This website uses cookies for anonymised analytics and for account authentication. See our privacy and cookies policies for more information.

The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Survival of the fittest

This opinion piece is over 4 years old

Fenella McCarthy gives advice on how to make sure your organisation has the best chance of weathering the pandemic and come out fighting fit

There’s no doubt that everyone is having a tough time just now and arguably the UK’s not-for-profit sector is one of the hardest hit. The nation-wide lockdown has decimated fundraising, the mainstay of so many of the UK’s 167,000 charities, and with earning power severely compromised personal disposable income has fallen with the result that there is simply less money available. When you realise that the Kiltwalks raised over £5 million for some 1,000 Scottish charities last year and the London Marathon alone raised £66 million, the hole left by the cancellation of numerous fundraising activities, stretching from bake sales to large scale events, is all too obvious. In total, losses in the not-for-profit sector are expected to amount to over £4 billion.

These figures are crippling and the financial predicament of many charities can only really be solved by intervention from Government. Whilst some, like Barnardo’s, are furloughing staff, the deep irony for many charities is that in the current economic crisis their services are often in greater demand than ever.

Some activities are being moved online but not all are suitable and many online events, whilst providing much-needed funds, are likely to be less financially lucrative. Several grants and financial aid packages have been launched by larger UK businesses but the problem remains ­­­- currently there is simply less cash to be shared out amongst the same number of optimistic organisations. Fundraising is a tougher call right now. So, short of conjuring up that elusive ‘money tree’, what can you do?

Fenella McCarthy
Fenella McCarthy

Well, the first thing is to make sure that your organisation is in the best possible position from which to benefit from whatever funds are available. It might not feel like it but now is the perfect time to strengthen the core of your organisation and rally your people. In this tough fundraising climate, your organisation needs to be in the strongest position possible to out-compete rivals in the race for a share of available funds. The brutal reality is that those organisations who will most successfully navigate this crisis are those who are the fittest, strongest and most united.

What does this mean for your organisation?

Firstly, it means making sure that your people have a strong sense of team and are united behind you - after all, any organisation is only as strong as its people. With everyone who is not a ‘key worker’ now working from home, it is easy for that sense of workplace community to disintegrate. For many, this will be the first time they have worked from home and it can seem a stressful and isolated way of working, which is why maintaining a strong sense of unity amongst your people is so important.

One of the best ways of garnering this support is by involving your people in developing or honing your sense of purpose: discussing what you are trying to achieve, how you are going to get there and what makes you special. Doing this will bring the clarity you need in communicating what makes your organisation unique, helping you stand out by providing a clear narrative and set of messages and putting you in a strong position when competing for funds, grants, awards or simple donations.

Additionally, by being inclusive and involving your people, you will demonstrate in the clearest possible way how much you value them and see them as an important part of the team. People who feel valued have higher levels of commitment and loyalty and are more adept at seeing the bigger picture. Discussing the direction of the organisation with your people shows the trust you place in them and states plainly that you see them as a key part of the organisation’s future.

Now is the critical time for every one of us to make sure that our own organisation is in the best possible health: the time to clarify our unique qualities, build an even stronger community, help us to weather the storm and most importantly, help us to recover quickly when this is all over.

However, given the present financial problems, with budgets slashed or non-existent this is a challenge. Important as this work is, there is understandably little appetite for spending money just now…

Well fortunately there is a new initiative on the market which will enable you to focus your sense of purpose and engage your staff, at a fraction of the usual cost.

Earlier this year, as a way of helping even the leanest organisations, Housebrands Toolkits launched “what’s your purpose?” an innovative, online, DIY brand development programme. The toolkit guides organisations of any size and shape through crystallising their unique point of difference, streamlining their communications, strengthening their fundraising ability and keeping their supporters committed and loyal.

To find out more go to

Fenella McCarthy is co-founder of brand and communications agency Housebrands