Charities might need to abandon medium-term strategy due to pandemic uncertainty, NCVO warns

Charities might need to “move away from long- or even medium-term strategy” as the UK deals with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, a new report warns. 

The annual Road Ahead report from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, published today, examines the trends and themes that voluntary sector organisations face over the coming year. 

The report says demand for charities’ services has dramatically increased over the past year because of the economic and social effects of the pandemic, and that trend is set to continue. 

Sustained uncertainty means organisations will need to ensure that they can be as responsive and adaptable as possible. 

“This means moving away from long- or even medium-term strategy, both as we grapple with the emergency response and rebuild society anew in the future,” it says. 

The report recommends that charities conduct a detailed analysis of the external environment to develop “an agile approach with a strong, clear purpose, good insight and an ability to make and execute decisions quickly”. 

It states that the voluntary sector’s role in the recovery from the pandemic, and the renewal that could follow, “cannot be underestimated”. 

It says: “Beyond the pandemic, charities and volunteers have an important part to play on issues ranging from devolution to climate change. 

“Yet, at a time when the sector has never been more needed in terms of supporting people and communities, it has never experienced greater challenges in terms of reduced income.”

The report says that, if the rollout of the coronavirus vaccines goes according to plan, the UK economy could bounce back relatively quickly. 

But it warns that charities will nevertheless still face significant financial pressures in the coming year. 

“In 2021, the energy, creativity and ingenuity of the sector will be put to the test, with charities needing to invent new ways to help people in need,” it says. 

“2020 saw many funders – including trusts and foundations – doing their best to rise to the challenge with emergency support for charities affected by Covid-19. 

“This could continue this year, although it’s difficult to predict how long funders can sustain current levels of support. 

“Nonetheless, many will likely continue to transform how they work in response to the pandemic, with funding, evaluation and monitoring requirements adapting as funders and grantees work together to develop new ways of doing things.”

The report recommends that, where possible, charities should diversify their income streams and collaborate with sector partners where this would result in efficiency savings and better outcomes for service users.  

Other areas that could raise issues for charities include perceived indifference from government to the sector as a source of solutions to problems, the possibility of another referendum on Scottish independence, and far-reaching changes in working patterns.

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