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A shift in strategy

How can charities recover and build a better post-covid world?

By Charlotte Lamb 4 May 2020 6 minute read

Over the last six weeks, charities have been responding to the Covid-19 crisis. I have heard the phrase ‘response, recovery and resilience’ used to describe the different stages of the charity sector’s reaction to coronavirus, and the sector’s outstanding response has included adapting services to comply with social distancing rules; highlighting the pressing needs of the most vulnerable; and launching emergency fundraising appeals.

It has become apparent that the lockdown is not a short-term issue and that we are not likely to return to ‘normal’ for months. Many of the conversations I have had recently show that charity leaders are now starting to turn their attention to what might come next, the ‘recovery’ and ‘resilience’ stages of this crisis. NPC has long called for charities to have an emergent strategy, and the Covid-19 outbreak is now emphasising the importance of this.

Using NPC’s strategy triangle to support the recovery and build resilience

Charities have played a pivotal role in the immediate response to Covid-19 and they will continue to play a vital role in coming weeks and months. So how can charities adapt their medium-and long-term strategies, to aid the recovery and build resilience in the sector, long past the crisis?

NPC’s strategy triangle offers up three questions that every charity should be asking themselves right now. Charities need to be focusing on their core purpose, and adapting their work to changes in the external environment. But this should all be done in line with their resources and capabilities. This approach will help to anchor charities in times of uncertainty.

NPC's strategy triangle

Do we need to adapt our core purpose?

The impact of Covid-19 is far reaching. Charities may have to adapt their core mission as we move into the recovery stage of this crisis. For example, is there a new group of people that would benefit from your services? Mental health charities Shout, Samaritans, Mind, Hospice UK and the Royal Foundation have launched a new service—Our Frontline—for emergency and key workers suffering from poor mental health at this time.

Or, maybe you need to reprioritise certain groups within your target population, Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit is always focused on the most vulnerable, but in the wake of the crisis, it has shifted its priorities to those facing domestic violence and those whose refugee leave is due to expire in the next 1-2 months.

When targeting a new population or adapting your priorities, use existing data to understand need. NPC has published data on the Covid-19 crisis for charities and funders, which shows which people and places need support right now.

Applying the tools and techniques that are used in developing theories of change will help you to generate ideas on how best to respond to your new target population’s needs. Such as setting a clear goal for the new target group and mapping backwards. A force field analysis will help you to consider any barriers for the new group and to generate ideas for how to overcome them.

For charities that operate in a space that no longer functions in the same way because of Covid-19, such as schools or prisons, the charity will want to consider whether this requires a short-term change in core mission or a longer-term shift. If the latter, then you will need to do more work to understand your new target group and how they fit into your organisation’s current theory of change.

Are there opportunities in the external environment?

Along the way, it will be important to establish how each new decision informs your strategy. This includes how your charity interacts with new areas of opportunity. For example, during a crisis, space for change might be opened up by the government—homelessness organisations welcomed the government’s ‘Everyone In’ emergency accommodation strategy, but they are pushing for it to go further, to end rough sleeping for good. We recommend that charities perform a simple but regular SWOT analysis, to monitor new opportunities and risks.

Charities should also be involving users in conversations about adapting services. As this crisis continues to unfold, needs will change and charities will need to continue to adapt in order to build resilience. For example, Safe Lives regularly surveys domestic abuse survivors and frontline professionals in order to inform the government of what further support people need.


Are you looking for tailored support?

If you want advice on navigating strategic decisions, understanding your changing environment, or on undertaking a ‘health check’ on your internal resources and capabilities, find out more about NPC’s strategy support services here or get in touch at Charlotte.Lamb@thinkNPC.org


As the lockdown eases, face-to-face services might be able to resume. Don’t automatically revert to the old way of doing things—some of the adaptations you have made might still work—some users may find a virtual service more beneficial or there may be other benefits, such as lower costs or greater reach. When adapting services, Jo Prestige, Innovation and Good Practice Project Manager at Homeless Link, suggests that you do not forget about relationships and empowerment, as well as physical need.

Can partnering with others increase your capacity, bring different strengths or increase your reach? Now more than ever, it is important to look out for these opportunities. For example, in response to the crisis, Youth Futures Foundation, Youth Employment UK, the Institute for Employment Studies and the Prince’s Trust formed the Youth Employment Group (YEG) to bring together key leaders and experts in the youth employment sector.

And finally, planning for different scenarios is another pivotal way that charities can be prepared for the next stages of this crisis. There are several possible future scenarios for charities in the post-covid world. Having a plan for each will enable a charity to react quickly when the time is right.

How can you maximise your internal resources and capabilities?

A huge reduction in funding, rising demand, and limited staffing numbers are crippling the sector right now. How can charities continue to aid the recovery and build resilience within their means?

Charities need to consider how they might meet that increase in demand. Could you shift your workforce around to better meet needs? For example, with more than a quarter of a million people registering to volunteer with local charities, could you bolster your capacity with additional volunteers? NCVO’s good practice guide to volunteer management can offer tips to help manage this.

Charities should also keep an eye out for new funding opportunities. For example, the £5m Coronavirus Mental Health Response Fund is being administered by Mind.

Plus, is there another way you can use your knowledge, influence or voice?

Strategy development is key

Taking the time to learn from the experiences you’ve had over the past few weeks will reap many rewards. Capture these experiences—don’t lose them only to make the same mistakes in the future. At NPC, each of the team are taking ten minutes every week to record what they have learnt about how we are working in times like these. We will use this to information to inform our strategy for the next few months.

Some amazing things have happened in the sector since this crisis began. We have seen unprecedented collaboration, an upsurge in volunteering, and organisations using adaptive, emergent strategies.

We have talked about and strived for some of these approaches in the sector for a long time. But as they say—’necessity is the mother of invention.’ If we can continue to adapt and learn from our response to the crisis, and take the things that have worked well into the recovery and resilience process—this could be an exciting new dawn for the charity sector.


NPC are helping philanthropists to keep charities serving through coronavirus and in the months and years ahead. Find out more at thinkNPC.org/coronavirus.

If you would like to talk to me further about adapting your strategy during the Covid-19 crisis, I’d love to hear from you. Please contact me at Charlotte.Lamb@thinkNPC.org and check out the charity strategy page of our website.


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