How Charities Innovate in Times of Crisis

Earlier this month, we hosted a live webinar on our sister site, CharityConnect, focusing on all the amazing ways charities have adapted during the Covid-19 crisis. The webinar covered everything from fundraising and volunteer management to donor engagement and service delivery. Needless to say, it was a busy hour! Nearly 70 people tuned in to listen to our amazing panel of speakers; many of whom are facing similar obstacles themselves.

As our first virtual meet-up event, we were absolutely thrilled to be able to jam-pack our panel with three amazing charity professionals, providing a diversity of insight and experience. Our panel included:

Didn’t get a chance to tune in? Not a problem! We’ve cherrypicked some key advice to help inspire you to think critically and creatively when it comes to roadblocks.

Here are the top 4 lessons we learned about innovation in times of crisis from our guest speakers.

1. Always be transparent

Transparency is about more than just communication—it’s about being honest. We tend to want to sugar coat things to keep up positivity. But according to Krystal, donors want to see the truth. So if something isn’t working, say so.

If you’re at a loss for what to do next, ask your supporters and beneficiaries for their thoughts. You’d be amazed by what an outside perspective can achieve.

A perfect example of this is FoodCycle. When the pandemic hit, they weren’t sure what to do next. Rather than skirting around the issue, they were upfront with their volunteers and asked for feedback on how to adapt their service. Not only did this help them come up with innovative fundraising activities, but it kept their volunteers engaged. Being honest builds trust, and it helps retain a network of dedicated supporters.

2. Be strategic, yet flexible

The pandemic has changed our world in a substantial way. That’s why it’s important to be forward-thinking while still leaving room for flexibility as we adapt to the ‘new normal’.

Phase one was all about reaction. Phase two is the adaption stage. Wayne’s organisation has already been working with charities to plan the next 3–6 months, focusing specifically on standing out amongst the influx of charitable appeals. His advice? Strip back on all the activities you can no longer do—this will free up time and headspace for you to get creative with next steps.

He recommends focusing on two key things: how your beneficiaries have been affected by the pandemic and how you can adapt your services. Don’t get stuck in the ways of the past, because they’ll only hold you back. And if this crisis has taught us anything, it’s that you always have to leave room for adjustment.

3. Take advantage of digital tools

If you can’t meet in person, consider shifting to a virtual space. Thanks to apps like Zoom and WhatsApp, communities can still come together to fundraise and collaborate.

Before Covid, FoodCycle was cooking up three-course meals for vulnerable people, serving them in community halls and churches. But once in-person interaction was off the table, they adapted. By speaking to their community, they learned people were keen to take part in virtual cooking classes, and that they’d even pay to do so. This evolved into fitness sessions and even joint events with their partners focusing on a whole host of topics and activities. Now they have a whole new template to build off of!

4. Have you thought about collaborating?

Your partners are such a valuable resource. By leaning on them when times are difficult, you can pool your talent and come up with creative solutions. This is especially important when funds are a bit more difficult to come by. In fact, a lot of the Covid-19 funding that’s popping up right now is looking at organisations that can partner to save the wider community and not just small pockets within.

Krystal’s advice is to focus on those collaborations. That’s what individual donors and major donors want to see. They want to know you work well with others and that your impact is not just limited to the community you serve, but the wider community as well.

You asked, we answered

The virtual session ended with a 15-minute Q&A. Below is a transcript of several key questions that were asked. The answers have been edited slightly for context and clarity.

It’s important to recognise digital exclusion and poverty. What are your views and solutions to that?

Carly: At FoodCycle, our guests are in the vulnerable category, and we never collected their data before. When we knew we had to change our service, we tried to collect whatever data we could. One thing we always thought was that our guests didn’t have access to a phone or the internet. But what we found out is a lot more of them have access than we thought. So we realised our website never really served our guests properly. Now, we’re evaluating the website so we can make sure our guests can actually find the services they need

It seems that the crisis is causing us to face the assumptions we have made about our users. Any ideas about how can we disrupt & discover other assumptions we’ve made?

Wayne: I’m all about disruption. It’s an interesting time within fundraising and communication because our approach to fundraising hasn’t really changed for the last 15-20 years even though society at large has. And what’s happened over the last decade is that we’re pulling different combinations of levers on the same fundraising machine and not acknowledging that machine is broken, especially in terms of the volume-driven model that big organisations were built on. But rather than people looking forward towards transformation and drawing a line the sand, people are looking back. Then the pandemic came along, set that machine on fire and then it exploded. What’s come out of this is that charities need to find their own models—you need to try new things, fail fast, test and learn and build up your own approach.

Do you think the possibility of mergers may be sensible for sharing costs/overheads and making the best use of resources available?

Krystal: Right now, doing a merger might be a bit of an extreme. Test the waters with a collaborative bid. If another organisation works in the same community as yourself, you might consider a merger down the line. But partnering does not always lead to a merger, it focuses on how you’re serving the community the best way possible. It’s a great way to utilise the limited funds that are available. Reach out to other charities and make those connections.

Of course, there is so much more we couldn’t fit into this post. You can check out the full webinar here for more detailed advice.

Eager to get involved in our next meet-up or webinar? Join the CharityConnect community today so you don’t miss out.

Tags: charity sector, CharityConnect, covid-19, innovation, running your charity, webinar

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About the author

Stephanie Dotto

Former Content & SEO Lead at CharityJob. Lover of fiction, films and food. In a previous life, she was a music and tourism journalist. When she’s not writing and editing blog content, she is working on her novel.