8. What we’re learning
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.