Sector positivity: How leaders are remaining cheerful in a crisis

Over the past three months, as the UK settled into a nationwide lockdown, charities have been forced to close shops, cancel and/or postpone fundraising events and furlough a large proportion of staff. Charities across the UK have been faced with individual challenges, ranging from delivering services in line with social distancing rules, to quickly getting to grips with technology to aid remote working. A large number of charities have launched emergency appeals as income levels have drastically dropped – by as much as half in some cases. Insolvency is a threat to many organisations as demand has dramatically outstripped resource.

But, in between the negativity and emotional turmoil, charities have been busy looking for positive outcomes, too. Charity Times spoke to charities – large and small – about some of the reasons to remain cheerful.

Alzheimer’s Research: “We’re engaging with our corporate partners more than ever”

The impact of Covid-19 has meant the way charities engage with their corporate partners has changed. But Alzheimer’s Research claims that while it predicted a drop in engagement, it has experienced the opposite. “With many employees working from home or furloughed, we’ve been inundated with requests from our partners, asking for ideas to boost morale,” the charity’s head of communications, Tim Parry says.

“We embraced the virtual world, organising a series of online weekly ‘Wednesday Wisdom’ sessions, using Microsoft Teams. We’ve opened these up to all our corporate partners, as well as other companies and our wider supporters, allowing us to bring people together.

“This is the first time we’ve organised a regular series of virtual sessions, open to all our corporate supporters. But it’s already proving to be hugely beneficial for people during these difficult times as it has given them a unique opportunity to build their own understanding of an important subject. We’re now looking at how we can continue in the future as an easy, effective and low-cost way to rally the support of our incredible corporate partners.”

Quaker Social Action: “Our reputation is creative and responsive – I’m so proud that we’re demonstrating that right now”

QSA runs ‘Down to Earth’ – a telephone helpline for people who are bereaved and living on low incomes in the UK. It has been faced with the challenge of how to increase capacity to respond to an expected demand for information and support given the sad likelihood of significant loss of life during the pandemic.

In response, the charity’s CEO, Judith Moran, explains that it took a four-fold approach: collaborating with partners and peers within this area; adapting online resources for the new environment (and launching them as quickly as possible); building capacity to address an increased demand; and seeking additional funding.

“This approach has meant that we’re at the heart of accurate and timely information sharing, we’ve already got practical support online for people who need it and we’re almost there in terms of being able to respond to increased demand.

“QSA has a reputation as a creative and responsive charity – I’m proud that we’ re demonstrating that right now, as our way of stepping up to these deeply sad times.”

Cats Protection: “The launch of our online e-learning kits for kids are giving parents a helping hand whilst raising awareness about animal welfare”

Cats Protection has launched a range of online campaigns to engage with beneficiaries, including ‘Moggy Modules’ – learning tools to help keep kids engaged, happy and educated during lockdown. The online resource packs include cat-themed worksheets, quizzes, creative writing exercises and ‘ feline facts’ linked to cat welfare needs.

The charity’s education team manager, Shelly Brown, explains how the team quickly devised the modules to give parents a ‘helping hand’, while teaching about animal welfare. “Children learn best and stay focused longer if they enjoy what they are doing. Home schooling can be fun for families,” she says. “Our Moggy Modules are designed to give parents a helping hand, while teaching children about better animal welfare and encouraging them to be better stewards of our environment for years to come.”

Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis: “We have daily coffee mornings and have ramped up our online emotional support”

As one of the Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis (OMS) team developed coronavirus symptoms early in March, the charity team quickly had to become fully digital with all employees working remotely.

“To keep employees connected and motivated, the team has daily coffee mornings, project catch-ups and team meetings weekly,” the team says. “OMS has helped its community thrive online with advice about hosting virtual meetings, flexible fundraising ideas and practical advice from store cupboard recipes to spirituality.”

Wessex Heartbeat: “We had to close our care home, so we opened it up to NHS staff instead”

Heartbeat House is a Southampton-based care home, which was built to help charity Wessex Heartbeat support families who need to be near their loved ones at Southampton General hospital. As a result of Covid-19 and rules around social distancing, it was forced to close, but the charity quickly decided it would instead be used for NHS staff working on the frontline.

“Heartbeat House has 25 bedrooms and is less than a two- minute walk from the hospital. Not only is this ideal for the staff to get some hugely deserved respite but it means the medical staff can answer most emergencies within a matter of minutes,” the charity’s CEO, John Munro explains.

“From this process we’ve learned that the priority of our patients and families is our utmost importance and it is crucial not to make any knee-jerk reactions during this time so we can work hard to come out of this stronger.”

Charity Finance Group: “It’s so pleasing how our members are embracing digital”

As a membership body for UK-based charities, Charity Finance Group runs a number face-to-face events for its members. Charities from across the UK gather at the group’s conferences, many of which have had to be cancelled or postponed. But CFG chief executive, Caron Bradshaw, explains how charities are becoming ‘much more comfortable’ with the digital environment.

“I can see it really transforming who we can reach and giving flexibility to our members in ways that were really hard to crack,” Bradshaw says. “Up until now, it’s been really difficult to make our online offerings as compelling as face-to-face. I’m so pleased with how my team have switched to digital delivery, but also how much our members have embraced it too.”

CLIC Sargent: “Our social workers have been running virtual CrossFit exercise sessions and online art classes”

CLIC Sargent’s support teams work in collaboration with the NHS, offering financial, practical and emotional support to families after their child is diagnosed with cancer. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, CLIC Sargent’s social workers were faced with the challenge of changing their support from being mostly face-to-face in hospitals and out in the community, to offering more digital support than ever before.

But the charity says social workers have excelled, “taking more video and phone calls, taking part in Live Chat through the CL IC Sargent website, and also getting to grips with using technology to run remote group sessions, including virtual CrossFit exercise sessions and online art classes”.

British Horse Society: “The passion and compassion that we have seen from our employees and across all our stakeholder groups – especially our volunteers – has been nothing short of brilliant”

The British Horse Society, which aims to educate and raise the standards of animal welfare, usually runs a large number of events, many of which have been cancelled or postponed. “The passion and compassion that we have seen from our employees and across all our stakeholder groups – especially our volunteers – has been nothing short of brilliant,” the charity’s director of membership, Emma Day, says. “People have put in longer hours, juggled home schooling, taken on new tasks and responsibilities.

“We have been reminded of the importance of transparent communication. People generally understand that bad things happen, but it is how an organisation responds that will be the lasting memory. How do our members feel about the support they are getting?”

Kaleidoscope Plus Group: “We have a huge opportunity to develop new and innovative ways of working, which is exciting”

Mental health and wellbeing charity, Kaleidoscope Plus Group has spoken out about the mental health challenges faced during the crisis and an increased demand for its services. But the charity’ s CEO, Monica Shafaq explains that the pandemic has proved “we can be creative and resourceful when we need to be”.

“If anyone had asked six months ago if our charity could move its entire operation to remote working whilst continuing to deliver services ‘virtually’, we would have said no.

However, when the time came, we felt a duty to be there for our communities who need us more than ever now, so we made it happen – and happen well. We, as leaders of charities, have a huge opportunity to develop new and innovative ways of working, now and well into the future, which is exciting.”

Smile Train UK: “Our ‘Big Virtual Cuppa’ taught us the importance of embracing change; we’ll be incorporating a digital element into our campaigns for years to come”

Every April, Smile Train, the children’s charity, launches its annual fundraiser, the Big Smile Tea Party. The event encourages friends, family and colleagues to come together over a cup of tea and some freshly baked goods, whilst raising awareness and funds for children with clefts globally. However, in the face of the crisis, the charity arranged for the event to run digitally.

The charity’s fundraising director, Ian Vallance, says the ‘Big Virtual Cuppa’ was a “great success”, gaining the involvement of famous faces and people from all over the UK. “The Big Virtual Cuppa has taught us that it’ s important to embrace change, that the online space is full of opportunities to explore, and that you’ re never too far away to make someone smile.

Following the incredible response that we received to The Big Virtual Cuppa, we will definitely be looking to incorporate a digital element into our Big Smile Tea P arty campaigns in the years to come.” ■

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