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How can trustees navigate the cost-of-living crisis?

By Catherine Hatcher 24 March 2023 4 minute read

A recent seminar hosted by NPC, in partnership with The Clothworkers’ Company, looked at how charity trustees can navigate the cost-of-living crisis. The event was chaired by Angela Kail, Director of Consulting at NPC, and our speakers were Dulcie McBride, Chair of Wild Young Parents Project, Peter Cheese, Chair of What Works Wellbeing and CEO of CIPD, and Connie Cullen, Trustee at Praxis.  

The cost-of-living crisis is having a ‘triple whammy’ effect on charities. Service demand is increasing. More people are looking to charities for support and those facing existing challenges are feeling them intensify. Meanwhile, costs across the board are rising, and because of this, fundraising is more difficult. Fewer people are giving to charity and people are giving less. 

So how can charity boards navigate the cost-of-living crisis? We outline four key tips from the seminar. 

Negotiate with funders  

As a trustee, you can talk to funders about the situation your charity is facing – this can take pressure off of staff and help them to feel supported. Be honest with your funders and don’t pretend you’re doing well if you’re not. This honesty will help other charities to speak openly about their challenges too. Funders are aware of the current levels of need, so explore together how they can help. They may be able to uplift your current grant, agree to changes in how your grant is spent, or adjust your delivery targets. Some funders may be less amenable to making changes, but many will, so explain your situation and don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. 

Review how you attract and retain staff 

Salaries haven’t kept pace with rises in inflation and so trustees need to consider other ways to attract and retain staff. Flexibility is appealing to employees, and it’s not just about working from home, flexible hours, or job sharing. It’s also about workplace structures, including who reports to who and processes, such as paying expenses weekly rather than monthly or enabling employees to make purchases with a company card so that they’re not out of pocket. In a post-pandemic workplace, where new ways of working are rapidly developing, there is an opportunity to experiment. The payoffs for doing so can be big. Dulcie McBride found that removing hierarchical structures and moving to self-managing teams at the Wild Young Parents Project increased autonomy and gave employees a feeling of ownership in the workplace.  

Enabling staff to manage work around their personal responsibilities makes for a more inclusive environment. Inclusivity, recognition of individual needs, and access to appropriate support is becoming increasingly important for employees. Ask yourself, what are your core values as an organisation? Does inclusivity feature? And how do you deliver on this and support people? Consider whether you can provide supervision for employees that also covers personal issues, such as finances or mental health, or if you can signpost them to support services and resources. As diversity in the workforce and in ways of working increases, staff with line management responsibilities will need more support to recognise and respond to staff needs – set them up for success by providing additional training. 


Trustees can play a key role in finding out what other support is being provided in the area you serve and building relationships with other providers. Joining or creating alliances on topics that feel important to your charity, linking with relevant campaigns, and connecting with your local authority or voluntary sector forum can help you to build your network. Sharing out responsibility for meeting your community’s needs and signposting your beneficiaries to other services will help everyone to make the best use of time and resources. By working together, you may also be better equipped to respond to challenges. For example, if you’re a foodbank and you know that some of the community feel uncomfortable accessing your services, you could ask a charity with good relationships with those people to introduce you. This may help you to better meet needs in your community. 

Don’t lose sight of your mission and expertise  

In the current cost-of-living crisis, trustees are facing questions about how they should pivot their activities and adapt their services to meet spiralling demand. Adapting enough to provide useful support whilst also staying true to your mission is a difficult balance to strike. When considering new or adapted activity, ask yourself, will this activity make the best use of our charity’s time and energy considering our expertise? Doing so will help you to make the biggest impact with your resources. 

Our next online seminar for trustees will be on Responding to the climate crisis. Join us at this free event on 20 April 2023. 


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