Beyond Lockdown: observations and support from Cranfield Trust
As we find ourselves in week eight of lockdown, we’re starting to talk about the ‘new normal’ and what our world might look like as we come out of emergency mode and move back to some sort of normal activities.
It’s hard to predict in a time of such uncertainty, but despite the hardship in many communities, and the stretched resources, we are seeing a number of positive trends, and some clear priorities amongst the charities we work with across the country.
One silver lining to the pandemic cloud is the high level of interest in volunteering. We’re receiving a lot of new contacts from highly skilled commercial sector managers keen to give their time to support charities. Some of them are furloughed, others are taking the opportunity to volunteer in the time that they would normally spend commuting or travelling. People are volunteering for all sorts of activities – formally and informally, and we are finding ways of engaging them, and ensuring that we form longer term relationships that will keep their engagement going once the crisis is over.
Over the last twelve years, we’ve found that many charities have struggled to plan ahead. In a long period of austerity, during which we’ve experienced uncertainty created by a tough economic climate, public spending cuts, elections, and then Brexit, it’s been hard for charity leaders to find indicators to help them set their organisation’s direction. At Cranfield Trust, we’re now seeing organisations keen to plan ahead, to develop recovery and rebuilding plans, prompted by the harsh environment, and setting out their agendas in a more positive way than in recent years.
Long term remote working has been a new experience for many of us, and there are positives. We’re finding that internal communications are often stronger than before, as we pay more attention to keeping in touch, and that much can be achieved thanks to enabling technologies. It won’t be the case for everyone, but in future, some organisations may find economies in having flexible teams, with more home-workers. We could find that we can engage with service users and other stakeholders effectively, remotely, and are free to work without geographical boundaries and to maximise our people resources across the country. We will all think carefully about our previous routines, rather than returning to them without question.
The challenge of remote working is one of the trends emerging from our client base of small to medium size charities, where we believe there will be a strong need for support in the coming weeks and months. For many organisations, adapting services to deliver remotely is a huge challenge, and having the technology, skills and capacity for substantial change to your business model is not easy.
Chief Executives report that they are spending much more time than usual maintaining contact with colleagues, and supporting people through change. People are anxious about their futures if they are on furlough, some wish they were on furlough, and can be frightened if their jobs involve direct contact with others, travelling on public transport, or otherwise feeling exposed to risk, often without suitable PPE. Mental health should be on all Chief Executives’ agendas, any future plans will need to have a strong focus on supporting people through continuing change, and leaders will need to balance an organisation, internal focus with an externally oriented, resource generation role.
Developing improved financial understanding in charities is time-critical: many leaders and trustees are not completely on top of their cashflow forecasts, and not always clear about what their financial future looks like, and how long it lasts. Improving knowledge and skills in this area may not be the most enjoyable experience, but it’s critical now, and will stand Chief Executives and their organisations in good stead in the medium and longer term.
There is no doubt that there will be a dramatic (if potentially drawn out) reshaping of the sector as resources fall substantially, as need and demand for support from charities rises. It won’t be clean and it won’t be logical, but not all existing organisations will survive in their current form, and some of the excellent grassroots initiatives that have sprung up to support communities deserve to flourish and grow.
To achieve the most with increasingly limited resources, and to make the most of skills and knowledge, we all need to be thinking about the shape of our particular parts of the sector, and how we can organise around needs and services, rather than individual organisations. Merger has been an unpopular option for many charities, but must be considered, as there simply won’t be enough funding to maintain every charity. We should plan ahead, with others in our own and related areas, to retain critical skills and local knowledge around key services. We will all need to stand back from our own organisations, and see the wider picture, whether it’s of our local community, or community of interest.
How we can help: at Cranfield Trust, we’re lucky to have over 1,200 commercial sector volunteers, giving their time to act as advisors, mentors and consultants – remotely. We are continuing to work with over 300 charities around the country as well as responding to many more who are contacting us now. Our volunteers are putting forward guidance and views on our website with tools and approaches to support charity leaders, and are taking calls to provide immediate help and advice.
For all of us, staying strong and supporting each other is critical. Contact us at Cranfield Trust if you would like some management support from one of our volunteers, we’d be happy to hear from you.
12 May 2020
10 April 2020
Feedback from our frontline
Over the past three weeks, all our lives have changed dramatically, and the future is uncertain. All of us running charities are thinking hard about the best way to use our resources to help. In mid-March, we were mid-way through over two hundred management consultancy projects, working with our volunteer consultants and charity clients, addressing issues such as reviewing strategy and writing business plans, mentoring leaders and managers, and tackling challenges in marketing, IT, finance and HR. Then everything changed.
Since then, we’ve reached out to all the charities we’d been working with, to check in with them and to offer any support possible. We’ve found that these calls take time, people want to talk, and to share their worries. Some of our clients – charity Chief Executives - are drained, but are doing a great job in keeping their teams together through Zoom and other channels. Through our conversations, we’re trying to give people a little space to think and positive support – it’s OK to be where you are, moving forward is good, just take it a step at a time.
For many charities, their capacity is changing week to week, as staff are isolating, ill or needing time to look after children. A lot of regular volunteers have disappeared, and it can be difficult to plan ahead at all – let alone in a substantial way.
To make rapid change in services and the way the organisation works, you need time, capacity AND skill – some people have capacity but not the skills or technology to adjust to home working and remote service delivery, and will need to build these in order to switch services over effectively.
An anti-trafficking charity is not set up for staff to use their own phones. It’s too risky to use ‘number withheld’ as it’s alarming for the people they’re contacting, and staff don’t want to give out their personal numbers – too risky for them
Most of our clients fall into two groups: those that are unable to continue their services – those who depend on using facilities such as day centres, community centres, charities working with and in schools. They need to keep their organisations alive while mothballed. Others are moving online, continuing to provide support – and often experiencing rising demand.
A Muslim youth charity has let us know that they are having increased demand for support, and are applying for funding, but they need help now, and some funding is slow to come through – at present they are unable to respond to 38% of calls.
Emergency funds have been rapidly put together, and government has now responded with a fund geared to frontline support – but these funds are not all being dispersed quickly, one of our clients said “emergency funding is great, but we need it now, we might not be here in June once they’ve processed the application.”
A charity supporting young people with family members with life-threatening conditions is experiencing high demand for support – so many young people are anxious about what COVID-19 means for family members with existing health problems. The charity doesn’t fall within the remit of most emergency funds which are geared to immediate crisis response. Existing funders have been flexible, allowing the charity to drawn down funding pledged for the future years, but it is not clear what this will mean when those years come round.
Looking ahead, it’s likely funders will have fewer resources to help charities after they come through the crisis. Foundations have – thankfully – scrambled to provide crisis funding, but investments have taken a huge hit, so they may be less able to provide the same levels of support in future. Corporate foundations may find that their funding drops as the economy struggles post-crisis, and there will be many, many claims on government funds.
Another charity client has highlighted a possible shortage of volunteers. Many charities have volunteers aged over 70 who are currently staying at home, and it’s not certain whether they will return, now that routines and confidence have been broken. New types of volunteering – digital, remote – will provide benefits, but traditional volunteering roles such as staffing charity shops, may fall substantially.
At Cranfield Trust, we have the support of over 1,200 commercial sector volunteers around the country. They work with us as advisors, mentors and consultants. Now that we’re operating entirely remotely, we have great capacity to support charities, as volunteers can work with charity clients anywhere. We have strong demand from charities but are keen to raise awareness of our free support and reach more charity leaders and managers with our services.
To find out more and to see how we can work together, please contact us via our website www.cranfieldtrust.org, email [email protected], or call 01794 830338.
26th March 2020
An update from our CEO, Amanda Tincknell, CBE, 'Keeping up with Covid':
In the last two weeks, all our lives have changed more than we would have imagined possible before Covid-19. Now, many of us are under great strain, with worries about family and friends as well as the pressures of adapting to a highly challenging work environment.
At Cranfield Trust, we’re mobilising to help. We’ve moved to deliver our support remotely, and as we work to understand the key challenges our charity clients face, we’re adapting to ensure that we can get the right advice and support in place to help charity leaders through the next few months and beyond.
Advice on cashflow forecasting:
To help answer our charities’ questions, we’ve published advice on cashflow forecasting and have financial specialists available to advise on carrying out a rapid financial review.
Funders are being flexible, but charities worry that even with flexibility of support for current activities, fundraising for the future is very difficult. Without knowing what new projects and services will be possible, it’s very difficult to apply for funds – everything is short term. Many charities have immediately lost money from income generating activities, such as pay as you go services and letting venues for events and activities.
Supporting leaders under pressure:
Amongst our contact group of 100 charities, some leaders feel that they are ‘deer in the headlights’, torn between their family and work pressures, while others are calm and pragmatic about what is truly possible at present. We are continuing to provide consultancy support remotely, and have experienced mentors available to work with leaders coping with change
Rapid action planning:
Our Cranfield Trust on Call service not only provides charities with a helpful conversation from an experienced consultant and, if needed, can continue the conversation by providing them with a critical friend or mentor that they can work with to stabilise and plan ahead. Moving to work from home, staff off sick, self-isolating, or needing to be at home with children means that just understanding what resources charities have available is difficult. With charities ready to think ahead, we’re helping with action-oriented planning to think about how to sustain services and organisations in the next few months.
We’re also seeing charities struggle to stay in touch and maintain relationships with service users and volunteers without normal face to face contact, and are concerned that access to services will be difficult for people who need personal contact. Charities are also reporting difficulty in understanding government guidance: there’s lots of information but it’s not always clear. With instructions to stay at home likely to harden into legislation, we need understanding, support and clarity from government.
Cranfield Trust is continuing to provide support to many organisations – whether through mentoring, telephone advice or more sustained support. Our volunteer group of over 1,200 commercial sector professionals are ready to help, whenever needed, and in whatever way is most useful. Keep in touch with developments on our website.
18th March 2020
A message from our CEO, Amanda Tincknell, CBE:
During the coronavirus outbreak we are keen to do everything we can to help frontline charities keep going. Managing through a crisis is challenging and, although the demands of maintaining services and meeting needs are growing, supporting colleagues and managing organisations are critical issues too.
At Cranfield Trust, we’ll be using all our resources to help. We have a register of over 1,200 volunteers: management specialists who can provide advice on critical management issues such as continuity planning, managing finances and supporting staff. They have knowledge, ideas, networks and time to help.
We are working with our volunteers, staff team and networks to provide support remotely, but personally, to help charities on the frontline.
At this time, we believe that many charity leaders and managers will be feeling under extreme pressure to deliver services, while struggling with worries about the future. We will do our best to provide information and advice, to listen to your concerns and to help as much as we can. We will be here throughout the crisis and beyond, to support charities.
We have a fantastic team of staff and volunteers who are ready to help. Please get in touch, we look forward to working together.
Amanda Tincknell, CBE
CEO, Cranfield Trust