predict the death of the office, as many will want to return to this way of working. But others will want to find a balance between the office and working from home. This year has shown that this will be possible.
Finance teams also had to respond to the need to rapidly reforecast. Many now speak of budgeting no longer being an annual process, but one that is revisited on a regular basis.
Whether this dynamic approach to budgets and finances will remain in place long term remains to be seen, although some may suggest it would be a good thing if it did.
It is clear that the economic impact of the attempts to control the spread of the virus will be long lasting.
Charities will need to react to these long-term impacts and adapt to operating in the so-called “new normal”. The lessons learnt during the first lockdown will undoubtedly prove invaluable to many.