Monday 23 September 2019
‘Failure’ is often regarded as the third rail of the charity sector – but what do we actually mean by it, why should we embrace it and how can funders help charities learn from it?
It has been clear since March that the coronavirus pandemic would create huge and immediate challenges across the voluntary and community sector. Some organisations have not survived the ensuing crisis, but many others have managed to adapt and (for now at least) continue to support the people who need them.
Over the last couple of months, Traverse has been bringing together VCS leaders from a range of organisations across the sector to reflect, share and explore on what challenges the crisis has exposed, how their work has changed in response, and how to plan for different for different versions of the future that might transpire over the next few years.
What has become clear from these conversations, however, is that, regardless of the future that unfolds, there are “near certain” priorities that will be crucial for VCS organisations to focus on to prepare for the coming years.
As with many sectors, a shift to higher levels of remote working is anticipated to the be the new norm and might hold distinct advantages for VCS organisations (for example, reduced overheads). However, this also presents several challenges that VCS organisations will need to negotiate. Not least how to be mindful of the risks that remote working carries for some staff’s wellbeing, digital fatigue and disengagement, and how to stay on top of and make best use of emerging technologies.
The pandemic has accelerated shifts towards digital engagement and volunteering. This has supported the participation of some groups better than others (for example, younger people versus higher levels of digital illiteracy and exclusion among older people). Short-term solutions to this have included intergenerational programmes where younger volunteers have supported older people, and online volunteer fairs to help keep people connected, but VCS organisations need to start thinking longer-term about what volunteering will look like in the future. If digital, organisations need to consider how to translate the human and social connection appeal of face-to-face volunteering to the digital realm, and what training and platforms will be needed to support volunteers.
The pandemic has thrown open relationships between VCS organisations, self-organising community groups, local authorities and national government, leading to examples of new or closer partnership working and opportunities for collaboration in the future. Seizing the moment and building on these new working relationships could represent a chance for VCS organisations to break out from ‘survival mode’ and establish a new narrative of clear strategies, solutions and asks to emerge from the crisis. However, it is clear that VCS leaders will need support with this while attentions are necessarily focused on overcoming service delivery pressures and appetite for risk is mediated by an uncertain, ever-changing context.
There is no doubt that focusing on these priorities in the current context will not be easy for organisations but, regardless of what transpires over the next few years, Traverse heard that confidence in negotiating the road ahead remains high due to leaders’ confidence in the flexibility, adaptability and ingenuity of the staff and volunteers that underpins the work of organisations.