Welcome to our October 2020 Monthly Briefing

This month:

  • 1 in 8 charities spending 3 working days a week on grant applications
  • Four ways charities can engage their trustees in a digital age
  • Blended and flexible working: what are they and what’s the difference?
  • Fundraisers & community champions recognised in Queen’s Birthday Honours List

New research shows that 1 in 8 charities are spending 3 working days a week on grant applications

Fundraising UK reports that one in eight charities have been spending three working days a week or more on grant applications since March this year. This is according to research by funding platform Brevio.

This, it says, equates to over £20,350 a year in potential staff time per charity and a collective cost of £442 million annually for the sector.

Despite this, over half (51%) of those who responded to Brevio’s online poll of 1,002 third sector organisations, have seen a decrease in their success rate compared with last year. Potential reasons include an increase in competition for grants (stated by 23%) and fewer human resources to complete grant application forms (12%).

Of those who responded, over three quarters believe that the grant making system needs to be modernised, with 80% saying they do not believe the current grant application system is operated on a level playing field.

Many believe the current grant application process works in favour of well-established charities (57%), those with well-connected people on their boards, and those in large cities.

In addition, one in eight (12%) feel the grant making process discriminates against organisations led by people from ethnic minority backgrounds; and 13% also feel it discriminates against organisations that focus on issues/causes that concern smaller parts of the population.

Of those who answered, nearly half of respondents (44%) believe there should be a simplified and centralised application system, similar to UCAS for university applications, to avoid having to repeat and gather similar details for every application.

Commenting on the findings Marcelle Speller OBE, founder of Brevio, said:

The pandemic has brought into sharp relief what funders and charities have known for years: the current grant model soaks up too much valuable time, energy, and ironically, money. With many charities now battling for their very existence, it’s clear we need to grasp the nettle and begin to create a level playing field that will help brilliant organisations across Britain do what they do best in their communities and beyond.”

Four ways charities can engage their trustees in a digital age

This year, Trustees Week runs from November 2nd until November 6th and is designed to showcase the vital work that trustees do. In a study of the UK charity sector, the Guardian reported that the most common reasons why charity trustees don’t get involved in fundraising are as follows:

  • They don’t feel comfortable asking for money
  • They don’t have any money to give
  • They already give their time and expertise

Charity Digital (previously Tech Trust) wishes to debunk those myths. In this article they explain why it’s important to get everyone on board, and secure buy-in starting from the top:

How to engage your trustees

For many charities, trustees can make a difference both internally and externally. They are your in-house experts. They work to support the charity’s strategic aims and help ensure good governance. Outside of their formal roles, charities can benefit from a trustee’s expertise and network.

The first step in working to engage your trustees is to make sure that they are comfortable with your ask and your strategy.

1.) Engaging with trustees during fundraising
The Guardian reported that many trustees don’t feel comfortable soliciting funds. This doesn’t mean that they can’t be involved in charity fundraising efforts.

Ian McLintock, Founder of Charity Excellence Framework said that trustees don’t have to ask for money. Simply inquiring as to “who in their own network might be engaged and help arrange an introduction or invite them to visit?” could lead to a significant donation. Trustees could also help boost fundraising by sending personalised emails and attending events.

2.) Help your trustees to develop their personal digital brand
This is a big one. Having visible trustees on your board means getting them active on social media.

The NCVO has key tips for developing trustee social media accounts. First, trustees should develop their own presence. They should also understand that this isn’t a day-to-day media commentary, but a strategic one. As part of having a social media account, trustees should also follow relevant people, accounts, and campaigns.

Second, trustees should get into the habit of promoting charity fundraising events and campaigns. Ideally, trustees should not only be in-real-life charity ambassadors but digital ones too.

Finally, the NCVO recommended that trustees know their role in a communications crisis. Trustees should be familiar with emergency social media policies. This could mean sharing press commentary or offering views if appropriate.

3.) Building up digital capacity in your trustee board members
We’ve previously highlighted how digital success can come from trustee board members. In order to engage trustees at all levels, charity leaders should bear in mind the digital experience of members.

The New Reality study by Julie Dodd hammered home the importance of having digital capacity at the trustee level. She found a couple of stand-out issues. She concluded that “sector leadership wasn’t demonstrating vision or bravery in digital transformation”, and that “trustees are failing to support proactive change.”

Part of the challenge in building digital capacity on trustee boards is that trustees tended to be a bit older. The Charity Commission cited that the average age of a trustee member was 57. Age diversity seemed to be an issue.

Installing younger trustees is a good solution. Charities like the Young Trustees Movement promotes trustees under 30. The charity believes that younger trustees challenge the status quo and introduce more diversity of thought into trustee boards.

4.) Appoint a digital champion to corral your trustee board members
Appointing a digital champion to your trustee board formalises how important technology is. A digital champion is someone who is really mindful of digital transformation and how digital can work for their charity. It is someone who is dedicated to driving digital change.

Once appointed, your champion can bring together your digital strategy. They may also help promote the use of social media, online fundraising, and bring other trustees on the journey. Engaging with your trustee through the common purpose of being more digital can help charities affect change.

Since trustees only meet a couple of times a year, promoting the use of digital tools encourages trustees to engage with each other. Basecamp, Google Documents, and Zoom are all free to use. Helping trustees communicate means that decisions aren’t limited to infrequent meetings.

Blended and flexible working: what are they and what’s the difference?

Charities are looking to adapt to the “new normal” of work through blended and flexible arrangements with staff around when and where they work. Freelance journalist and podcaster Joe Lepper examines what these terms mean and explores the key differences.

The popularity of remote working has rocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic as charities look to ensure their staff can adhere to social distancing measures.

This has seen charities reduce the time workers have to spend on public transport and in an office environment. It has also seen those delivering frontline support to beneficiaries pivot help online, especially through digital video conferencing tools.

But flexiblility in the workplace is an ethos that was already gathering momentum prior to the current health crisis. This is largely a result of workers looking to improve their work/life balance, especially as many juggle increasingly expensive childcare commitments.

There are marked differences in how employers are adopting home and remote working. Among the main strategies are blended and flexible working.

Here we look at the blended and flexible working definitions, what they entail and how charities can benefit from deploying these strategies across their workforce.

Types of flexible working

There is a vast array of different types of flexible working as charities look to cater for the working needs of their staff.

This includes job-sharing where two people do one job and split the hours as well as part-time workers.

Flexitime is another form of flexible working where workers can choose their start and end time of the working day to fit in with other commitments (such as nursery and school pick up). For example, this could mean working 10 am to 4 pm instead of 9 am to 5 pm.

Compressed hours are another popular option. This is where staff members can work their usual full-time hours but over fewer days.

This can include compressing weekly, monthly or even annualised hours. In an annualised working hours arrangement, employees and employers can agree to working core hours with flexible hours added in. This can benefit employers too as the agreement could include increasing hours worked at busy times.

Phased retirement is another flexible approach, for older workers. This allows workers to retire when they choose through a staggered approach. For example, it could involve moving to part-time work before retirement.

Working from home is another key way charities can offer flexibility to workers. During COVID-19 this has been a necessity for many workers, with offices closed due to social distancing.

Blended working definition

A home working arrangement need not be black and white, of either working at home exclusively or always in the office. Instead, many employers are considering blended working arrangements. But what is blended working?

This is where staff combine working from home and in the office in a way that is suitable for both employers and staff. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the case for blended working, for example as staff look to ensure they are socially distant and wear masks.

One study shows that as many as eight out of ten staff may switch to a blended office arrangement.

Benefits of blended and flexible working

The benefits of being flexible around childcare commitments can’t be underestimated as a high proportion of workers in the charity sector have family commitments. The pandemic’s acceleration of home and blended working, in particular, has shown many parents the benefits of flexibility to their work/life balance. One study has found that a mere 13% of working parents want to return to the “old normal”.

Digital resources

Technology is at the heart of the drive towards blended and flexible working and ensuring digital leaders have the tools they need. This includes arranging meetings easily through video conferencing products such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

Workflow and collaboration tools such as Slack and Trello have also made flexible working easier, to ensure that those working from home can communicate with their managers easily as if they were in the office with them.

Flexible working trial period

When considering flexible or blended working arrangements charities are advised to adopt a flexible working trial period to test different ways of working that can suit both employer and employee.

To avoid a dispute between charity and staff member it pays to ensure there is good communication throughout this trial and the charity informs the employee of its decision.

Documenting the arrangement and new working pattern is also advised to ensure it is fair and both sides can benefit.

Acas and flexible working

Dispute resolution organisation, Acas provides useful information around flexible working and blended working requests made by charity staff. Following their resources can help avoid any disagreement.

This is important as by law workers have the right to make a flexible working request if they have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks, are legally classed as an employee and have not made any other flexible working requests in the last 12 months.

Once a request is made employers must make a decision within three months. Parents, carers and workers returning from maternity are among those with a right to put in a flexible working application. The Acas Code of Practice on flexible working requests is an especially useful guide.

Fundraisers & community champions recognised in Queen’s Birthday Honours List

Hundreds of voluntary and community sector figures have been recognised in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours list.

The list publication was delayed from the usual June date to allow for nominations for people who played crucial roles during the pandemic.

1,495 people receiving an award this year, 72% of whom were people who have undertaken outstanding work in their communities.

David Maguire MBE from Glasgow repurposed his restaurant to provide free food to thousands of NHS workers at the hospital, vulnerable people and school children. Jolene Miller BEM, from Stockton, County Durham, volunteered as a paramedic to help her former colleagues while also continuing to work as a train driver, and Henry James BEM, from Edinburgh, who designed, created and delivered PPE for healthcare workers, using 3D printing technology.

90-year-old Margaret Payne was recognised for raising over £400,000 for charity by walking the equivalent of a mountain up and down her stairs. Jay Flynn, a virtual pub quiz master from Darwen received an MBE for his fundraising work during the pandemic.

  • 740 women were recognised in the List, representing 49% of the total.
  • 13% of the successful candidates come from a BAME background.
  • 6% of the successful candidates consider themselves to have a disability (under the Equality Act 2010).


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