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Charities’ pandemic-driven innovation & digital growth expected to last through 2021

Melanie May | 8 January 2021 | News

Charities expect to continue building on the innovation they have shown during the pandemic with the increasing shift towards digital and collaboration expected to last and keep growing during 2021.
New research from the Pro Bono Economics Covid Charity Tracker, produced in partnership with Charity Finance Group and the Chartered Institute of Fundraising, shows that there has been wide-spread innovation and invention through the charity sector as a result of Covid-19.
Fundraising, service delivery and day-to-day operations have moved online, with three quarters (77%) of charities having made greater use of digital and technology during the pandemic, and two thirds (67%) innovating to deliver services remotely.
The majority, 7 in 10 of the charities surveyed, want to make more services digital and deliver new services remotely over the next 12 months. Over half (54%) want to increase their use of technology and digital within their back office functions.
Collaboration has also risen up the agenda. 50% of charities say they are looking to collaborate more with others in their sector, up from 30% in August last year. 
Anya Martin, Senior Research and Policy Analyst at Pro Bono Economics, said:

“Voluntary and charitable organisations have a long history of overcoming adversity. 250 years ago, they rose to the world-altering challenge of the Industrial Revolution. Following the last financial crisis, the sector pivoted towards new sources of earned income when other sources of funding fell away. This crisis is no different.
“Much about the months and years ahead are uncertain and the funding gap is a flashing red light on the sector’s dashboard. Yet a determined focus on collaboration and digital innovation means it is possible the charity sector emerges from the pandemic more closely knit and more efficient in the long-term – ultimately able to help more people, more effectively.”

Among the challenges faced by charities, the report also highlights that while 35% wish to enhance their relationships with business, previous surveys have revealed that these have struggled during the pandemic with just under a third (28%) of charities reporting a decline in corporate giving in 2020.
In addition, one in four charities (25%) anticipate it taking at least two years for income to return to pre-Covid levels, and 81% expect Covid to negatively affect their ability to deliver their objectives over the six months ahead.
Daniel Fluskey, Head of Policy and External Affairs at Chartered Institute of Fundraising said:


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“The story of Covid through 2020 for the charity sector has been one of huge challenge, but also of resilience, flexibility, and innovation. As we look ahead to 2021, we will need to learn the lessons of what worked last year and embed some of the flexibility and innovation that we’ve seen in fundraising activity. But we also have to be realistic that the charity sector will start 2021 smaller than it was in 2020 and that a full ‘recovery’ is unlikely to be seen this year.”

Roberta Fusco, Director of Policy and Communications at Charity Finance Group also called on the government to add its support, saying:

“Charities and social change organisations of all sizes have shown huge amounts of resilience, adaptability and decisive action through 2020. The imperative to keep rapidly adapting will continue through 2021. The capacity to remain flexible and adaptable relies on financial sustainability, which is under serious threat for many.
“Charities have stepped up to deliver and adapt at pace and have pulled on all the levers at their disposal, but they still face 2021 with hope – now government needs to do the same in their support of never more needed charities and not give up on the millions of beneficiaries who rely on the public benefit they deliver.”