2022: The charity leaders’ to-do list

Following months of Covid-19 lockdowns, 2021 saw a partial return to normality for many charities. Mass participation fundraising returned, such as the London Marathon, as did a raft of other in person events, conferences, and meetings. Face-to-face support also resumed for beneficiaries.

But while much of charities’ organisation and fundraising was successfully pivoted online during the health crisis, the easing of social distancing guidelines has not meant an end of digital innovation among charities.

Here we look at some of the key areas of innovation that charity leaders should put on their 2022 to-do list. We will look at the emerging workplace arrangements and employment issues to consider as well as the policy trends to keep in mind.

Explore flexible working arrangements

Home working was a necessity amid the pandemic due to social distancing. But even though many charities have reopened their headquarters and local offices, remote working looks to be here to stay.

During 2021, an increasing number of charities have been looking at how they can offer staff flexible, hybrid working arrangements, which combine office and home. This trend will continue into 2022 and beyond, as more charities see the cost benefits of reducing office space and leases. Research in 2021 found that charities looking to switch to hybrid working can save more than £15,000 on utility costs, such as heating and lighting for offices.

Increasingly staff will demand such arrangements, with many already telling their employers they prefer the work life balance of combining home working with the office.
Charities to already make the move include the RSPCA, which in September this year announced it is putting its main office site in Southwater, West Sussex, on the market. This followed a call from the animal welfare charity’s staff to offer more flexible arrangements.

Four-day weeks are another flexible working arrangement likely to become more popular in 2022. These arrangements allow workers to enjoy a longer weekend to spend with their family. Charity organisations to make this move already include Community Integrated Care, which last August introduced a four-day week for more than 300 staff, and the Directory of Social Change.

Offering popular flexible working options to staff will have a particular relevance for 2022, as the charity sector tackles an ongoing recruitment and retention crisis, post-pandemic.
A reduction in foreign workers due to Brexit, as well as historically low levels of pay are among factors in the crisis.

Burnout following the Covid-19 pandemic is another. The crisis took its toll on the mental health of frontline workers in particular, as they battled to meet increasing demand for support. In September 2021 a coalition of care charities and housing associations warned they are facing the “the most acute recruitment and retention crisis that we are aware of historically”.

Meanwhile, a report by consultancy Lark Owl revealed that workload pressures, as the charity sector continues to recover from Covid-19, are leading to “unsustainable” levels of burnout.

Further evidence of a recruitment and retention crisis emerged in 2021 from CharityJob, which found that the average number of job candidates for each position had fallen from 100 to just 24. Among action charities can take in 2022 is to ramp up their mental health support for staff, as well as improve pay.

Research by the Living Wage Foundation in September found that 17% of third sector workers earn below the real Living Wage. This is the same rate as five years ago and is set to worsen into 2022, due to declining charity income amid the pandemic, warns the Foundation.

Hybrid everything

Focusing on hybrid arrangements should not stop at working practices. Combining digital with face-to face activities will continue apace into 2022 across a raft of areas of charities’ organisation, from fundraising and events and to supporting beneficiaries.

For example, an EY Foundation report into the charity’s use of digital to help young people find work and education opportunities found that just over half (51%) of beneficiaries believe a hybrid model of support is the most effective.

Meanwhile project management agency Massive suggests that hybrid fundraising events will increase in popularity into 2022. This mixture of physical and digital in fundraising events will give charities a chance to broaden their reach online as well as keep existing supporters engaged.

Get involved in ‘levelling up’

The charity sector’s reliance on government funding and grants has reduced markedly over the last decade. But pockets of central government funding remain and in 2022 this is set to be dominated by the government’s levelling up agenda.

Charities should not be complacent they are a shoo-in for grants aimed at improving life and prospects for disadvantaged communities across the UK.

There is a concern that the bulk of funding is likely to be used for capital building and local infrastructure projects rather than the “social infrastructure” benefits charities can offer, says Charities Aid Foundation chief executive Neil Heslop.

“We urge the government to collaborate to give charities a greater voice, which will be key to addressing the health and social inequalities seen across the country,” he says.

Already the NCVO is among charity sector organisations to bolster their lobbying around ‘levelling up’. In October 2021 it announced a link up with conservative think tank Bright Blue to improve its relationships with centre right politicians.

Persuading ministers of the value of charities to levelling up has also been cited by the Civil Society Group, a charity sector wide lobbying and partnership collaboration set up in November 2021 and involving more than 50 charitable organisations and umbrella groups.

Brace yourself for more scrutiny

Charity involvement in the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda, must be coupled with a heightened scrutiny of transparency and governance, according to a report by ten Conservative MPs presented to the party’s conference in September.

Called Trusting the People, this called for greater investment in the Charity Commission to ensure public funds “are not being siphoned away by organisations but go into real change”.

Already sector leaders are urging charities to ensure they are prepared for heightened scrutiny of their work. The Association of Charitable Foundations chief executive Carol Mack is urging charities to ensure they keep “good records” of their decisions to ensure all their work relates back to their objectives.

Further scrutiny is expected, around an ‘anti-woke’ agenda among some Conservative Party MPs. Already in 2021 they have sought to take charities to task for seeking to address historic links with slavery and tackle racism.

Over the last year the Charity Commission investigated and then rejected a complaint made by a group of Conservative MPs against equality charity the Runnymede Trust over its criticisms of a controversial race relations report. This report had claimed it could not find evidence of institutional racism in the UK.

The Commission has also looked into the National Trust, over the charity’s publishing of a report into the slavery links of its properties. But no action was taken following the regulator’s investigation.

There are fears that the next Charity Commission chair could push this ‘anti-woke’ agenda further.

In summer 2021 then Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said he had instructed recruiters to appoint a chair that would “refocus charities” amid criticism that the sector had “a vocal minority” that is “seeking to burnish their woke credentials”.

A legal challenge to government interference in the recruitment of a new chair has been launched by the Good Law Project.

The government had appointed former banker Martin Thomas, who has experience on charity boards, to the role in December 2021. His comments to MPs, who were scrutinising his appointment, had indicated that he believed ‘woke or anti-woke terms’ had no place in regulation.

But within days of his appointment and shortly before he was due to start, Thomas resigned after it emerged he has been the subject of misconduct complaints at a charity he had chaired, Women for Women International UK. It has also been widely reported that he is a friend of Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Questions around government influence in the selection of the next Charity Commission chair and around scrutiny on the sector look set to continue into 2022.

Don’t stop being anti-racist

This year saw charitable bodies increase action to tackle racism. The NCVO, for example, has ramped up its governance arrangements around diversity. Meanwhile a raft of long running foundations and trusts have sought to address their historic links to slavery and racism.

But there is still a long way to go to ensuring the charity sector is committed to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and evidence is emerging that this momentum is in danger of waning.

A report released in July 2021 found that one in five charities are claiming that lack of financial resources is hindering their efforts to improve EDI.

Also, a damning report by C&E Advisory Services, published in September 2021, found that charities are now behind businesses in promoting anti-racism.

This report said that “it does seem ironic that the non-profit sector, which is admired for its mission and values orientation, is faced with such a clear comparative deficit” in its response to anti-racism.

Charities are urged in 2022 to ensure EDI does not drop off their to do list.

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