Beth Clarke

Beth Clarke

Programme Manager, CAF Resilience

Charities Aid Foundation

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6 February 2017


When I worked for a youth charity, developing personal resilience was considered essential to helping ensure bright futures for young people. A resilient person is one who has the mentality to take challenges in their stride. For individuals, resilience is measured by the speed with which they can bounce back from psychological stress. It’s easy to see how instilling this in someone who is starting out in life equips them with a coping mechanism to handle whatever life throws at them.

I’ve heard it said there are four ingredients to personal resilience:

  • Awareness – Noticing what’s going on around you
  • Thinking – Being able to interpret the events that are going on in a rational way
  • Reaching out – How we call upon others to help us meet the challenges we face, because resilience is also about knowing when to ask for help
  • Fitness – Our mental and physical ability to cope with the challenges

So why is it that when we talk about resilient charities the conversation often turns exclusively to finance?

A resilient charity is more than just one with a healthy income and reserves, although these are important. It also goes beyond managing to keep the lights on during difficult times, although that too can be an indicator.

Resilience may be harder to define for organisations. But to me it’s about being able to quickly recover from setbacks. It’s the type of charity which can anticipate the challenges ahead and be prepared for them. A resilient organisation is one which is streamlined, flexible and responsive.


The challenges to the UK’s charitable sector in recent times are well documented. But essentially they boil down to an economic climate that makes individuals feel less wealthy so less likely to give; a government reducing financial support to charities; and an increasing need for charities’ services from those across society who are most vulnerable.

Small to medium sized charities are particularly squeezed by these pressures. CAF’s social landscape survey from 2015 found that a third of charities (32 per cent) dipped into their reserves to cover income shortfalls in the previous year; whilst at the same time the demand for their services was growing. The overwhelming majority had seen an increase in demand over the past year, and were anticipating a further rise the following year. Even more worryingly, among smaller charities (those with an income less than £1m per year), one in five (21 per cent) chief executives said their organisation was ‘struggling to survive’. The picture has not become any brighter since.



Here at Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), our finance and fundraising services are used by many thousands of charities, so we’re very aware of the pressures on them. The main focus of our strategic consultancy work is to help charity leaders build and maintain a resilient organisation.

From our experience, the four qualities of a resilient person highlighted earlier can apply to charitable organisations too:

  • Awareness – Is the organisation aware of the context they are working in, not just locally but nationally, politically, economically?
  • Thinking – Are their trustees and leadership team making time to talk about these challenges and able to creatively determine the best way out or are they solely focussed on day to day operational issues?
  • Reaching out – Is the charity well networked and both able and willing to get support or work in partnership with others?
  • Fitness – And finally, are they ‘fit’?  This is where it makes sense to consider if they have enough income and from a range of sources, and how healthy their reserves are.


To explore resilience more deeply, CAF is piloting a new grant and professional support programme. Through this initiative, ten small to medium-sized charities whose work has a problem prevention focus, will receive grant funding, bespoke advice and training for two years. In return for this support to build their resilience, the selected organisations will form a learning community, working with us to encourage further philanthropic giving that supports this goal.

Ultimately, we hope this will inspire more major donors to support charities in planning for the longer term; to strengthen organisational health and help secure the continued delivery of services that people depend upon.


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