Update, 6 May 2020: Note this article was written 6 weeks or so ago. I think we’re now moving into phase 2 of the crisis. If I was to update the list of issues for this second phase, it would be to bring forward the existential questions about organisations’ role and relevance: the importance of collaboration and partnership, and the possibility of merger or even wind-up. I think these are going to become increasingly urgent for many as we reach the summer months.This situation has transformed the context for our work as a charitable funder, across all of our diverse areas of interest. All of our existing grantees will be affected and our selection of new funding opportunities has to reflect the different world we now inhabit.

We’re trying to work out what kind of support is needed in this unprecedented crisis. We have finite resources – how and when should we deploy them?

In the interests of openness and collaboration, I’m sharing some of our rough thinking as we try to answer that question. Not pretending to have any special insight, so happy to hear other people’s thoughts and suggestions.

It seems likely that we are entering a period of between maybe 6-18 months when measures imposed on society to control the virus – and the impact of the virus on our workforce and population – will transform the context in which we are living and in which civil society organisations (CSOs) are operating. And beyond this period, the world will continue to be very different from the era that preceded it.

We’re working on the assumption the crisis will have three phases. We are thinking about what CSOs will be doing and what kind of help funders can give at each phase. What is the optimum way that the William Grant Foundation as a small, independent and flexible funder can add value?

The three phases, as I see them at the moment, are:

1.  Reaction and response – likely to last for another 6 weeks or so?

2.  Adaptation and survival – estimated to be for the following 6-18 months

3.  Recovery and resilience – from late 2020/2021, and thereafter

Given our finite funds, when are our resources likely to have most impact? Do we want to front-load expenditure or keep resources for later phases? What are the implications for how we work and make decisions?

Below are some of the issues and challenges I can foresee for CSOs. Of course the unprecedented nature of the situation makes it inherently unpredictable, so this could be way off. And the lists below won’t even begin to cover the nuances and detail of what it will feel like in real life for the many diverse organisations in our sector.

We’ll do our best – along with other funders – to track emerging intelligence about needs and opportunities and use it to inform our decisions.

For another take on the three phases of this crisis, see: https://www.philanthropy.com/article/3-Phases-of-Nonprofit-Needs-/248294/

And I’d also recommend NPC’s evolving analysis of need and the potential for funders to make a difference: https://www.thinknpc.org/resource-hub/coronavirus-guide/

Phase 1: Reaction and response

As the shock of the virus and its knock-on effects hits, CSOs are scrambling to work alongside the state to meet society’s immediate needs and also adapt their own way of working.

Existing organisations and networks are mobilising their capabilities and capacity to respond to these needs, but new informal, often hyper-local, networks of support or mutual aid are also emerging. E.g. see https://covidmutualaid.org/.

CSOs’ priorities will be:

·   to protect their staff and support them to remain in touch and part of the team

·   deal with sickness absences, cover for critical functions, and decide what will happen to staff whose roles are no longer feasible

·   support transitions for beneficiaries as normal services are curtailed

·   connect and collaborate with other relevant organisations and services

·   share intelligence and help inform decisions about needs and solutions

·   continue operating as effectively as they can while making arrangements to wind-up some activity, refocus resources where things can still happen or quickly improvise new modes of delivery

·   manage obligations – to suppliers, clients, delivery partners, funders, freelance & sessional staff, landlords etc.

·   implement back-office workarounds and back-ups to keep the show on the road

·   assess the financial implications – controlling costs, forecasting income and expenditure and determining how long they’ve got until critical decisions need taking

·   manage communications and expectations


This means organisations will need to focus on:

·   enabling remote working and digital communications – internally at first, and then with beneficiaries

·   capturing, analysing, using and sharing data about needs and environment

·   enabling effective co-operation and sharing of resources with other orgs or agencies, locally or thematically

·   business continuity – financial processes, data, HR, financial (re-)modelling and planning

·  accessing state support and emergency funds

·   logistics – moving about, reaching people, processing donations and offers of help, essential tools and materials

·   safeguarding, rights and protections

·   communications – esp. digital, social media etc.

·   understanding what’s coming next and developing tactics for the next phase


Phase 2: Adapt and survive

In this phase, restrictions are in place to manage the spread of the virus – these might involve cycles of relaxing and tightening restrictions over an extended period of time.

Communities and organisations will need to develop a relatively stable base infrastructure and way of working which will enable them to maintain – and in many cases expand – services to support people to stay well and make the situation as bearable as it can be. From this base, they will need to innovate, experiment and learn what’s needed and what works. Some of this activity will be carried out by the kind of informal networks that emerged during phase one, which are likely to move towards greater degrees of formality and organisation.

For some CSOs, this phase will be about temporarily closing down and suspending some or all activities, hopefully in a way that enables them to be resumed when the situation eases in future. This may possibly involve short-term resumption of activity as restrictions ease and then tighten again (though this will likely be very challenging to achieve.)

CSO’s needs at this point are likely to revolve around:

a)  For those operating / expanding:

o (in addition to many of the same concerns as in the first phase…)

o Digital innovation/transformation – development of online services, apps etc.

o volunteer recruitment and management

o recruiting, training new staff or re-skilling/up-skilling existing staff

o new funding opportunities and ways of building a supporter base

o supporting working patterns that account for family and caring responsibilities

o working around rolling staff absences

o developing agile, self-managing teams/workers

o data collection, management and analysis

o collaboration – between orgs and across sectors – to work together and to share examples of successful practice

o experimenting, testing and iterating new services and activities

o listening and consulting / user-led design of new solutions

o team culture / employee wellbeing

o scenario planning – what will (or could) the post-Covid-19 world be like?

o Advocacy, policy development and campaigning – to shape a better future when the situation eases

b)  For those entering a period of suspension and inactivity:

o Mothballing and securing premises and equipment – or releasing assets for use by others

o Maintaining leases, licences etc. to enable smooth re-start

o Furloughing staff but maintaining connections

o Redeploying staff to other orgs or agencies, or enabling furloughed employees to volunteer

o Supporting employees’ professional or personal development during downtime

·      Maintaining online services or presence – e.g. information-gathering/sharing

o scenario planning – what will (or could) the post-Covid-19 world be like and what (if any) role will we have in it?


Phase 3: Recovery & Resilience

In this phase, as the virus is controlled, hopefully by development of a vaccine, we emerge from the period or ongoing tight controls on movement and society.

For CSOs that have been active throughout, they will need to adapt again to the new environment.

Those that have had to suspend some or all activity will need to regroup and decide if and how they fit in the post C-19 world. Some organisations will struggle to revive themselves, no longer be as relevant, or recognise that their mission is best served by merging with another which has emerged stronger or further advanced in its evolution to reflect the emerging context.

CSOs will need’s will include:

·   Strategic review and planning to reflect the changed environment

·   Re-organisation and restructure / merger or wind-up

·   Loss of previously experienced staff and extensive recruitment to fill vacant / new posts

·   Re-establishment of culture, team solidarity

·   Implementation of new ways of working – implications for premises, equipment, IT, skills etc.

·   Re-establishing severed relationships – with service users, volunteers, partners, funders & commissioners etc.

·   Re-engaging members and supporters or building/consolidating a new supporter base

·   listening and consulting / user-led design of new solutions for the ‘new normal’

·   Continued monitoring and analysis of environment and sector landscape – how are others adapting and changing? Who’s still around? What’s new? Where do we fit?

·   Collaboration – locally and thematically – to support joined-up working and complementary activities

·   Advocacy, policy development and campaigning – to influence emerging ‘new normal’ legislation, regulation and norms

·   Reflection, evaluation and research into the C-19 period and what can be learned from it to prevent/survive future crises, and for continued improvement

·   Fundraising for the future / building reserves

·   Retaining agility/flexibility to adapt to still changing environment during global recovery

·   Doubling-down on efforts to tackle climate change