We have been fortunate this year to bring our whole staff group together for Christmas for the first time in two years. It was wonderful – and it reminded me that our work starts and ends with relationships.
I fear some organisations see working remotely as the holy grail we’ve been searching for: it takes out travel time, is easy to arrange, gets a good turn-out and saves money and carbon. What’s not to like?
But the work of our sector in general, and small charities especially, is about people and relationships. This is true of funders, too, if we want to move from the role of an imposing benefactor to a partner with a shared purpose.
2021 has been a tough year – a full year dominated by Covid-19. And just when we hoped we had maybe seen the light at the end of the tunnel, Omicron arrives to usher in 2022.
Those of us not on the front line have had the luxury of being able to adopt a pick-and-mix approach between online and what is now referred to as IRL (“in real life” for the acronym challenged – a new one to me too!).
However, the small charities that we fund reach people who have needed human contact more than ever during Covid-19.
The most effective charities have stepped up their provision to meet new and different needs – from basics like food, to more complex challenges such as responding to the emerging mental health crisis, the escalating needs of people leaving prison, refugees coming across the channel or domestic and sexual abuse.
As we move into 2022 charities, like the NHS, will have to step up again to design their equivalent of the “booster” to sustain people through a difficult Christmas and beyond.
We have heard consistent reports from small charities concerned about burnout and staff wellbeing, particularly among small charity leaders, who have had to carry their organisations through a time of intense pressure for a period of almost two years since the pandemic struck.
This pressure, intensified by the uncertainty of funding over the last two years, has resulted in small charities struggling to recruit and retain staff; long service being a necessity for a model built on relationships.
And few charities will be getting much time off or respite for Christmas – always one of the most challenging times for people experiencing complex social issues.
If you are lucky enough to be in a position to take a break, it doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference. It might be providing unrestricted funding that is flexible and doesn’t present additional barriers for small charities if you are a grant maker. Or investing in building the resilience of small charities if you work with small charities.
If you are a large charity, then the way you collaborate with small charities can have a huge impact.
And, of course, there is much more that the government can do: from improving commissioning and procurement practice to listening to the voices of specialist charities on wider policy agendas that affect the people small charities serve.
So, as another year draws to a close, when you come back let’s reconnect with those we serve, and those we work with; to continue to support and strengthen a sector founded on deep and meaningful relationships.
Happy Christmas and best wishes for a new year lived in real life.
Paul Streets is chief executive of Lloyds Bank Foundation