5 Ways Coronavirus Will Change the Charity Sector

1. Digital Service Delivery Will Be Big

Clare Cook is CEO of Soundabout, a charity that empowers people with severe and profound learning disabilities through engagement with music. Cook told me that while she and her team were appalled at the impact of the pandemic on the people they help, they saw it as an opportunity to try new things. She and her team quickly developed virtual events on Facebook. They’ve gone from seeing eight people plus careers in face-to-face group sessions to reaching a cumulative total of 12,000 via Facebook live broadcasts and doubling followers on the platform.

Plan Ahead

Don’t innovate for its own sake. Build on what you know works with users. Lynn Roberts, assistant director of digital and innovation at Action for Children, counsels charities to scale tried and tested approaches. When things improve, digital teams are likely to be busier than ever, and there are lessons to be learned from the crisis. Roberts says, “We haven’t all suddenly got bigger digital teams, or more hours in the day, so I think the real challenge is keeping focus so we can get things done at pace.”

2. Fundraising Will Reinvent Itself

Individual giving has declined over the last few years and COVID-19 could be the moment when fundraising changes forever. Ayman Agabani, Muslim Hands’ communications manager, explained that the pandemic has radically changed how they operate, pulling outdoor ads until 2021 and postponing events whilst increasing investment in PPC, social ads, and live-streaming. Agabani advises charities to become “digital and mobile-first” to take advantage of opportunities post-crisis.

Plan Ahead

Your donors’ needs are changing rapidly and will shift again post-crisis. Learning about their behaviors and needs, whether it’s through user interviews on Zoom or a closed Facebook group, will strengthen relationships and ensure they stick with you after COVID-19.

3. Remote Work Is Here to Stay

Many charities will ask why they invested in expensive offices, and more employees will have seen the benefits of flexible working. Wayne Murray, strategy director at Audience, says, “Not only is it viable, we switched it overnight. If we can switch our entire working methodology in a few days, what other things can we change if we put our minds to it?”

Plan Ahead

Engage staff by asking them what aspects of remote working are good, and what could be improved. Think about how your recruitment and policies need to change if more candidates expect to work remotely, and how you could draw on this wider talent pool.

4. Senior Management Teams Will Understand Why Digital Matters

Those difficult conversations about support for digital projects will get easier. Georgie Wishart, senior digital officer at Mayhew animal welfare charity, believes that “this period of ‘digital-only’ is going to be very valuable to digital teams in showing senior management just what a key role digital plays in their organization, and why digital needs to be included as part of the organizational strategy.” Wishart thinks that digital budgets could be increased long term and online will become a key consideration in projects.

Plan Ahead

Your senior management team will be leaning on you for support with digital. Make the most of this opportunity to be seen as the expert and win their trust. Offer to share insights and guide them on the pros and cons of different approaches.

5. Charities Will Work at a Different Pace

The sector has moved fast to deal with the crisis by necessity, but could this have an impact on how we work in the future? Laura Dawson, director of data and technology services at The London School of Economics and Political Science, points out that “often, as a sector, we are accused of being overly bureaucratic and collaborative in our decision-making. We have proven that we can respond quickly, and extremely creatively.”

Plan Ahead

Dawson advises charities that “celebrating the successes achieved on the back of fast, agile, needs-driven decision-making could also transform the ways in which charities operate.” Look at how you can recognize and reward this behavior change so that your charity grows in confidence with agile working and quick decision-making.

About the Author

Zoe Amar is the principal of U.K.-based Zoe Amar Digital. It is a social enterprise and digital agency that helps charities and other nonprofits lead change with confidence, developing strategies that increase their resilience, income, and influence. She is on the board of TechSoup’s U.K. partner, Charity Digital.

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