As the turbulent economic climate increases pressure on small charities, Beth Williams looks at what makes a charity resilient, how challenges are impacting the sector, and why CAF has launched a new pilot programme.

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.

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 a difficult economic climate; 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 2017 found that 54% of charities have used or will need to use their reserves to cover income shortfalls; this figure was higher in small charities. 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), more than one in four (28%) chief executives said their organisation was ‘struggling to survive’.

The picture is not becoming any brighter.


Here at Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), we have over 90 years’ experience working with charities and the major donors and corporates who support them. We know that our donors want to create a greater impact with their giving; they want their gift to have a lasting impact both now and in the future.

In addition, our experience working with charities means that we are very aware of the pressures on the third sector. 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 focused 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 from a range of sources, and how healthy their reserves are.


To explore resilience more deeply, we’re piloting CAF Resilience, a new grant and professional support programme. Through this initiative, ten small to medium sized charities in the UK, 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.


We've already received a fantastic response of 321 charities applying to participate in the programme and we're offering private clients the opportunity to donate through their CAF Charitable Trust or CAF American Donor Fund. Partner with us to be part of this exciting initiative to help support small charities and enable real social change to the charitable sector. Please visit our CAF Resilience web page for more information.

If you are interested in finding out more or would like to donate, please contact your Private Client Manager, call our team on 03000 123 028 or email us. Thank you for your support and we look forward to hearing from you.

Lines are open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm (excluding bank holidays).

I donated to CAF Resilience [through my CAF Charitable Trust] as it is a unique opportunity to be involved in this type of programme, with the potential for significant positive change for the charity sector. It was very easy and hassle-free to donate - my Private Client Manager arranged everything.

Paul Fry, CAF Private Client

Resilience CTA

Help steer the future of small charities.

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Interested in supporting CAF Resilience to help small charities become more resilient? Call us on 03000 123 028 (lines are open Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm except bank holidays).

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