How charities are responding to Coronavirus

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The coronavirus pandemic has had a huge effect on the world we live in. That much is obvious by now. 

Our movements and lifestyle have been hugely restricted, the government is providing billions in government bailouts for companies and employees, and the number of confirmed cases keeps rising. 

Charities have not been shielded from the worst of the impacts. At the time of writing (Thursday 26 March 2020), there has been no bailout from governments for charities. 

We asked the charities on our email list how coronavirus had impacted them and what they were doing about it. 

Here’s what they said. 

Charities are working from home

Like most organisations delivering knowledge work, the vast majority of organisations are now fully working from home. 

This has either been an emotional and cultural upheaval, or a logistical nightmare, depending on their laptop set up and ability to access the platforms they need to work. 

They can’t access their databases

One charity told us that while they are working from home, their database cannot be accessed outside the office “as it’s too old.” 

The causes of and solutions to legacy databases and digital infrastructure are varied – no need to cover them here.

But it’s clear in a crisis like this that not being able to access your platforms outside the office is a huge problem.

Outputs are down 

Lower income, trying to work and look after kids, and general disruption has led to fewer working hours.

While this might lead to productivity gains for some, these are often small charities we’re talking about. So it will inevitably mean fewer life changing services delivered. 

Older volunteers can’t volunteer

Many charities have volunteers aged 70 and over. Most are self-isolating. That means their awesome work isn’t happening. 

It also means those volunteers might stop volunteering after all this is over – even if it’s safe to do so, will they still be engaged enough with the charity?

What they’re doing

  • Ringarounds – phone is the next best way to keep up engagement, so good old fashioned ring arounds are happening daily.

Service delivery is reduced

Some charities deliver services that rely on in person contact, like homeless charities and food provision projects. 

Clearly they can’t do that now. 

What they’re doing

  • Scaling back services – offering less support than usual
  • Moving to telephone support, including daily ringarounds to check in on service users
  • Moving to online support – especially one-to-one and one-to-many video calls and Facebook groups
  • Holding urgent investment talks – with major stakeholders about need the need to invest in delivering services online 

Fundraising has been hit hard

Income is down, outgoings are the same – until the government steps in at least. 

A lot of fundraising relies on in person contact. The London Marathon has been postponed and community fundraising events are being cancelled left, right and centre. 

Some effects were things I hadn’t even considered till now:

  • Will trust funding applications even be read?

Many trusts only accept postal submissions. Charities are worried nobody will be in the offices to read them, if they arrive at all.  

  • Community venue income is down to almost zero

Many small community venues that hire rooms have seen income drop 95%. What’s worse, their insurance doesn’t even cover it. 

  • Cheques aren’t being cashed

Donors are still responding to DM appeals with donations in the post, but there’s nobody in the offices to cash the cheques. That’s leading to cashflow problems. 

What they’re doing

  • Reforecasting – expected income is coming later in the year or not at all. The cash flow and forecasting spreadsheets are being hurriedly amended, often in weekly meetings involving all trustees.
  • Virtual events – mass participation events are being hurriedly rebranded as virtual events, challenges that you can do on your own. Some (but not all) of these may still be possible while we can only leave the house for exercise once a day.
  • Virtual engagement – other events are being reformatted for delivery online, including charity auctions, video tours of exhibitions and even networking events.
  • Video game based fundraising – one charity reckons this is the perfect time to pilot this home-based digital fundraising. And it really is. 
  • Diversifying income – this is a fast response to a challenging environment. There’s an increased focus on trusts and grants
  • Running emergency appeals – chances are you’ve seen a few of these already. They’re immediate, they’re urgent, and they’re mostly online. 
  • Preparing for the future – some charities are taking the chance to revamp fundraising packs, information for individual donors, as well as planning marketing pushes for later in the year. They’re getting ready for fundraising in a post-coronavirus environment. 

All of this means a lot of planning meetings

If your charity’s income, support and day-to-day is working is impacted so massively, you need to replan. Fast. In the least certain environment most of us have ever experienced. 

And that’s what charities are doing. 

What they’re doing 

  • A lot of video calls – with trustees and senior management teams to go through plans and agree decisive courses of action 
  • Postponing projects – some staff are seeing their roles change overnight, so the projects that were on their plate are shelved till later in the year
  • Asking for compliance extensions – charities are asking the Charity Commission and Companies House for a bit of leeway while they deal with all this this
  • Laying off staff – this is under serious consideration. The government needs to step in to stop it happening. Charities will be needed more than ever when this is over, and we can’t afford to lose the experience and ability of staff to make it happen. 

Adopting the right mindset

These are incredibly testing times for charities. While there’s no doubt that necessity is the mother of invention and that there will be positive legacies to come from this (accelerated modernisation of digital infrastructure, more flexible working from home policies as teams prove it’s possible to work outside the office), there will be devastating effects first.

The right mindset is crucial throughout. One charity told me they were reacting in the right ways at the right times – “short term reactive, mid term proactive, and long term strategic”. 

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