The 4th 'R'
Louise Beales, Head of our Charities Practice, discusses the charity sector’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and explains that its inherent resilience will drive charities through this period of instability
The disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic has greatly impacted the charity sector. For the first 12 weeks of lockdown it has been estimated that there will be at least a £4.3bn loss in funding, and building on this, the meagre £750m of emergency relief funds from the government has made the initial outlook for the sector discouraging. However bleak these statistics paint the picture, there is no doubt of the third sector’s huge efforts to respond to the crisis. By nature, charity organisations are efficient and work quickly to pivot in the face of great change. The sector has a deeply embedded vigour and strength, and because of the sheer passion, dedication and great minds that make up charity organisations, many will come out of this crisis thriving.
We have heard and read much about the three R’s of crisis management recently: React, Recover and Reinvent. But I think there is a fourth R involved in this conversation for the charity sector: Resilience.
Change management for charities is a given. Over the years, charities have been faced with momentous challenges – whether there has been a change in policy, reductions in funding, or fluctuations in volunteers and service users. Charities are always under pressure to adapt to the challenges, opportunities and threats to their organisation. Disruption is part and parcel of the sector and preparedness to face change is an imperative.
The Covid-19 pandemic, however, has brought unexpected and unprecedented change, nothing any charity could ever plan for. It has required organisations to work at breakneck speed to action necessary changes to services. For many, this has meant cutting services in order to comply with lockdown measures, or to control and reduce spending. This is a tough decision for many, not only for logistical complications but because of the unparalleled increase in demand for such services as we continue to face grave uncertainty and a looming economic downturn. Charities are being pulled in all directions as the pandemic continues to impact their funding, resources, and demands.
However, despite these momentous challenges, charities have evidenced their resilience. We have seen incredible speed, agility and creativity in overcoming the initial barriers to continuity of service. Many have moved classes, support groups, and performances online, and others have found new means and alternative platforms to deliver their services whilst ensuring the health and safety of the staff, service users and volunteers.
While the immediate demands are urgent and formidable, they are a temporary fix. There is uncertainty around the timescale of this crisis, but what we do know is that there will be a ‘new normal’ coming out of this. Through this crisis, there has been a strengthening sense of community, not just locally but on a larger-scale nationally and even to a certain extent internationally. Charities need to harness this fervour and the reinvigoration of volunteering to support their efforts going forward.
Starting now, charities are busy planning, budgeting and strategising for new demands, refocussing their positioning in order to best serve the public need as the pandemic subsides. To navigate this, strong leadership and a clear readjustment strategy – one that is flexible to handle any residual disruption but will put the organisation on track to resume a reinvigorated schedule of services and events – will drive recovery.
We have already seen outstanding examples of partnerships during this crisis. Organisations have pulled together resources to deliver invaluable services vulnerable people need most at this time. For some, joining forces has been to expand a programme of work, for others it has been in response to a new need born out of the crisis period. Whether these are longer-term mergers or short-term fixes to support through the period of uncertainty and change, partnerships are bolstering the third sector and facilitating necessary services to continue, or even be enhanced. Going forward, especially with uncertainty around financial stability, collaboration needs to be at the forefront of strategic planning.
This is a transition period, and one that will be relatively short-lived. Organisations are using this time to reset and propel themselves forward for a new existence. There is no doubt the third sector will be under even greater demand as life begins again after lockdown. Financial resilience in the face of a pandemic is tough and funding remains a critical factor for the survival of hundreds of charities. However, emotional resilience and having the capacity to recover from setbacks and overcome obstacles is the very essence of what drives charity leaders to lead. The overwhelming desire to create equality and opportunity for all citizens is the force pushing the sector forward and, with the emerging wave of newly altruistic public seeking out community and volunteering opportunities, I think the green shoots will appear sooner than we think. The third sector does not fault on its strong sense of purpose - it is a cornerstone to its resilience.
For more information please contact Louise Beales.