Exclusive: One in four staff facing redundancy at Comic Relief

Fundraising charity must save more than £5m in running costs to cope with Covid-19 fallout, interim chief executive Ruth Davison says

Comic Relief is undergoing a consultation process to make 25 per cent of its staff body redundant as the charity seeks to manage the financial fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, Third Sector can reveal. 

The fundraising charity is looking to save more than £5m in running costs following the impact of the Covid-19 crisis, which is predicted to result in an overall income loss of more than 12.4bn across the charity and not-for-profit sector.

In March, Comic Relief’s independent advisory group made the “difficult decision” to divest 75 per cent of the organisation’s portfolio into cash reserves, in order to honour existing commitments to service users and front-line charities, interim chief executive Ruth Davison explained.

“By transferring our portfolios into cash we were able to ensure that 100 per cent of the commitments we had made would be honoured, and we would not default on anyone who was relying on funding that they needed more than ever,” she said.

“However, this impacted the ability of Comic Relief to generate the same levels of financial return from our investment portfolio, which supports the majority of our operating costs.”

The charity anticipates that 60 members of staff will be made redundant following the consultation, which began in early July and will end in August.

The restructure will reduce operating costs by more than £3.2m and will impact staff across all levels of Comic Relief. Davison made the decision to resign her permanent role as executive director of impact and investment, and move onto a wholly interim contract to create an additional vacancy. 

An additional £1.8m in savings will be made as a result of wider cost-cutting measures. 

These will include the reduction of office space, with the charity giving up one of its office floors at ‘Charity Towers,’ 89 Albert Embankment, in recognition of the ongoing remote working trend.  

Structural changes at the organisation will invest greater time and effort into fundraising, particularly in digital and remote channels, Davison said. 

“We have to cut our costs but grow our fundraising – like everyone else we are projecting this will be more difficult in the current environment and we will struggle to raise more than we have raised in previous years,” she explained. 

The success of the charity’s Big Night In telethon, delivered “at incredible pace” in partnership with  BBC Children in Need shows such models are achievable, she said, and are a testament to the dedication and resilience of the Comic Relief staff. The charity will also continue to build on its diversity and inclusion strategy, having distributed £3.4m of ring-fenced emergency funding to BAME-led voluntary sector organisations. 

Throughout this difficult period for the charity, Comic Relief will remain fully committed to honouring and supporting its charitable projects and commitments in the UK and internationally, Davison said.

“I feel personally responsible for the staff, who I know are very worried about losing their jobs in this economic situation, and many of whom are my friends. I feel accountable for them and worried for them. But ultimately we have to do what is right for the charity beneficiaries and for our funded organisations,” she said.

“We are beholden as fundraisers to ensure that every penny raised is as impactful as possible. These are incredibly painful changes for all of us: but they are the right thing to do to ensure we maintain donor confidence going forward, and deliver as much money to the front line as possible in both the immediate and the longer term.

“People are relying on us more than ever.”

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