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How the Charity Sector is Addressing the Impact of COVID-19

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Expert analysis by Fergal O’Sullivan, Head Of Recruitment at 2into3.

If the last three months have taught us anything, it is that we can never again believe someone who tells you that change is not possible. Almost without exception, organisations worldwide have risen to the challenge presented by the disruption caused by COVID-19.

The most visible element of this is the way in which we have quickly adapted to (maybe even embraced) the world of virtual meetings and remote working. In my own role, working with our not-for-profit clients, I have seen at first-hand how organisations have had to adapt longstanding fundraising tactics from community-based events to virtual experiences as they seek to capture and maintain donor support.

These are not optional activities for not-for-profits, as the survival of many will rely on how they adapt. Our own research in 2into3, ‘Actions to Manage impact of Covid-19 on Fundraised Income’, estimates that fundraised income in Ireland is facing at least a 15% decline in 2020, costing the sector €179m.

Instead of accepting this as an inevitable consequence of the pandemic, many not-for-profit organisations are pushing forward rather than retreating. Instead of taking a short-term view and cancelling activities, or even cutting staff, they are taking a long-term, often strategic, view. They recognise that not only do they need to keep raising the funds right now, they also need to be ready to bounce back when the lockdown eases further.

At a grassroots level, this can be seen in the range of online fundraising activity, like the now ubiquitous Zoom table quizzes, or virtual mini marathons. At management level, we are seeing the level of interest there is in developing new fundraising strategies and taking advantage of the time available to learn from different peer-to-peer support networks.

One obvious sign that not-for-profits are ensuring they do not stagnate during this time is the engagement we continue to have in relation to the recruitment of senior staff.  While the initial response when we headed to our home offices was that hiring new staff, especially at a senior level, was to hold off, people very soon realised that moving to an online world has actually meant we are even better connected than ever.

We all took a bit of time getting used to it, but once the technophobia was overcome, we found that we could still have that weekly meeting, join that discussion, and even catch-up with the family at the weekend, no matter where in the world they live.

Recruitment has proven to be no different and we have just completed the recruitment of a CEO for a well-known Irish not-for-profit where the entire process has been conducted without an in-person meeting, either with the client or any of the candidates.

Anyone who is a not-for-profit board member can tell you that it can be tempting for voluntary boards to feel they can ride out any gaps in management right now, especially if there is a potential for a short-term saving on salaries. However, as a voluntary director of a not-for-profit myself, where I have in the past had to give up my time to fill such gaps when they arise, I know this can be a false economy and there is an opportunity cost to be reckoned with as well.

My experience thus far seems to be that many others are thinking similarly. Talent management is a balancing act that can either set an organisation up for future growth or hinder and prevent it from flourishing. Much like the fundraising activity mentioned above, cutting staff during a crisis may provide short-term cost savings, but could have longer term negative impacts.

But we are all still humans and we all still need (and thrive on) personal interaction, with our colleagues, customers, and suppliers to build trusting relationships. This need will hopefully never go away. This rings true in the commercial as well as the not-for-profit sectors, and all the signs point to a post-lockdown environment where we’ll get to enjoy face-to-face encounters once more, but with a sort of “new efficiency” that we discovered while hidden away.

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