The voluntary sector needs to embrace the positive changes it has made in response to the coronavirus crisis and avoid sliding backwards once it is over, according to the chief executive of the think tank NPC.
In a blog, Dan Corry said that charities, government and funders will be faced with a choice in the wake of the pandemic: to be bold and take risks, or to be cautious and play it safe.
Corry said good charities would undoubtedly close as a result of the virus, and many of the worst hit will be community charities serving the people most affected by coronavirus.
Those that do survive would be “ravaged”, he said, having lost staff, dropped good programmes and depleted their reserves, while funders will also struggle to offer grants.
But he added taht there had been positive effects of the pandemic.
“The immediate focus on need, on getting things done and getting them done fast, has led to adaptation that would take decades in normal times,” he said. “Collaboration is happening in ways so rarely seen, as the real focus on urgent need trumps any other consideration.”
He said the pace of innovation had rapidly increased and a breakthrough in the use of digital technology had been forced upon the sector, which he said had been “mostly for the best”.
And Corry added that the virus had highlighted crucial social issues around inequality. But there was a question about whether any of these benefits would last in the long-term, he said, arguing that this would depend on whether charities and funders had an appetite for change.
He said it was “unlikely we can fully go back to how things were before coronavirus”, but there was a chance that charities could “retreat to caring about themselves” and forget their innovations.
The government could also put the sector back in its box and independent funders could go back to offering less core funding and not working cooperatively with other groups, he said.
Or, said Corry, it was possible that everything could change, with charities building new partnerships and embracing “the chance to rethink how they are formed and how they can best deliver on their missions”.
This could lead to organisations working at greater pace, with more innovation and more closely with the communities they serve, governments becoming better partners and the public becoming more enthusiastic about “trying to address the challenges that so many charities have been going on about for ages”, Corry wrote.
The third option, he said, was that there would be a mixed world, leading to a more varied sector in which some organisations wanted to continue collaborating and embracing new approaches, while others were more keen to operate in a safe space.
“The difference in where we go will be largely determined by the appetite of charities, government and funders for embracing real change and progress,” he said.
“Will they be cautious and shelter in their respective safe spaces? Or will they be bold and take risks?”
Charities and funders needed to think through their strategies, said Corry.
“The sector itself needs to embrace the positive change and fight to stop a slow slide backwards as much it can,” he added.