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Working differently: the state of the charity sector at the end of 2020

Working differently: the state of the charity sector at the end of 2020

Working from home is probably the defining experience for many in the charity sector from March 2020 onwards. But the past nine months have seen many changes to how fundraisers and their colleagues work, manage teams, and communicate with each other and with supporters. And expectations have been challenged and changed.

Working life isn’t going to be the same again, even if many of us do drift (or race!) back to working mostly in shared offices because that’s what we know, feel comfortable with or sense that is how we are at our most effective. But this month, as part of UK Fundraising’s editorial theme of “working differently”, we’ve been musing on the differences and opportunities in working that have been presented and in many cases grasped by people and organisations in the charity sector.


Blackbaud’s Fundraising Focus: Looking Beyond COVID-19

Blackbaud Europe's Fundraising Focus download

Blackbaud this month shared its analysis with UK Fundraising on how five experts on the UK charity sector are adapting as a result of the coronavirus. From capitalising on new donor behaviours to the importance of diversity and inclusion in your organisation, you can download Fundraising Focus: Looking Beyond COVID-19 for free.



Funders collaborate

Grantmakers grasped the opportunity to move faster, to cooperate and some questioned how their roles could perpetuate current gaps in provision or lack of diversity in understanding how best to target their funding.

Others produced collaborative tools, and others banded together with related organisations for the first time.



Charities, and more importantly, groups of charities collaborated to transform existing fundraising campaigns and events into those that worked in the new conditions and which offered something of value to supporters and the public.

Peter Lewis, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Fundraising, has highlighted a few:

“London Marathon turned into the 2.6 challenge, Macmillan’s Coffee morning generated more than £6 million without a real cup of coffee being passed to anyone from a different household, Islamic Relief’s volunteers turned real life cakes into digital fundraising success, and small charities across the country engaged their supporters in new and innovative ways.”


The dislocation of 2020 has given rise to new ideas and new companies. It has already led to a number of startups in the fundraising and giving sector. Some were no doubt the product of an evolution of an idea, others were the result of redundancy or even unexpected free time available through furlough.

Interesting and ambitious startups that we have spotted this year include:

Roundups – round up and donate pennies as you spend

Felloh!the payments platform for good which cuts costs and does good with every payment.

PyroTalks – advances the not-for-profit sector by importing specialist knowledge through a series of online training, talks & their flagship NanoConference


Support – furloughed fundraisers

Fundraisers are a friendly bunch, and share advice and support at events and online. But this year that has never been more valuable and more evident. There are so many examples of this that it might be invidious to highlight one, but I’ll do so because of its scale and value to the many fundraisers who were placed on furlough and/or experienced job insecurity and redundancy.

The Furloughed Fundraisers Chat group on Facebook is an outstanding example of fundraisers supporting each other in hard times. We covered them in October:






Wide-scale working from home helped many charities recognise that some working practices that had been debated or called for for years turned out to be far easier to adopt, implement or at least trial.

Why limit your ability to recruit staff to those who live within physical range of your office? To those with the income or physical abilities to travel? To those neurodiverse and disabled people for whom 9-5 office work was not appropriate?


Diversity, equity and inclusion

The year brought some long-overdue self-criticism and soul-searching to the charity sector, with several campaigns from within the sector to bring about change. They all demonstrate a hunger to work differently.

#ShowTheSalary was a social campaign by a group of people determined to persuade charities, recruitment agencies and job boards to specify the salary or salary range on offer for a job. They pointed out that “salary secrecy is a discriminatory practice that perpetuates wage gaps.”

#CharitySoWhite began in August 2019, stating “we want the charity sector to take the lead to root out racism.” It continued and expanded its activities in 2020. The impact of the killing of George Floyd and the prominence of the Black Lives Matter campaign globally also resulted in these issues being debated and in some cases acted upon within the charity sector. The National Trust for example released a report detailing the direct and indirect links to colonialism and historic slavery of many of its properties and collections.


Doing what we can with less

The charity and fundraising sector are continuing to face growing demand with reduced or reducing funds and resources. This predates COVID19 in many cases, but it has also driven innovation and surprisingly rapid and mostly digital adoption of new tools and ways of working. Equally it has driven many to exhaustion so this pace is not sustainable.


Meetings, fundraising events, how to learn

‘Blended learning’ is surely here to stay. As well as having to transfer almost all fundraising activity to online (not ignoring the impact of phone and direct mail of course), fundraisers also found that their only access to learning was now online. Physical training courses became impossible and were replaced by online courses, in an interesting variety of formats. Free, paid-for, short, full-day, and with varying degrees of interaction and quality.

Talking to fundraisers and trainers, plus conference producers, it is certain that many such training courses and events will henceforth have a hybrid quality of both physical and online content. Why would you not? A course used to mean travel, a day out of the office, and incidental costs. Online training saves time and money for delegates, and, if recorded, lets them take the course at a convenient time for them, or in bite-sized chunks.





Howard Lake is a digital fundraising entrepreneur. Publisher of UK Fundraising, the world's first web resource for professional fundraisers, since 1994. Trainer and consultant in digital fundraising. Founder of Fundraising Camp and co-founder of Research massive growth in giving.

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