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This blog shares the thoughts of two charity leaders who spoke at an online NPC and Clothworkers’ Company seminar in August 2020. The speakers discussed how trustees can build resilience through and beyond the Covid-19 crisis.

The charity sector has faced unprecedented challenges during the Covid-19 crisis. Trustees have played a major role in helping their organisations to adapt in the short term, but now they need to look at how to enable charities to deliver their mission post-crisis. What should trustees be thinking about now, as we move on from the initial crisis and into the recovery?

Organisational culture

This has been a difficult time for beneficiaries and charity staff. Some staff members have been furloughed, some forced to work in less than ideal home environments, and others have been delivering services in sometimes very challenging circumstances on the frontline. As trustees, it’s important to acknowledge the sacrifices that staff have made in order to keep the charity operating.

Val Stangoe, Chief Executive at St Mary’s Hospice, encourages trustees to see organisational culture as a priority in this recovery period. Trustees should take the time to check in with staff, share their latest thinking, offer their support, and give staff the opportunity to raise concerns and talk through issues.

Tackling a negative culture is tricky and can take a lot of time … but ignoring it is a false time economy … making that positive culture falls to all of us.

Hitesh Patel, Chair at Sport 4 Life UK, feels that trustees should be proactively making an effort to engage with staff across the organisation, beyond the executive team.

I’m quite keen to make sure that we make ourselves visible to staff during these unprecedented times, and so I’ve joined virtual staff meetings which other trustees are also doing. We’ve also taken it upon ourselves to write a board blog following each of our board meetings, to keep staff updated on the various issues we’re discussing.

Re-evaluating user needs and longer-term strategy

Many organisations have had to adapt their delivery and short-term strategy extremely quickly during the crisis. As we move out of lockdown, trustees will need to remain guardians of their charity’s purpose and look to see if they are still staying true to this purpose.

Charities should be considering the needs of beneficiaries, and how these have changed (and will continue to change) post-lockdown. Many communities may be moving from critical, short-term need to the need for longer-term support. Hitesh told us about the way the crisis has affected Sport 4 Life UK’s young beneficiaries.

We’re seeing the biggest rise in unemployment in the UK labour market in over a century … we’re seeing young people already facing a significant downturn in terms of their life chances.

Similarly, Val feels that taking the time to understand your beneficiaries’ changing needs is a useful step in making post-crisis decisions.

Doing a stocktake now can let you know if your strategic direction is still right, in light of the post-covid needs of your beneficiaries.

As well as evaluating these needs, trustees should consider doing a financial stocktake, which might involve reviewing your income forecast, reserves policy, and fundraising strategy. As charities move away from the immediate response towards longer-term planning, it is also important to revisit any tasks that were not a priority during the crisis, including any board development projects that have been put on hold—for example, now may be a good time to conduct a skills audit of your current board, to help inform decision-making and the recruitment of new trustees.

Measurement and evaluation

While many charities were unable to continue regular and rigorous data and learning activities during the crisis, it is important to revisit this area of work during the recovery period. Measurement and evaluation is essential for understanding how to improve your services and how to have a greater impact on the lives of your beneficiaries.

Val believes that collecting data has been useful in demonstrating the impact of St Mary’s Hospice, and showing how they have stepped up to support increased needs in the local community during this time. Collecting data helps charities to understand what is going well and what needs improvement. This enables you to adapt your services to achieve greater impact, and can help you better demonstrate this impact to funders and other stakeholders.

Your measures are your evidence, they’re your proof, they show what you’re made of and what you can do for people, and they help you to get people on board to support you.

User involvement

Finally, making sure that you have genuine and meaningful engagement with your beneficiaries and local community enables your services to have a more positive impact on their lives. Trustees should work to ensure user engagement and co-design are reflected at board level; Sport 4 Life UK’s board are considering how they can better engage with beneficiaries or former service users and, before restrictions were put in place, they were also taking opportunities to visit different services on the ground.

It kind of gives you that affirmation that the work that you’re doing is worthwhile, and you’re not taking all these decisions as a board in an ivory tower.

Hitesh also advises trustees to be aware of wider societal issues and to engage with these meaningfully, such as the Black Lives Matter movement—particularly given that a large proportion of Sport 4 Life UK’s beneficiaries are from BAME communities.

I’m keen that we recognise the movement, not just pay lip-service to it, and also recognise this as an opportunity to look at our areas of work and to make sure that we’re not missing a trick in terms of serving the diverse communities that we operate within.

By considering these four areas of work—culture, strategy, measurement and evaluation, and user involvement—trustees can help charities to build resilience during the recovery phase of this crisis and beyond. By engaging with staff, volunteers, beneficiaries, and data in meaningful ways, trustees can enable charities to better deliver their long-term mission post-crisis and can ensure that charities reflect the diverse needs and experiences of the people they serve.

Our next online seminar for trustees will be Setting your charity’s reserves policy through and beyond Covid-19. Join us at this free event on 4 November 2020. We are also inviting trustees to share their experiences of crisis decision-making. We have partnered with the consultancy Leapwise for a project on how boards can best equip themselves for a challenging period of decision-making. Please complete this short survey, your insights will help other charities to hold more effective board meetings.

Recently, trustees have helped charities to adapt in the short term. Now they must consider culture, strategy, measurement and evaluation, and user involvement to help charities to build resilience in the recovery phase of this crisis Click To Tweet

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