2021: The charity leaders' to-do list

As we say goodbye to a challenging year for the sector, we outline some of the key areas of innovation that will need to remain on leaders’ to-do list in 2021.


Here we outline 10 of the key areas of innovation, amid a troubled 2020, that charity
leaders’ will need keep on their to-do list in 2021 – which is set to be another challenging year for the voluntary sector.

1. Increasing use of chatbots

Artificial intelligence assisted chat bots will increase in use among charities in 2021 as they look to continue offering socially distanced support digitally. Chatbots are particularly useful amid the ‘new normal’ as beneficiaries can be swiftly and efficiently signposted for help. This leaves frontline staff free to dedicate their time to the most challenging cases, as chatbots deal with simpler but still essential questions and enquiries.

These can be developed through a charity’s own website, but also used with messenger social media platforms, such as WhatsApp. Among charities to already develop chatbot support amid the pandemic is Versus Arthritis to help those with arthritis affected by Covid-19. Called COVA, this aims to ensure people get relevant health information quickly and compliments its existing services.

2. Invest in collaboration and workflow tools

Many charity workers have already swapped their office desk for a kitchen table or spare room. Home working has ballooned in the sector as charities ensure staff adhere to social distancing guidelines. This trend is set to continue into 2021, even if a miracle vaccine is available. As staff juggle work and family commitments, next year will see an increase not only in-home working, but blended and agile working arrangements where staff can combine working from home with the office.

Increasingly innovative digital workflow and collaboration tools will continue to be vital to this home working boom. Earlier this year we showcased ten of the key homeworking resources to use, including Microsoft Teams and digital whiteboard tools for meetings such as Miro.

3. Become experts in video conferencing

Many charities have already successfully pivoted their events online, including conferences and staff away days. This is becoming the new normal for charity event management and will continue into 2021.

Video conferencing tools such as Zoom have been integral to this trend and will be used by many more charities, looking to ensure their networking, service delivery and annual meetings can still take place. Using Zoom for conferences in particular will increase rapidly in 2021. Through Zoom’s paid for plans hundreds of participants can take part, to ensure that large scale events can continue amid the pandemic. Other features include breakout rooms, to further recreate the traditional structure of in-person conference events, which charities are more used to.

4. Step up the fight against cybercrime

A proliferation of home working has also seen an increase in attacks on charities online by criminals. According to recent research, a third of charities have suffered a cyberattack during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In addition, more than 600 charities reported being victims of fraud and crime since the start of the pandemic in 2020, amounting to £3.6bm in losses.

2021 will see criminals become even more sophisticated in their attempts to scam charities. As a result charities will need to be even more savvy to guard against cybercrime. Skurio, Avast and F-Secure are among the security tools and organisations Charity Times showcased last summer, to help charities combat cybercrime.

5. Be anti-racist
Charities work to tackle racism, both in their own ranks and wider society has grown markedly in 2020. Just this month the NCVO revealed that Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) staff earn 20% less than non-BAME colleagues. The figures have been revealed by the umbrella body as it looks to tackle what it calls its “structurally racist organisation”. Many other charity organisations are looking to take action, including Christian Aid and Versus Arthritis.

Next year will see many more charities follow suit, to ensure they are offering opportunities for all people in their recruitment and support. To help charities improve in 2021, there is a raft of organisations, such as the campaign groups #CharitySoWhite, as well as tools and resources to help charities tackle racism and ensure fairness.

6. Prove the value of your work

Charities are having to improve how they report on the difference their work is making to people’s lives. This is vital to attract large funding awards. In October, it emerged that environmental charities in particular are struggling to communicate the value of their work to funders.

Latest direct debit sign-up figures suggest charities also need to do more to prove the value of their work to individual donors. These show that the volume of new direct debit sign-ups for donors dropped by around a quarter during the summer this year, compared to the same period in 2019.

There is a raft of impact reporting resources to help charities, from the free Impactasaurus tool to the National Lottery funded Happiness Pulse.

7. Create engaging and authentic content

Charities in 2021 will have to continue offering fresh, innovative content to appeal to potential donors and supporters. This includes using video and editing software as well as social media management platforms to schedule and publish content when charities want them.

Adding authenticity to content has been key in 2020 and will continue to be vital over the next 12 months. Many charities are using their supporters and staff to produce engaging content. Among those to do this successfully in recent months is Shelter chief executive Polly Neate, who handed over her Twitter feed to the charity’s project manager Roli Barker as part of the Share the Mic campaign.

8. Stay on top of health data

From vaccine production to stopping the spread of infection, charities have had to become health experts amid the pandemic. Staying on top of health data ensures charities can pinpoint communities most in need and where services can best be used.

Fortunately, there is a wealth of free sources of data for charities to access to react and plan around the latest health information during 2021. Among the most useful is Covid-19 data for charities and funders, produced by New Philanthropy Capital. This and other sources of free health data were showcased by Charity Times earlier this year.

9. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate

Amid shrinking resources it makes sense in 2021 for charities and charitable organisations to work together more frequently on service delivery and to generate funding opportunities.
In November a Funders Collaborative Hub launched to encourage funders to work together to support Covid-19 programmes.

Another example of effective collaboration was the launch this year of Our Frontline, where Samaritans, Shout, Mind and Hospice UK came together to deliver emotional support for NHS and emergency services staff dealing with the pandemic.

Charity leaders can also work together to offer support for their own mental health. The importance of a charity chief executive WhatsApp group for a number of charity leaders was highlighted during a discussion at this October’s Charity Times Leadership Conference.

Mergers may also be necessary to ensure the survival of some charities, who share common aims. Already this year Sparks and GOSH Charity as well as Dementia and Young Dementia UK have announced mergers as they look to meet the impact of Covid-19 and secure the long-term future of their services.

10. Be more innovative in volunteer recruitment

The NCVO has urged charities to do more to encourage family volunteering as the sector looks to encourage more people to give up their time for good causes. Family volunteering is where family members can include parents and children volunteering together for the same charity.

It can also see people encourage family members to volunteer for separate charities in need of help. With many older volunteers unable to give up their time due to protect themselves from Covid-19, charities need to explore more innovative ways to attract supporters to help into 2021.

According to nfpSynergy the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated an existing trend of increased volunteering among young people. It found that volunteering rates among under 30s had risen from 30% to 40% in the three months to August. ■

    Share Story:

Recent Stories

How is the food and agricultural crisis affecting charity investment portfolios?
Charity Times editor, Lauren Weymouth, is joined by Jeneiv Shah, portfolio manager at Sarasin & Partners to discuss how the current pressures placed on agriculture and the wider food system is affecting charity investment portfolios.