In this guide:
- What we’re seeing
- How funding is changing
- How volunteering is changing
- How charities have gone digital
- How to evaluate when everything is changing
- Covid-19: Sector by sector
16. Parenting and maternity 17. Environment
- Supporting the solutions
- What we are learning
Get in touch for bespoke guidance from our consultants for the areas you’re working on.
Last updated – 19 January 2021
When something affects everyone, it is invariably the most vulnerable who suffer most. People working in insecure employment with little sick pay or benefits must risk their lives by continuing to go into unsafe workplaces. When schools close, parents who can’t afford a Wi-Fi contract end up paying extortionate mobile data charges for their children to continue to learn. People at the edge of our society, such as refugees or people in prison, see their few lifelines to society withdrawn.
We are battling the next wave with fewer resources than we had in the first one. Being in a crisis for a year is in a different league to being in one for three months. Parents who could manage a short burst of home-schooling in 2020 are feeling overwhelmed about having to do it again in 2021; people who are lonely could sacrifice social contact for a few months, but now feel crushed from prolonged isolation with no end in sight. Heroes on the hospital frontline are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, overwhelmed by spiralling cases. All of this will have long-term effects.
The organisations helping these people are also just organisations made up of people who have also been dealing with increased demand, reduced resources, and the stressful environment that everyone has been living in. Pilotlight’s survey in November highlighted that stress and wellbeing of staff was charity leaders’ biggest worry. This is likely to be particularly true of smaller organisations less able to cover work. NPC counted over 7,440 charity redundancies in 2020. We are sure that there are many more we have not been aware of. Charities have been continually adapting their services for months now, with all the mental energy that takes. We are entering the next wave with people needing more help, and with resources more constrained than we saw in the first wave.
This makes the call to action more important than ever. The rallying cry for the sector during the first lockdown was Never More Needed. The sector is more needed now, and support for the sector is more needed now. The health, social and economic crisis is as bad as during the first wave but being in this situation for nine or twelve months is materially different from being in it for three. Someone who loses their income for a few months may be able to survive by reducing spending, but long term there are bigger impacts such as being forced into unsuitable accommodation. The effect that may have on their children’s education and mental health could last decades. Early intervention can help people avoid these longer-term consequences. Immediately helping someone who has suffered trauma from watching people die in horrible circumstances can lessen long term mental health problems. It is more important than ever that the charity sector is here for those who need it.
The challenge may feel never ending. But we have already seen people, charities, philanthropists, funders and tech initiatives provide extraordinary innovation, responsiveness and imagination in the first wave. We need to continue the fight. We must carry on with the initiatives that worked and resist the impulse to ignore the crisis around us. How philanthropists act now will determine how charities are able to tackle this crisis in the short term, their institutional survival in the medium term, and the resilience of our sector to keep serving people in the long term.
But there is light at the end of the tunnel. The vaccine is being rolled out, and an end to the crisis is foreseeable. Right now charities once again need emergency support, but once we get through this we need to Rethink and Rebuild. Since Covid-19 struck, many structural issues—from funding systems to racial justice—are being understood and discussed in new ways. Coronavirus has unearthed many things which lie in the way of progress but had remained buried until now. We have the appetite and the ability to change our current system for the better, let’s not waste it.
NPC is here for the charity sector: shining a light on what is needed to help people see the urgency and the priorities. We’ve updated this guide to clarify some of the areas of need we are seeing, and to highlight emerging good practice—be that new funding practices or new models of service delivery—so that together we can be stronger.
We welcome contributions and insights from others to make our work stronger. We hope this evolving guidance will continue to help philanthropists and foundations to adapt to the changing needs of charities, so they may continue supporting society’s most vulnerable and retain their integral role in our social fabric.
Charities’ fundraising and income have been heavily disrupted by Covid. Cuts in funding mean cuts to services right when people need them more than ever. Furloughing is not an option when now is the time to mobilise not mothball.
Charities are worried about:
- Events: Cancelled events have made a major dent in fundraising, despite some being moved online or socially distanced. 2020’s virtual London Marathon raised £16.1m for charities, a quarter of 2019’s £66.4m total. Cancer Research UK cancelled all 400 Race for Life events in 2020. They hope 2021 events will go ahead in-person with social distancing measures, but such events are liable to changes and cancellation at short notice.
- Individual giving: Initial fears of an immediate cliff-edge were not realised. CAF reported that individual giving in the first half of 2020 was £800m higher than the previous year, despite households being more nervous about their finances, although Rapidata research found a 25% drop in direct debit sign-ups over summer 2020. Causes more immediately associated with the pandemic, such as health and elderly care, seemed to have fared better than those seen as less urgent, such as medical research. The grim economic outlook poses a longer term threat; CAF say individual giving dropped 11% after the 2008 crash.
- Earned income: Earned income accounts for 47% of the charity sector’s revenues, slightly higher than voluntary giving (45%) according to the latest NCVO Almanac. Contracts with public bodies or others make up the bulk of this (see next paragraph for more on contracts), but earned income also includes charity shops, renting out meeting space, organising training and events, and providing commercial services through a social enterprise model. As with other charity operations, some have moved online, but this is unlikely to replace lost revenues. An IPPR North report in September 2020 said northern charities were now arguably “more vulnerable to losses from earned income than previously because of the concerted policy shift towards social enterprise and away from grant ‘dependency’”.
- Contracts: Contracts make up more than 40% of total charity income. More than half of the charities interviewed for NPC’s State of the Sector 2020 report held a public sector contract. Others also deliver contracts for businesses, other charities, and schools. Recessions threaten both new and existing contracts. Worryingly, we found that 57% of charities were already subsidising their public contracts with other resources, which makes it harder to absorb cuts. Charities bidding for shrinking public contracts may be forced into a race to the bottom.
- Trusts and foundations: Many trusts and foundations launched Covid-19 resilience funds or other emergency grant programmes when the pandemic hit. Whilst welcome, these were generally one-offs, only available for a limited period, so charities are unsure what support they will have in the future.
The first wave saw welcome emergency philanthropy. Many funders significantly increased their payout and offered more money to their existing grantees. But as the pandemic has endured, the crisis for charities has shifted from acute to chronic. It no longer makes sense to think of emergency funding to tide charities over until ‘beyond the crisis’. We now know that Covid-19 is a prolonged crisis with far-reaching impacts across the whole of society for months if not years to come.
It is therefore unsurprising that many funders are moving away from short-term emergency funding. Many emergency funds (including CAF Coronavirus Emergency Fund, National Lottery Heritage Emergency Fund, and Clothworkers’ Emergency Capital Programme) have closed to new applications. We understand the National Emergency Trust’s Coronavirus appeal plans to close once it reaches its £100m target (as of 18th January, the current total raised is ~£98m).
Funders have been keen to understand how they can complement government money and address gaps. We analysed the £750m package announced in April 2020 to allow philanthropists to do just this. The UK government announced in January 2021 that it will make an extra £800m of dormant assets (unclaimed financial funds) available to charities as part of the coronavirus recovery. The sector is still awaiting details on the timing and use of these funds but we expect it to be ringfenced for youth, financial inclusion or social investment.
Shifts in funding practice
Many funders moved fast to reassure their charity partners. London Funders, a group of major London trusts and local authorities, led the way with an immediate coronavirus commitment to funding flexibly. The pledge committed participating funders to:
- Permitting changes to grant periods and delivery dates.
- Permitting changes to activities, allowing grantees to repurpose funds for urgent coronavirus related needs.
- Listening to grantees about their specific situation, challenges and needs.
Over 150 funders renewed their commitment to these principles in November 2020. Alongside the original commitments, the new pledge committed funders to:
- Sharing and applying learning to continue to be effective funders for the future.
- Supporting communities and civil society to thrive in the long term and being open as their funding response develops.
Many funders went even further than this. The Tudor Trust offered its grantees a wellbeing grant to support staff, which could be used for staff entertainment and team building, counselling or reflective practice. In the US, five foundations, including the Ford Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation, announced a major innovation in 2020 of issuing social bonds to fund a significant Covid-19 grant-making programme. Between them, the five foundations anticipate over $1.7bn of increased grant-making over two years.
Our guide on shifting funding practices explains more about how to change how you work to be more useful for grantees during Covid-19.
Funding beyond the crisis
With our economy in turmoil, charities will still be suffering long after the virus itself has subsided. Our charities are a well-developed social support system at the heart of our civil society. Letting that system wither would be disastrous.
For charities already hanging on by a thread, the turmoil posed by Covid-19 may be more than they can survive. Funders need to factor organisational survival into their decision-making. Philanthropists should always ask fundamental questions about effectiveness, but in the current climate they might also ask ‘which charities can we not afford to lose?’. This could reveal a set of grantees who donors believe to be vital to our collective work, but for one reason or another, they have not supported before. Philanthropists should now consider this group when making decisions and take the lead in keeping the organisations they believe in thriving.
In the longer term, funders should think about how their actions can support charities and communities to be resilient and have a lasting social impact. Funders have an opportunity to support the positive shifts that could occur at this time of disruption—both in terms of the funding ecosystem itself and for the issues charities are confronting. This might include tackling historic inequalities, such as the lack of funding to BAME led groups.
There is a lot that funders can do to support both individual organisations and the sector. Our guide to shifting funding practices includes tips on how to:
- Re-engage with your grantees
- Regularly consider what is an appropriate level of spending
- Redefine relationships based on trust
- Focus on equity and fairness
- Use all your assets
- Support the resilience of the sector
- Build Back Better
- Collaborate more and better
- Review your longer-term strategy
Before the pandemic about 12 million people volunteered at least once a month. But as the crisis was still breaking an explosion in civic feeling led enormous numbers to sign up to become volunteers. In March 2020, more than 400,000 people signed up to become NHS volunteer responders in one day and more than 4,000 mutual aid groups were set up during the first lockdown. A poll carried out by YouGov estimated that 18 million people in England had helped friends or neighbours with tasks like shopping and dog walking during the first lockdown.
Yet with the pandemic far from over, there are signs that the surge in community spirit is starting to flag. Pro Bono Economics estimates 6 million fewer people in England volunteered or supported their neighbours during the November national lockdown, with only a quarter of people having done so since the start of October compared to a third of people at the beginning of the crisis. This decline is unsurprising given that the charities we speak to through our work tell us the sheer demand for their services and the constant need to adapt to changing government restrictions has meant that volunteers have had to offer up more of their time, which has contributed to the sense of fatigue and burnout.
But tiredness is not only factor affecting the number of people volunteering. The spread of coronavirus itself is also affecting the number of people able to volunteer. The Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN), which represents more than 400 independent food banks across the UK, are concerned that the new strain of Covid-19 is deterring foodbank volunteers and that self-isolating may involve reducing services or closing foodbanks. Meanwhile the NSPCC has publicly said that the number of people actively volunteering was down 40% due to coronavirus, despite the stark rise in children contacting Childline.
At the same time, however, we are seeing changes in what people are volunteering to do. More people are taking up volunteering opportunities to support the NHS tackle Covid-19. In November, St John’s Ambulance announced it was seeking 30,000 volunteers to help administer the vaccine. As of January, about 10,000 volunteers have signed up to administer the vaccine. The British Red Cross is supporting Covid-19 patients to re-settle back into their homes (or hotels) after stays in hospitals to help relieve the pressures on hospitals overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients and at a time when the NHS is reporting record levels of sickness absence.
The emergence of less traditional forms of volunteering
The disruption caused by the pandemic—particularly the mass furloughing of staff and the recognition that more of charities work can be done remotely—has led to a rise in less conventional forms of volunteering.
- Mutual Aid Groups: Self-organising groups of volunteers offering help and support to their neighbours continue to be vital in delivering food and medicines to the elderly and people with underlying health conditions. And as the crisis has morphed into an economic crisis, they have helped connect people unable to afford food to more established services who provide more specialist support such as foodbanks and organisations providing free phones and laptops.
- Skills-based volunteering: The enormous number of employees furloughed during the pandemic gave rise to a huge new pool of volunteers with transferable skills who could help charities to reach more people, and develop new programmes and fundraising methods.
Young people’s charity The Mix recruited furloughed youth workers near the beginning of the pandemic to volunteer on its helpline to support young people struggling with their mental health. Platform-based charities such as Furlonteer.com and Reach Volunteering have helped connect people to remote volunteering opportunities—particularly around digital and communications.
Corporates are also getting in on the act by offering up their staff to use their skills and time to help respond to the pandemic. Staff furloughed from Stansted Airport have spent more than 7,000 hours volunteering in roles at foodbanks, London’s Nightingale hospital and within the NHS. Virgin Atlantic and easyJet staff have been drafted in to help with the NHS vaccine effort in the coming months.
The question remains open as to what the long-term impact of this will be. The 2012 Olympics suggest that volunteering booms do not produce sustained volunteering. Whether changes in the nature of volunteering are sustained will be more interesting.
Covid-19 has radically reorganised how we work. Some changes will be temporary; others may usher in new practices that are long needed, or herald new sources of support.
Since the first lockdown, many service delivery charities who had previously offered face-to-face services adapted their projects to continue to provide support remotely and meet changing needs. While many charities pivoted first to offering practical support, delivering food and medicine, financial assistance, and critical hardware and data to access online services, increasingly charities have adapted their original services to online settings. Many now offer online support, such as online group activities, information, advice and guidance, training videos, and Facebook groups.
For example, NCT’s antenatal groups are now run as online classes and many galleries and collections are reaching new audiences. Charities such as the Scouts, whose entire reason for being is the outdoors, has cleverly created #TheGreatIndoors, gathering more than 100 free activities to help families have fun and learn together, with online demonstrations by Scout leaders through Facebook live. Macmillan Cancer Support created a ‘coronavirus hub’ on their website, full of the latest information and guidance for people affected by cancer and healthcare professionals.
To increase provision and accommodate different service user needs and preferences, some charities have blended online and offline models. For example, using materials in online group sessions that had been physically posted or dropped off with service users. Equally, as restrictions eased last summer, some charities, particularly those working with young people, incorporated elements of face-to-face delivery into their activities where there was demand.
Although many charities were able to adapt their services, this was not the case across the board. Some took longer to move their services online but were able to adapt later. Others, such as charities running group sporting activities, have had to stop delivery altogether.
This shift online has presented problems particularly for smaller charities, whose staff and volunteers were less well set up to work at home. It’s not missed meetings we need to worry about but missed mentoring sessions or support calls. Therefore, one of the most helpful ways donors can support charities is to provide rapid response funds for ICT capacity expansion: whether that’s laptops, monitors and software or support for internet upgrades or home phone bills.
Looking further into the future
There have been mixed views about new digital services. Some beneficiaries find them more easily accessible and like the opportunities they offer to contribute, engage flexibly, and connect with peers. Similarly, some charities have been able to reach more people further away (see Grapevine Coventry and Warwickshire’s ‘Lads and dads’ initiative), or those who don’t feel safe leaving their homes. On the other hand, many beneficiaries prefer to meet in person or face barriers to accessing services remotely. The pandemic has highlighted the problem of digital exclusion; the issues faced by people without the skills, equipment, data, motivation or confidence to access digital services.
While we don’t expect a wholesale move from face-to-face to digital, and we encourage charities to listen to their beneficiaries to understand how their differing preferences and needs can be met, it is very likely that we will see more digital and blended services being delivered in future. To ensure these are accessible, funders need to support:
- Tackling digital exclusion: skills, equipment, data, motivation and confidence. These are significant barriers to engagement in many services and activities for those who are willing and able to engage online.
- Digital skills: such as better software packages including Microsoft Teams and CRM systems for data management, and access digital equipment for staff. This requires funding charities core costs.
- Blended delivery and coordination between local organisations: Charities need to offer a range of ways to meet different user needs and preferences (e.g. blended models, using both on and offline services). But offering additional ways to access services inevitably costs money. Philanthropists can work with delivery organisations to understand and support any additional costs of these multi-pronged efforts. They can also help coordinate with other local actors of all sizes (including small community groups) to avoid duplication.
- Better signposting: The large-scale move to digital and the opportunity to reach new audiences can create confusion, with the public unsure where to look for the best support. It is important that there is good signposting so people know where to look for the most relevant help. Funders such as Nominet are working in this area through their ‘#RESET mental health programme’ which looks at digital services and digital patterns and pathways. Tools such as Chasing the Stigma’s Hub of Hope are also making progress against this issue.
- User involvement: For some charities, moving at pace over to digital delivery models has meant that they haven’t been able to include service user perspectives as much as they would like to. Charities may need some help with gathering user feedback on new or different services, so they can make any necessary adjustments.
Charities can find a lot of support for going online:
- NPC’s Coronavirus response toolkit for charities
- The Building Connections Funds Emerging tips to help your remote project tackle loneliness and improve wellbeing
- NPC’s collection of resources for charities moving to digital, combatting digital exclusions and safeguarding online
Monitoring, evaluation and learning has become central to how we work. Now it faces new challenges and changes. With the daily flux we find ourselves in, planning and forecasting outcomes is a lot harder than before, but using data to inform delivery is more critical than ever.
Charities will be asking:
- How are people’s needs changing?
- How can we adapt thoughtfully?
- And how do we know if the changes we are making are working?
The answer to all of these is, of course, thoughtful measurement and evaluation.
While learning what works is important, the most urgent application of this is for services to check that their most vulnerable beneficiaries are not being excluded, and their adaptations are meeting immediate needs as best as possible. We suggest funders continue to allow more flexibility in their reporting requirements, and support charities to identify, collect and analyse the most important and helpful data they need to inform their delivery.
In a dynamic context, being able to respond quickly to changing needs is essential. The ability to do this is underpinned by flexible funding and monitoring and evaluation, focussed on short feedback loops to ensure data collection meaningfully informs delivery in real time. Charities will need the skills, knowledge, and resources to do this.
How they do this given current restrictions is of course a challenge. However, there is much we can learn from international disaster response. Whilst the contexts are very different, there are also distinct similarities: constrained access to affected people, lack of data, and rapid and dynamic services. Beyond advising charities to focus on earlier indicators that their services are working (using more user, engagement, and feedback data), NPC has adapted much of our evaluative work to work to provide actionable insights to decision makers as quickly as possible, such as by using developmental evaluations. We suggest organisations explore public data sets such as our Interactive Covid-19 data for charities and funders.
A new letter could now be added to the MEL acronym: A for adaptation. Connecting with others to rapidly draw upon lessons, tools and approaches from other sectors and contexts will be key in enabling organisations to respond and survive. Organisational integrity and resilience may depend on the pace at which organisations are able to adapt and evolve to the changing landscape.
Philanthropists must continue to build monitoring and evaluation capacity. Encourage taking a layered approach based on existing skills and support charities to understand how they can use ‘easier to collect’ data to improve services (rather than focusing on outcomes and impact data unless adequate resources are available).
For more on how charities are adapting their MELA:
Despite being at the front of the vaccination queue, older people remain particularly vulnerable to the wider effects of the pandemic. The strain of nearly a year in isolation, whether in stretched care homes or in their own home, is being keenly felt.
- Age UK report that more than two million over-75s in England live alone. Even before the pandemic, many already went weeks or even months without speaking to anyone. More than 400,000 older people live in care homes. Covid has made both groups even more isolated.
- Safe visiting will continue to be a tricky topic, but it is really just the tip of the iceberg. Older people have been suffering having missed out on appointments and therapy sessions, as well as daily activities and social interactions which should be seen not simply as a ‘nice to have’, but as a vital part of leading a healthy, fulfilled life.
- Age UK research published in November 2020 showed that one in seven older people had their social care support reduced since the pandemic began. NHS data shows that almost a quarter of older people seeking social care help in the summer of 2020 were denied it. “The equivalent of more than 600 older people a day were denied vital support for basic tasks such as help washing, preparing meals, and going into town” say the charity Independent Age.
- Another Age UK report evidenced a rise in anxiety and loss of motivation among older people. It is known that loneliness can significantly increase the risk of developing dementia. Older people with dementia, especially people of BAME heritage who have a greater risk of developing dementia at an earlier age, are at greater risk as they rely on support even more.
- There have been many successes in moving some health and social care services, as well as other activities, to online or telephone formats, such as in this case study from Rotherfield St Martin. But in-person support is often irreplaceable in many cases, especially for older people who need help to meet their basic needs. Moreover, many older people lack the digital skills, confidence or devices to get online.
Many of these needs are also being felt by people with disabilities (see section 6.6).
How philanthropists can help:
- As more older people get vaccinated, resuming social activities becomes a priority to counteract the longer lasting effects of social isolation.
- Charities will need support to move their models back to in-person, or to maintain a hybrid model while people are still cautious.
Every economic downturn hurts those on lower incomes and/or in more precarious employment hardest. While new support packages may temporarily keep the wolf from the door for some, the reality of sustained financial hardship is likely to manifest over a period of not just weeks and months, but years if not decades.
- There were 820,000 fewer employees on company payrolls in November versus February 2020, HMRC figures show, with hospitality accounting for more than a third of that drop. Further job cuts will continue to bite hard in sectors relying on in-person attendance. Alongside hospitality, this is likely to include high street retail, arts and culture, tourism, leisure and entertainment. The implications are particularly worrying in some communities, such as coastal towns where tourism is the major employer.
- Covid-19’s impact will continue to be painful for gig economy workers, the self-employed, and contractors, as they may be unable to claim sick pay or government support. People on insecure zero hours contracts, who now number a record one million people, continue are more likely to have lost income or not been paid their full wages, according to Citizen’s Advice.
- Public Health England research in August showed that people from ethnic minorities were disproportionately hit by job losses and reduced hours versus white workers, and the same is the case for women versus men. People with disabilities are also being hit disproportionately hard (see section 6.6)
- Low-income families with parents in jobs that cannot be done remotely may be particularly hit by increased childcare burdens during sporadic school closures. The Soil Association’s Food for Life campaign is arguing (January 2021) that the criteria for eligibility for free school meals should now be changed to incorporate a further 1.3 million children.
- With more and more people applying for Universal Credit, problems with our already troubled benefit system risk being made worse. This will put further demands on charities such as StepChange, Turn2Us and Citizens Advice, who help clients navigate it. Universal Credit is unlikely to provide enough money to maintain a healthy life. Turn2Us says 11 million people frequently run out of money, including nearly half of universal credit claimants. Debt charity StepChange has estimated that one million people turned to high-cost borrowing to make ends meet during 2020, and that 5m are facing a financial crisis.
- Financial insecurity may put many families at increased risk of homelessness (see section 6.9)
How philanthropists can help:
- Charities helping people navigate the benefits system need support to provide effective services remotely.
- Parts of the country were the economy and job market is at risk of major contraction or total collapse must be closely watched.
- Minority groups who have been particularly affected may need tailored support.
- Providers of affordable credit, such as credit unions and low-cost lenders, ensure families have an alternative to predatory lenders.
Children and young people continue to spend less time in face-to-face education and less time with their peers. At a critical stage of life, they have had to come to terms with confusion and uncertainty at a global level and confront grief and turmoil in their own communities and families.
We deal with education specifically in section 6.4, here we look at young people’s lives outside of education.
- Lockdowns lead to children and young people having less social and physical activity, less often, and of poorer quality. This leads to sadness and loneliness, according to research from the Youth Sport Trust.
- A report from The Prince’s Trust reveals that children feel much less ambitious and positive about the future, especially children from poorer backgrounds, which could have long term implications for social mobility.
- As seen in section 6.2, food poverty is a real risk for many children, and is linked to lower educational attainment.
- For many children and young people, their home environment will be nurturing. For many others, school life and other activities away from home are a refuge from chaotic or abusive family lives. Extended time housebound, possibly in cramped and unhealthy conditions, may create a pressure cooker environment with rising risks of abuse, violence, neglect or deteriorating relationships.
- Spending more and more time online means more risk from online predators and gang grooming. Children’s charities such as the NSPCC are keeping a close eye on the Online Harms Bill, which they see as a key piece of legislation.
- Crime may be hidden by being out of school. There were fewer reports of child sex offences in spring and summer 2020, but a senior police officer said this masked the true realities of what many children will have suffered, telling the BBC in September: “It is only going to emerge when they [children] spend time within the safe environment of a school, in contact with their teachers, who are very, very good and adept at identifying… that something is not right.” There was also a drop in knife and offensive weapons offences during the 2020 lockdown. But, similar to sex offences, this risks masking how disenfranchised and unsafe many young people feel.
- Barnardo’s have set up a dedicated helpline for BAME children who are particularly likely to be suffering.
How philanthropists can help
- Support organisations helping children and young people engage with online services, such as by providing laptops and data access, or by offering online services themselves.
- Fund safe spaces for children and young people when offline activities return.
Lockdowns and emergency school closures have significantly disrupted education at all levels, with exams cancelled and lessons taught remotely if at all.
- Home-schooling by parents is likely to be most viable in more affluent families with larger homes, better technology and connectivity, and parents able to work from home. Some schools are arranging live, remote lessons, while others set work to be completed independently. The quality of teaching varies considerably.
- Meanwhile, many students are still going into school, either because their parents are key workers or because they are classified as vulnerable. Criteria for being considered vulnerable now include not having access to a laptop at home, but Teach First has found that most of the schools with the poorest pupils lack the devices needed to help students keep up with learning if they need to self-isolate. Even if they are able to give devices, students may not have access to the internet at home.
- School closures mean charities working in schools (food charities, charities running extra-curricular activities, or charities helping children prepare for employment) have struggled to deliver their services or have had to adapt their activities.
- University applications rose in 2020, boosted by a late surge of applicants, despite fears to the contrary. But students are having a hollow university experience. Improvements to digital resources are to be welcomed, but students may still suffer from worse health and increased loneliness and be less likely to find part-time work.
- Further education and adult education has also been disrupted by the pandemic, which has implications for social mobility and skills across the workforce.
- The Educational Endowment Foundation says that pandemic-related inequalities risk undermining ten years of work to improve social mobility and close the attainment gap between rich and poor students. This is likely to have a long-term impact on the earnings of students from poorer communities when they enter the job market, the Sutton Trust reports.
How philanthropists can help:
- Parents and schools need help to provide devices and get online, especially for poorer students.
- Schools’ budgets are likely to be strained, given the need to provide for new testing and social distancing precautions.
- Developing online resources needs continuous support, as does adapting lesson plans for remote learning, or pooling resources between schools (especially those not in a multi-academy trust or other network)
- Some students would benefit from tutoring to help them catch up.
The weight of lockdown combined with massive global uncertainties is resulting in substantial mental strain across society. People already living with mental health conditions are now even more vulnerable.
- Recent years have seen more conversations and awareness of mental health topics, but this has not always reduced stigma or increased the likelihood of people taking action to improve their mental health.
- Coronavirus was causing a rise in anxiety even before the first lockdown was announced in March 2020, according to various mental health experts and charities. As lockdown eases, levels of anxiety are likely to remain high as people start to re-enter places and spaces previously labelled as ‘risky’.
- New and modified routines, loss of contact with support networks, lack of certainty, and increased negativity are all potential triggers of mental ill health. Mental health charities have reported increased demand, including more calls to helplines. Mind’s helpline received double the expected volume of calls on several days in autumn 2020. As this NPC case study outlines, one volunteer-led, SMS-based service proved a lifeline. Mind have also reported historic highs in numbers of referrals and urgent referrals for mental health issues.
- 2020 has been particularly traumatic for frontline workers; a recent report said one in seven NHS staff had experienced thoughts of self-harming or being “better off dead”.
- Charities working with young people have reported rises in anxiety and depression. Many are also noting elevated symptoms in young people, especially those who were experiencing trauma-related health conditions such as PTSD before the pandemic hit.
- At the same time, there is also evidence of people being more reticent to seek help for mental health or self-harm issues, according to one research body. This is seen in part as an unintended consequence of the success of the government’s ‘Protect the NHS’ message, with individuals reticent to seek help or attend clinics or hospitals.
- Charities are likely to face continued demand after the peak of the pandemic is over and as normal life starts to resume. The Centre for Mental Health estimates that in England, up to 10 million people will need either new or additional mental health support as a consequence of the Covid-19 crisis. Grief, trauma-related issues, depression and anxiety are all expected to be areas in need of support.
How philanthropists can help:
- Many mental health charities already had strong virtual/remote/telephone offerings, but are now likely to need extra capacity.
- Many members of the public find it hard to connect with services that can best support them when they need it. Charities may need help with signposting and advertising their services so people understand how to seek help.
- Charities may be planning new services in advance of lockdown ending, to meet new needs as they arise. They may need help with establishing these new services.
- The unprecedented nature of the pandemic means mental health charities need resources to investigate its full impacts on the nation’s mental health.
The disadvantages people with disabilities face are in many cases being made worse by efforts to tackle the pandemic.
- According to Leonard Cheshire, the 70% of disabled people who were employed at the start of the pandemic have either lost their job or seen their hours cut. This is likely to have been isolating as well as financially damaging. People with disabilities already face higher unemployment than the general population.
- Scope has said reforms to benefits and an end to sanctions are needed to deal with the greater number of people with disabilities likely to be unemployed. There are long-standing concerns about the benefits system among disability charities and groups.
- Mencap are worried that people with learning difficulties, who are six times more likely to die with Covid-19 than the rest of the population, may continue to miss out on the support they need and the vaccine.
- People whose disabilities mean they can opt out of wearing a face mask in public (this includes some people with mental health conditions, says Mind) may feel anxious of being challenged in public. People with disabilities who relied on public transport may now feel less safe using it and therefore be more socially isolated. Widespread face mask use also makes life harder for people with communications difficulties, including hearing loss.
- Vital information about Covid-19 has not always been made accessible to British Sign Language users, according to Disability Rights UK. Many organisations (such as local councils, according to this Scope report) were already failing to provide information in accessible formats. There are some easy-read and accessible guides being produced; the Social Care Institute for Excellence has a list here. The Royal Association for Deaf People told NPC about its efforts in this area last year.
- There has been widespread concern among disability charities of the possible erosion of councils’ responsibilities towards disabled people by the Coronavirus Act. Emergency regulations allow ministers to free councils of certain Care Act 2014 duties.
In many cases, these issues overlap with those faced by older people (see section 6.1).
How philanthropists can help:
- Disability charities are a fundamental social service for hundreds of thousands of people living with a range of disabilities. Many have specialist knowledge of particular conditions that local authorities can’t provide. These charities need additional funding to provide the extra care needed during this challenging time.
- With staff and volunteer shortages, charities will need more resources to access additional human resources, ICT equipment and training.
People held in custody during the pandemic have a heightened risk of contracting Coronavirus and of then spreading it among both their fellow inmates and their local communities when released. Prisoners are likely to be spending more time confined to their cells and less in education or other rehabilitation activities. Spending 23 hours locked up in cells is now normal and charities offering rehabilitation services risk being shut out.
- Plans to release 4,000 prisoners early were shelved in May when they faced a rebellion in parliament. The government claimed it was no longer necessary due to lower Covid cases. Covid deaths and cases are rising considerably in the unsanitary conditions of prison.
- The charity Pact has compiled information on prison visiting, which has been suspended for lengthy periods, leaving prisoners isolated and weakening their connections with the outside world.
- Previous NPC reports have argued that it is vital that charities are able to deliver programmes and services in prisons, which has been limited during the pandemic. A Clinks report from December 2020 outlines rising needs and increased barriers for voluntary organisations working in the criminal justice system. The Prison Reform Trust has shown that prisoners being deprived education and purposeful activities is likely to mean they will be in jail for longer and struggle more to find a job when they get out as they can’t build skills necessary to move on with their lives.
- Nacro reports that while the government provided some additional support for housing prison leavers during 2020 over Covid-19 concerns, there were still many people leaving prison and becoming homeless.
- The economic downturn has made it harder for rehabilitation charities to find work placements and training opportunities for prison leavers, and will increase competition for job vacancies.
- Research from the charity Clinks shows that one in six criminal justice charities are worried that they will close due to Covid.
How philanthropists can help:
- Prison charities will need to focus on family members unable to visit relatives in prison, who will be facing acute worry and stress, particularly if prisoners have been infected or quarantined. This will need to be done online or over the phone, which may require additional resources.
- Charities need support to deliver purposeful activities to prisoners to help build recovery.
- Post-release support charities, if early release measures are taken, will require additional support to meet demand and prevent reoffending.
Isolation and social distancing presume that home is safe. The appalling reality is that this is not the case for hundreds of thousands of women, and some men as well. Coronavirus has both made domestic violence more likely, and made it even more devastating for those affected.
- Since the very beginning of the pandemic, charities have anticipated increased domestic violence in the UK and elsewhere. Domestic abuse accounted for a fifth of all offences recorded by police during and immediately after England and Wales’ first lockdown, ONS data shows.
- However, reporting of domestic and sexual violence (in common with other crimes) only ever accounts for a limited proportion of actual offences. Lockdown has made it more difficult for women and others who are victims of domestic abuse to report it to the police, or to access information about support available.
- Lockdown laws allow victims of domestic abuse to leave the house for the purpose of seeking refuge, but a campaign launched in December 2020 by Women’s Aid highlights that lockdown means that women in abusive relationships have fewer opportunities to spend time away from their partners.
- Women are more likely than men to have lost their job or had their hours reduced during lockdown. Increased financial vulnerability makes it harder to consider leaving an abusive partner.
- Refuge says that with Covid-19 having shone a light on the issue of domestic abuse, the new Domestic Abuse Bill going through parliament this year has the potential to be “truly transformational”. However, the Refugee Council has warned that it fails to protect migrant survivors of domestic violence in its current form. (See 4.12 for more on refugees, asylum seekers and migrants).
- Imkaan, a domestic violence charity supporting BME women and girls, has pointed out that we are living through not one but two pandemics: violence against women and girls (declared by the World Health Organisation in 2013) and Coronavirus/Covid-19 (declared in 2020), and has argued that BME women’s issues have rarely been present in wider responses to Covid-19.
How philanthropists can help:
- Whilst trying to respond to this nightmare situation for abused women, domestic violence charities are facing urgent funding shortfalls, which if not met could be catastrophic for survivors.
A January 2021 report in the US suggested that Covid-19 would cause more homelessness across the country than the great depression of the 1930s. The pandemic is adding significant risks to the lives of people who are already homeless.
- Homeless people have significantly lower life expectancy than the rest of the population, and often have multiple health conditions. A Groundswell report says that one in five homeless people have asthma; two and a half times the rate in the general population. Asthma makes people more vulnerable to catching, getting seriously or dying from Covid-19.
- In November 2020, the Guardian reported that tens of thousands of people have been made homeless since the pandemic started, despite a ban on evictions. This ban ran out in January 2021, although Shelter and many others have urged the government to extend it.
- While the government’s ‘Everyone In’ scheme to get homeless people off the street and into hotels early in the pandemic was welcomed, experts warned some months later that this had left individuals feeling “banged up” and “institutionalised”
- Groundswell has published some advice in Romanian and Polish to reflect that English is not the first language of many rough sleepers.
- Homeless people are less likely to have been able to sell the Big Issue, although the magazine has worked on contingencies to ensure its vendors do not suffer.
- Financial insecurity (see section 6.2) puts many more people at risk of homelessness and increases instability for couch-surfers, who may lose temporary places of residence or struggle to self-isolate when needed. People whose income has been irregular may find it harder to pass credit checks for rental accommodation.
- Mortgage holidays have given respite to some homeowners, but at time of publication were due to extend only until 31 January 2021.
How philanthropists can help:
- This NPC Q&A with Homeless Link suggests philanthropists can help meet immediate, urgent needs, as well as helping homeless charities to innovate new services and future approaches, suggesting flexibility from funders will be welcome.
As an especially vulnerable population, children in care face fresh challenges as a result of coronavirus.
- In June 2020, Barnardo’s warned that the number of children needing foster care had risen by 44% as economic troubles and mental health problems had made home life more difficult. At the same time, the number of people volunteering to be foster carers nearly halved, partly because of people shielding. This meant that children were being kept in unsuitable accommodation for longer.
- Children services have warned that the complexity of cases coming to them has increased, making it more difficult for them to resolve. This has been exacerbated by some of the charities that they rely on to provide support, no longer being able to give that support because of social distancing measures.
- The disruptions to university, and the loss of part-time work in hospitality, is particularly worrying for care leavers who have few other sources of support. For care leavers who are not at university, the lack of jobs is worrying, as they have few places to turn. The charity Become said that the pandemic has caused it to receive twice as many queries from children in care and care leavers than in the equivalent period the previous year.
- Grandparents Plus have highlighted the risks to one of the most hidden groups of vulnerable children—the estimated 200,000 under-18s who would probably be in care but for a ‘kinship carer’. Many of these carers are grandparents, who will somehow have to find a way to self-isolate whilst also looking after children. Lucy Peake, CEO of Grandparents Plus, described the case of a grandmother with emphysema who’s looking after four children. If she gets ill, they will have nowhere to go.
How philanthropists can help:
- Advice, guidance, and support to this overlooked group of people is badly needed, as they can struggle to get this support from their own networks.
- Support to help children in care and care leavers recover from the educational and economic damage of the pandemic is needed.
Crises of all sorts can heighten community tensions and discrimination, especially if people seek to identify a ‘common enemy’.
- Covid-19 has fuelled hate crime against people of Chinese or Southeast Asian origin. Sarah Owen, the first British Chinese woman MP, says there has been “dehumanisation” of Chinese and East Asian people thanks to conspiracy theories, hateful online content and a tendency for news outlets to illustrate stories with stock images of Asian people.
- A blog on Stonewall’s website lists a number of specific risks faced by LGBT people made worse by Covid-19, including homelessness due to family rejection, a greater risk of domestic abuse and the loss of safe spaces such as LGBT-specific venues.
- People with HIV-AIDS, especially older people or people with other disabilities, may become even more vulnerable if their diets or lifestyle become less healthy.
- There have been concerns that Coronavirus guidance and information has not filtered properly across communities, particularly if people’s first language is not English. There is also a concern that younger people who do not view traditional media might be less likely to see some messaging.
- The global Black Lives Matters protests appear to have emboldened racists and may have contributed to a spike in racially or religiously aggravated Hate Crime during the summer of 2020.
How philanthropists can help:
- Supporting and resourcing initiatives which have sprung up during Covid-19, to ensure they are sustainable, scalable or replicable (where appropriate).
- While philanthropists may prefer to remain anonymous, it has never been more important to be vocal about support for causes specifically working with the black community or other BAME groups.
- Covid-19 has unearthed community spirit and voluntary action up and down the UK, with the creation of mutual aid groups, and large numbers of people signing up to Community Response Volunteers or help with the vaccination roll-out. There has been significant discussion in the charity sector of how to harness this in the longer-term.
Refugees, asylum seekers and migrants have always been particularly vulnerable to ill health and financial insecurity. They also face stigmatisation and may be excluded from or face significant barriers to health services, public services or other sources of support.
- Refugees and asylum seekers may find it particularly difficult to keep themselves safe through social distancing, depending on the accommodation provided to them. A Public Accounts Committee report in November 2020 shone further light on this issue.
- Immigration detention centres have suffered Covid-19 outbreaks.
- There have been changes to policies and processes for people seeking asylum and refugees at risk, as documented by the Refugee Council. This is compounded by difficulties in accessing face-to-face services, and issues with volunteering
- As Refugee Action outlined to NPC last year, asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable to loneliness and social isolation. Children and those living in abusive or violent situations face heightened risk (see sections 6.3 and 6.8)
- Increased community tensions and hate crimes (see section 6.10) are likely to disproportionately affect refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.
How philanthropists can help:
- We spoke to Refugee Action about their experience. Read more about what philanthropists can do in this blog.
At a time when the escapism and personal expression unique to the arts has perhaps never been more needed, organisations hosting or producing arts and culture activities have had some successes in moving their work online. But as with other sectors, this can only go so far.
- Lost revenue from ticket sales during lockdowns meant a near total collapse of revenue for venues. The need for reduced capacity during times of eased restrictions is unlikely to have made up for this, nor is organisations moving their performances or output online or sharing online performances for free.
- New forms of online art and cultural activities have been created to reduce loneliness in vulnerable groups such as the elderly, but the risk of ‘Zoom fatigue’ means these may provide temporary respite rather than long-term solutions.
- The arts have received substantial government support, although as the pandemic drags on they risk being overlooked in favour of more obviously frontline services. A recent Arts Council England report attempted to counter this, by demonstrating the importance of cultural venues as employers and providers of other amenities.
- Cultural organisations can bring meaning to people’s lives at an otherwise hopeless time. Arts Emergency say that 82% of young people it mentored during the first lockdown felt more positive because of their support.
How philanthropists can help:
- Arts organisations are concerned that audiences will be slow to return even when they are allowed, as habits of isolation and fear of infection will likely persist even after the most acute danger has passed. The need for funding to maintain arts organisations may persist for some time.
- Many arts funders in America are switching funding to focus on basic living maintenance grants for artists, making emergency payments of $1,000-$2,000. This may be a model that arts philanthropists in the UK wish to follow as government support has gone to organisations not artists.
While Coronavirus has been at the front of everyone’s mind, other health issues have not disappeared. In many cases, social isolation or pressures on the NHS have made them much worse. The numerous charities’ who support our wider health and care system are therefore more vital than ever.
- A major concern among health charities has been people’s reticence to go to hospital or seek other medical assistance because they are either concerned of catching Covid-19, or believe they would be placing unnecessary pressures on the health service. Charities have given advice on what to do in situations which may require an ambulance, or to reassure people before necessary hospital visits.
- There have been many reports of the NHS not being able to provide the support, care or routine appointments it would normally give for non-Covid conditions, during the pandemic. This is an acute concern for the elderly, for whom this care is often vital in meeting their basic daily needs (see section 6.1). The same has been true for clinical trials and research in non-Coronavirus issues.
- Health charities are worried that lockdowns have led to unhealthy habits, such as drinking more alcohol, potentially storing up public health problems which will manifest over many years.
- Health charities often provide additional services which compliment statutory provision. While some of these have moved to telephone, online or a digital platform, this is often not possible.
- The international and interdisciplinary collaboration seen in development of Covid-19 vaccines may provide new models for research and development of medical technologies, although the unprecedented speed of their development may also create challenges for research charities in managing public expectations in the future.
- Medical research charities have a “fundamentally strong public profile”, according to nfpSynergy, although one MP said in November that their role may be under-appreciated, expressing concern for their future capacity following the pandemic.
- The zeitgeist-capturing fundraising efforts of Captain Sir Tom Moore means NHS Charities Together has been a major fundraising success story of the pandemic, funding welcome support for many NHS staff and patients. NPC has previously written about the role of the 250+ NHS charities this umbrella organisation represents. But some have expressed concern that it has blurred the distinction between statutory provision and voluntary action.
How philanthropists can help:
- Healthcare and research charities could face medium term threats to funding as scarce resources are diverted to coronavirus care and research, meaning other lifesaving research goes unfunded.
Bond reports that the UN has predicted that more than 207 million people globally may be pushed into extreme poverty by 2030, due to the pandemic’s impact. There are fears that international causes might suffer due to unprecedented domestic issues. It also highlights the UK Government cutting £2.9 billion in aid last year due to pandemic-related economic problems.
- In poverty-hit areas with poor-quality housing, and in communities that lack running water or sanitation facilities, social distancing and more hand washing are simply impossible.
- Healthcare systems are significantly less developed in poorer nations, and will be overwhelmed more quickly than in a country with a system such as the NHS.
- The availability of digital communications and devices varies greatly across the world. The UN’s International Telecommunications Union has looked at barriers and solutions to this in the context of education, with countries under pressure to provide remote learning
- Amnesty has identified 60 countries in which authorities have committed human rights abuses under the pretext of controlling the pandemic.
- A group of charities including Oxfam and Amnesty has accused wealthier nations of “hoarding” Covid-19 vaccines. A lack of access to these will delay poorer nations’ ability to recover and rebuild their economies.
- Alongside the pandemic, international NGOs have been struggling with uncomfortable questions around abuse by aid workers, and the colonial attitudes which may exist within or overshadow the sector.
How philanthropists can help:
- Amid a crowded news agenda, international development organisations are fighting to raise awareness of the potentially catastrophic effects of coronavirus globally.
- Viruses know no borders, yet responses to Covid-19 have been nationally driven. Coordinated and comprehensive global responses, that include developing countries, are needed instead.
Parenting in a pandemic presents unique challenges, especially for families already suffering from issues such as food poverty. Covid-19 has seen restrictions placed on maternity and neonatal services for the circa 2,000 births which happen each day in the UK.
- Through much of 2020 during the pandemic, pregnant women were not allowed to bring fathers or partners to scans and other appointments. Contact was often limited during labour or immediately after the birth, although rules have now been changed. With fathers and partners excluded from attending scans prior to that rule change, many couples opted to go for private scans. A recent BBC investigation uncovered poor practice in this sector, with the charity Tommy’s warning they should not be seen as a replacement for regular maternity care.
- While some pregnant women are able to work from home, those in precarious employment and those who have to work in a location away from home may not be provided with a safe environment, increasing risk factors in the pregnancy, according to Maternity Action.
- Tommy’s has warned that the majority of pregnant women and new mothers are grappling with anxiety linked to the pandemic.
- Home-Start has highlighted that it may be particularly challenging to deal with children’s emotions and uncertainties around Covid-19 and the measures imposed, while Childline has seen a jump in under-11s needing mental health counselling.
- Gingerbread has highlighted that single-parent families are likely to be placed in particularly challenging situations during the pandemic.
- MSI Choices has said that the pandemic has exacerbated difficulties faced by women in accessing contraception.
See also the children and young people section (6.3) and the education section (6.4) for more on this topic.
How philanthropists can help:
- The most vulnerable beneficiaries are those most likely to be excluded by the digital delivery model, which are only accessible by families who have regular and stable access to digital devices and the internet.
- Online services and virtual groups appear to be more difficult to promote to new audiences, as it is harder to understand the benefits of an unfamiliar delivery model. Similarly, NCT found that communicating with local hospital trusts is difficult, which makes offering live online courses to commissioners very resource intensive.
2020 was supposed to mark the beginning of a critical decade for the environment, but the pandemic has denied much of the attention the issue deserved. There is also a misconception that the pandemic has somehow been ‘good’ for nature and climate change, which had to be debunked by the World Economic Forum and others.
- The 2020 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), which was due to be held in November 2020 in Glasgow and was a key moment for environmental charities, has been postponed until November 2021.
- A director of Friends of the Earth has said that while the pandemic “has shown that in times of emergency politicians are able to throw away their ideological rule-books and do what is necessary”, many politicians still see climate change as “an issue that can be put on the back-burner or as an issue of secondary importance to the economy”.
- While nature and the environment may not have been given respite by the pandemic, environmental charities such as the RSPB, as well as Greenpeace, have put forward proposals for investment in nature and the environment contributing to both economic recovery, and health and wellbeing
How philanthropists can help:
- Provide unrestricted funding to help environmental organisations survive through the pandemic.
- Fund collaboration around Covid-19 response e.g. sector-wide communications about the value of nature and resetting the economy.
Covid-19 is a global challenge. Returning to something resembling ‘normal’ requires a collective and coordinated response to ensure timely and equitable vaccinations around the world. Ever-present risks such as viral mutations and disinformation mean priorities are likely to continue changing rapidly.
Equitable access to vaccines, testing and treatments
Significant challenges need to be overcome to ensure vaccines, testing and treatments get to everyone who needs them. While wealthy nations have pre-ordered vaccine doses which exceed the needs of their own populations, billions of people in poorer countries face an indefinite wait. Closer to home, groups at risk of vaccination exclusion include people who are homeless, migrants, and Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller communities.
There is also a risk that virus mutations will create a need for new vaccines, so investment in vaccine research must continue. The Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator collaboration between the WHO, Gavi, CEPI, the Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust (among others) is leading the effort to fund and coordinate vaccine research, procurement, and distribution. The total funding committed so far is over $5.8 billion. An estimated further $23.7 billion is required in 2021 to deploy the vaccines the world needs.
Philanthropists can further support this in the following ways:
- Collaborative funding through initiatives such as COVAX, the vaccines pillar of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator.
- Collaborative campaigning to raise awareness of groups at risk of exclusion from vaccines, testing and treatment, and to push for policy change where required.
Fighting disinformation and promoting science-based health messages
The internet and social media have created ideal conditions for the spread of false information. Foreign interference in digital information ecosystems and homegrown conspiracy theories risk eroding public confidence in licensed and effective vaccines. Many BAME organisations are trying to encourage people in their communities to take the vaccine. The Mosques and Imam National Advisory Board have a campaign recommending people to take the vaccine and fact checking rumours. BME Health Forum is working with community organisations, such as Mosaic Community Trust, on grassroot campaigns.
Philanthropists can further support charities tackling disinformation in the following ways:
- Collaborating with digital companies and social media platforms to combat fake news.
- Funding independent fact checking services such as Full Fact (UK), FactCheck.org (US), and Africa Check.
- Promoting science-based health messages in their community work.
We have seen significant adaptation by charities to the new working environment: in the adjustment and maintenance of services, throughout charity governance, and ensuring the wellbeing of staff and volunteers. The pandemic has taught us:
How to maintain services and wellbeing over a protracted period
It’s tough to retain a consistent level of service throughout a pandemic. The productivity gains of the early lockdown were unsustainable, as people were primarily running on adrenaline. Charities have been increasingly conscious in their efforts to maintain staff wellbeing and volunteer interest so services can be maintained. Mutual aid groups are one example where momentum has stalled across some parts of the country.
How charities consider risk moving forward
Risk registers were typically part of a charity’s governance proceedings, however covering pandemics wasn’t a typical component on that risk register. Systems have changed moving forward to focus more on disaster preparedness. Similarly, we have seen variation in how charities set their reserves policy though and beyond 2020.
Home working has brought about new unforeseen risks for some, for instance the duty of charities to look after staff and volunteers who are dealing with difficult issues in their own home (possibly with their children, partner or flatmate in the next room). For example, it is harder to check in on the wellbeing of staff members who support those with bereavement or domestic abuse on calls. Following a trauma-informed approach to staff and beneficiary wellbeing is important here (for further details please refer to our NPC guide on trauma informed approaches).
The trouble of sacrificing the important for the urgent
The pandemic has rightly focused people’s attention on the urgent needs of individuals during crisis and promotes a focus on people’s needs rather than the assets they have. There is evidence that individual giving has held up but has shifted towards more urgent needs. However, we must always question what is the opportunity cost of this urgent giving; has enough been spent on prevention or asset-based approaches to giving? Sufina Ahmad of the John Ellerman Foundation spoke about this at our panel conversation on the future of philanthropy at NPC Ignites in November 2020.
How to evaluate better by rebalancing our data in 2021 and beyond
The pandemic has made collecting robust outcomes and impact data far more challenging, but charities now more than ever need to ensure their data collection and analysis is more thoughtful than ever so they can quickly learn from and adapt their services based on the latest information. The pandemic demonstrably hit BAME communities harder across the UK. But the pandemic also showed how there are gaps in our data systems across the country which makes it harder for charities to plan, adapt, prioritise, and evaluate their services. Examples of these gaps in data are not only by race, but also by disability. Capturing more data through participatory approaches, capturing lived experience on the group, and better articulation of the results of evaluations to the communities that are affected by an intervention starts to get to greater levels of equity.
We’re continuing to learn more:
Charities and service delivery organisations continue to leverage the power of digital working and social media
Perhaps this shift has been needed for a long time, but it nonetheless requires significant expansion in ICT capacity and skills for both charities and the people they work with, and potentially deepens inequalities. If these working practices are to continue beyond the crisis, investment will be required to close this gap.
The sector needs to look at the nature of long-term digital working and its relationship with volunteering. While the cause is important, volunteers like developing a connection in their local community. Digital working approaches, or even dropping prescriptions to someone’s door, typically don’t come with the same human interaction volunteers would have been previously used to. This has caused an issue for volunteer retention over time.
The pandemic has prompted many to embrace good funding practice
Over 250 funders signed London Funders’ pledge, which promotes financial flexibility to civil society groups affected by Covid-19. Other funders have adjusted their support to grantees by relaxing reporting requirements and allowing restricted grants to be spent on core activities. Some funders are already talking about longer term shifts in grant-making practice and what they can learn from this crisis, so we may see a move towards more flexible funding in the future.
While increased levels of giving have been great to see, charities have become concerned about how long the changes will last for. This is particularly true in regards to the increased spending levels of foundations.
The rise of ‘Mutual Aid Groups’ provides an opportunity for charities to learn inclusive ways of working from the ground up
Volunteers are self-organising with incredible efficiency and creativity. Their decentralised approach allows groups to use diverse communication systems, such as Zoom, WhatsApp or Slack. As the philanthropic sector grapples with an urgent requirement to work in agile and responsive ways, there is much to be learnt from this decentralised approach.
Mutual aid groups have done a wonderful amount of good. As above, the intention is ensuring that these groups maintain momentum as they are volunteer run. We are pleased that DCMS are looking into what lessons can be learnt from the mutual aid groups, with a report coming out later this year.
Equality and inclusion are paramount
Covid-19 is having a disproportionate impact on marginalised individuals and communities. Vicky Browning, Chief Executive of ACEVO, said that the outbreak of Covid-19 ‘has transformed charities’ plans and priorities,’ but that moving with speed does, ‘not negate the necessity of being inclusive.’ ‘Although we will all be impacted by Covid-19, we will not all be impacted equally,’ she explained. A systemic response by the sector will keep the less obvious groups in mind.