Beth Clarke circle

Beth Clarke

Former Programme Manager, CAF Resilience

Charities Aid Foundation

Why aren't charities more resilient?

4 May 2020

It’s very difficult to measure in advance whether a charity is resilient. The only way to know for sure is when they are put to the test.

Not many of us would have thought a global health pandemic would be the test – re-imagining services, dealing with increasing demand and facing acute pressures on funding.

The current situation underlines what we saw several years ago when we launched the CAF Resilience programme – many smaller charities in the UK might do great work, but they have a pressing need for financial investment and some management support to help them to be resilient, able to react, flex and pivot under stress. 

The scale of demand for our programme at the time revealed that many charities were already struggling. Covid-19 has sadly laid bare the extent of the issue.

Funding for core costs

So why aren’t charities more resilient? Many rely on a combination of public generosity and grant applications. The public (and many grant funders) do not like to fund what we call core costs and expect the maximum funding possible to be spent on direct delivery of their work. 

Whilst completely understandable, the unfortunate and unintended result is charities that are not adequately invested in, often with minimal leadership and a lack of infrastructure. This means that even a small to medium-sized crisis such as one key person going on long-term sick leave can bring them to their knees. A crisis such as Covid-19 can lead straight to closure.

What does a 'good' charity look like?

Speaking to charity donors, when I ask what a good charity looks like, I typically hear responses around strong safeguarding, good governance, transparent reporting and prudent financial management.

These are the exact ‘core costs’ or ‘overheads’ that donors are often reluctant to fund. It has always been clear to the sector that if we value reliable quality work being carried out by charities, we need to invest in the organisations as well as the activity. 

This was the premise of CAF Resilience, which is drawing to a close later this year. The programme saw small charities receiving significant funds but, unusually, only to be spent on freeing up their capacity in order to improve their organisational strength. Alongside this came tailored expertise from consultants who helped them on their journey.

It wasn’t just about providing ‘core costs’ but going even further, providing funding that allows charity leaders or key staff to step back from busy day jobs and be self-reflective and adaptable.

"Our two years with CAF has made us more confident to be proactive with our funders, and have a true funding partnership; quite simply, we are more courageous, and this has paid off in terms of being able to negotiate an honest plan with our funders.

The work we have done with our team on building a common future vision and nurturing hidden talents has also enabled us to meet this huge challenge head-on, and be up and running with a whole new offer within the first week of lockdown. Our CAF support has put us ahead of the game."

WILD Young Parents

The hypothesis of the programme was that if we provided this support over two years, we would see cases that showcased the impact these kinds of donations can have. The programme is still running but the ones who have completed it have found it to be incredibly beneficial to their long-term ability to efficiently deliver great services to the people who need their help. 

Many have managed to adapt to this current crisis well and have been more confident in having to think fast and make necessary changes, having used their time on the programme to streamline their services and focus on what’s important to them. We expect to release a full report with finding by the end of this year.

“BRIC has been able to respond to the crisis immediately by moving all face-to-face support to phone and video connection with families. This is thanks to the participation in the programme which has establish a clearer strategy where the whole team understand our focus of work and decision-making processes for the Board of Trustees”

- Building Resilience in Communities (BRIC)

A plea to funders

Funding a charity’s resilience should never be optional. If you believe in their work and trust them with your donation, then allow them to use their funds to invest in themselves as well as to deliver vital services. Over the long term I believe this makes your donation go further.

For more information about what smaller charities need in terms of funding please take a look at this report on how funders can suppport small charities