It’s very easy to get gloomy and despondent about the situation for charities, and while some would say there is plenty to be gloomy about, the reality is that the charity sector will only be able to come out of this crisis by making the most of the potential opportunities. So here is my analysis of some opportunities that the crisis has revealed for charities to grasp with both hands.
People are basically amazing humanitarians
Crises bring out the best in people and this one is no exception. Nearly 1 million people offered to help the NHS and 250,000 offered to help locally. People clap every week for the NHS and carers. And there are numerous examples of people organising locally and doing amazing acts of generosity during the crisis (just try googling ‘amazing acts of kindness during the Coronavirus crisis’ to see the full breadth of what people are doing). The opportunity is for charities to harness that goodwill and concern and keep it going.
The older generation is getting Zoomtastic
Even Heather’s granny is on Zoom. Yes, you heard it here first: and so are many millions of other older people. They may have started doing this to see their grand-children or their neighbours, but that digital savviness can be harnessed for medical appointments, for using charity services, or a host of other reasons. The opportunity here is to make sure that both the government, the NHS, businesses and charity services use this new-found connectivity to reach people and deliver for them more easily and cost-effectively.
Charities have been there for many people in this crisis
Charities have been stepping into the cracks and gaps created by this global maelstrom in all sorts of ways. Fareshare and The Trussell Trust have been providing food and foodbanks. Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation have seen a massive increase in their online and helpline demand. Domestic Violence charities have seen a huge spike in the calls to their services as people (mostly men) in lockdown take it out on their partners and families. The list of ways in which charities have stepped up is incredible and we need to go on telling people about that and also remember how people remember the charities that help them. Charities like the Salvation Army still get letters and donations because people remember what they did to help during the Second World War.
Office lockdowns have produced a geographical equality
Charities are pretty London or HQ-centric if I’m honest, and anybody who has ever tried to be on the phone/video call while 15 people talk in an HQ meeting room know how frustrating that can be. Video calls change all that. Now the CEO has the same size of screen as the new employee or the staff member from Scotland or Wales. Talking to one CEO, he realised this and wanted to make sure that when lockdown ended, that geographical equality remained. He saw it as a real opportunity to make his charity less HQ-centric and more inclusive.
Pensioners are getting wealthier
My dad emailed me the other day to tell me about his fundraising pitch for the crisis which went something along the lines of: ‘Hey pensioners, you aren’t spending money on your cruise, so now you can give to charity’. Well it’s a little bit blunt for most fundraisers but he has a point. Most pensioners won’t have seen their incomes decreases due to job losses, and pensions should be a fairly stable source of income (even if pension funds are squealing). And if they are all locked up at home pensioners aren’t spending either. And of course, pensioners have had a good decade with the triple lock on pensions from the government delivering real-terms growth. The opportunity is how to fundraise from this group when they are hard to contact, even if they are income and cash rich relatively.
Grant-makers have shown their flexible side
The stereotype for many grant-makers is that they take forever to make decisions, are picky about all manner of tiny issues in an application, and then make a grant laden with caveats. Well the pandemic has shown that grant-makers have a responsive and flexible side too. Many grant-makers have made decisions in double quick time and accepted shorter, less detailed applications. This has been vital in getting grants to cash-strapped charities. The chance must be to continue this kind of flexibility post-pandemic. It has made such a difference to so many charities so to return to grant applications taking months or even years would be a wasted opportunity.
Fundraising is over-rated. Long live volunteering!
Fundraising is expensive. Most fundraising techniques have been given a bigger punch-up than Anthony Joshua’s sparring partners in recent years. It’s hard to see how fundraising will ever return to its pre-pandemic, pre-GDPR, pre-Olive Cooke hey-day. What if charities thought about these issues more laterally? Could volunteers do more? Can we do less services ourselves and persuade others to do them instead? Could technology have a role to play? What if the dominant paradigm for charities moved from one in which industrial-scale fundraising pays for lots of staff, to one in which leaner charities are in the ‘getting done’ by somebody business rather than doing it all themselves? And volunteers, technology and campaigning for change could all be at the heart of that shift.
The Charity Commission is now friendly and responsive with stable leadership
The Charity Commission has seen a decline in its reputation over the last decade. What was once a symbiotic relationship has become more antagonist and less collaborative. Indeed, even Sir Stuart Etherington has been rude about the Commission so things must be bad. But the pandemic has seen the Commission (which only regulates charities in England and Wales we shouldn’t forget) be more flexible and more responsive. It has promised to understand the difficult world in which charities are currently living. The opportunity must be to look for some of this empathetic and pragmatic approach in its broader work and approach, and into the future.
For those who haven’t read it, this blog is the counter-point to my one last week which looked at the ‘Eight flaws that the Coronavirus crisis reveals about the charity sector’.