Cornavirus: Reopening After Lockdown

As voluntary and community organisations emerge bleary-eyed from lockdown, there is lots of work to be done and it can be hard to know where to start. This page sets out some of the issues your organisation might face, and where and how you can start to look for solutions.

Jump to…

Finances and funding

Emergency funding

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a perfect storm for many charities and community organisations, with simultaneous increased demand and shrinking funding.

New charitable funds have appeared to help organisations that are responding to the crisis by supporting people in need, but many of these are oversubscribed. There are fewer charitable funds for bailing out organisations facing financial difficulties.

The first step is to ensure your organisation has taken advantage of all the government support it is entitled to – see our summary here. Also take a look at our guide to charitable funds providing support, but note that these tend to be limited to specific areas of work. Our funding search engine is worth a visit to see if there’s anything that’s more suited to your organisation.

Reducing your running costs

Emergency funding is only going to go so far, so you’ll need to think about longer-term solutions. Can you reduce your running costs?

Think through which costs can be reduced in the short term. Savings can often be made where costs vary, such as printing, stationery, travel or refreshments. Others tend to be fixed in the short term, but can be reviewed. When did you last got new quotes for insurance, utilities or telephones? Focus on these before looking at longer term reductions in premises or staff costs.

Non-profit organisations are generally used to operating on shoestring budgets, and so it’s unlikely there are any easy options available to cut costs. It might be more helpful to think about improving efficiency rather than making direct savings. Here are a couple of blogs from NCVO and ThirdSector to get you thinking.

These were written pre-COVID-19, so what other lessons can be learned from this crisis?

How effective has your team been while working from home? Is it time to evaluate your building costs, and whether you can move to a smaller office with staff working partly in the office and partly from home? This isn’t a short-term fix, though, so make sure it’s in your organisation’s long-term best interests.

There may be no alternative than to consider making redundancies. We cover this in more detail below under Human Resources.

Boosting your income

Another approach is to look for ways to increase your income.

Non-profit organisations may draw on a wide range of income streams: statutory funding, charitable grants, donations, events and trading. Some of these income streams may be unaffected by the pandemic, while others, such as events and trading, might have shut down completely.

Most organisations are heavily reliant on one or two types of income, so this might be the time to think about diversifying, especially if you have staff or volunteers with time on their hands.

Could you attract charitable funding for a new project – particularly if it addresses the effects of the pandemic, such as isolation, loneliness and mental health? See our guide to funders who are offering grants to COVID-19 response projects.

We don’t know when large gatherings will be possible again, but there are other ways to raise funds from the general public. Sponsored challenges such as head shaving, ice baths or world record attempts can capture people’s imagination and provide some much-needed fun and well as funds. They work well over social media.

Remember that, while some people are experiencing financial hardship during the pandemic, many others are still earning and have had very little to spend their disposable income on. A simple request for your supporters to donate the cost of a take-away coffee, pint of beer or daily commute costs might be surprisingly effective. There’s a great list of ideas here.

Alan Clayton from Philanthropy and Fundraising makes the point in this video that charities shouldn’t be timid about asking for support. People are hurting because of COVID-19, they see others around them suffering, and so the desire to give is stronger than ever. People still want to support their local charities and community organisations – it’s down to you to give them that opportunity. Clayton’s keynote speech makes some powerful arguments for using this crisis as an opportunity to review your fundraising strategy and come back stronger. It’s well worth watching.

Reserves policy

Charities and indeed any organisation with a bank account should have a reserves policy. Put simply, this is how much money the organisation aims to hold in the bank to ensure things run smoothly and to protect against unforeseen financial situations.

Organisation leaders need to review their reserves policy now – to make sure it is understood, fit for purpose and being followed. Many organisations will have been forced to dip into their reserves, so there needs to be a clear, realistic strategy for replenishing them. You won’t have all the answers and the timeline may be unclear, but without any kind of plan it’s virtually impossible to get your reserves back to a healthy level.

Read up on reserves on the Charity Commission website.

Whether, when and how to wind up operations

Organisations of all kinds come and go, and the painful reality is that some non-profit organisations won’t be able to weather this storm. If you’re running out of money and there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, please get in touch with us for support. We’ll help you try to find a solution, and if there isn’t one, we’ll help you wind up operations legally and with the best interests of your beneficiaries, staff and supporters at heart.

Human Resources

The Job Retention (Furlough) Scheme

This government scheme is now only available for employees that are already enrolled on it. The rules are changing, with staff now allowed to work part time and be furloughed for the rest of their working week, but with employers having to contribute towards the furlough pay. See our latest guidance here.

When and how to bring staff back from furlough

The decision to bring staff back from furlough is a balancing act involving your organisation’s reopening strategy, its financial position and the risk to staff of infection. ACAS has some useful advice on the topic here.

Furloughed staff broadly fall into three categories:

  • because the work they do – and the income to pay them – has dried up due to the pandemic
  • because they are unable to work because they or someone in their house is shielding
  • because they need to care for a child or a vulnerable person in their household

When considering whether to bring staff back from furlough, ensure you consider each case not just in the interests of the organisation but also the employee.

The current government advice (as of July 2020) is that clinically extremely vulnerable people (classed as “shielding”) should only return to work when community infection rates are low. This advice is set to change from 1 August 2020, whereupon these people will no longer be advised to shield. However, that doesn’t mean these people will necessarily be happy to return to their usual role. Can adjustments be made to their job to keep them safe, whether that means changes to their working environment, or to their role within the organisation?

There is some useful guidance from HR specialists CIPD on when and how to return to the workplace and on flexible working measures.

Annual leave

You may find that staff have not been using up their annual leave entitlement. This may because they have been on furlough, or because they have been unable to go away on holiday as they would like to. Some flexibility will be required by both employers and employees in deciding how to manage this.

You can require staff to take leave, or you may allow some to be carried over into the next year. Acas has some guidance on the subject.

Redundancies

If you do find you have to make staff redundant you need to make sure you follow correct procedures.

Re-engaging your regular volunteers

Volunteers are just as important as paid staff. Many volunteer roles disappeared during lockdown – and new ones suddenly appeared. Volunteer managers haven’t had to deal with furlough schemes or redundancies, so it’s possible that volunteers have been somewhat neglected during the crisis-response phase of the pandemic.

Regardless of when you plan to resume normal operations, get (or keep) in touch with your volunteers. Contact each one individually to ask them how they are, thank them for their support and keep them involved in your organisation in whatever way you can. Try to involve them in decisions about when and how to reopen, so they feel empowered rather than put upon.

People choose to volunteer because they find the experience rewarding. Will that positive experience be compromised if they’re returning to roles with face masks, social distancing rules and the responsibility of keeping the public safe from infection? Of course, public safety is paramount, but don’t leave this burden to your volunteer team. Find out how they’re feeling and what they need to help them feel positive about returning to their volunteer roles.

We covered volunteer recruitment and retention during and after COVID-19 at our recent Festival of Ideas. Watch this series of interviews and presentations here.

Health and safety

Organisations of all shapes and sizes have a duty to keep their staff, volunteers and the public safe. This is nothing new, but COVID-19 presents some new challenges.

Changing instinctive behaviours

Different environments will have different requirements, which we’ll cover below, but a common challenge for all of us is to change the things we do instinctively.

We’re all getting used to keeping our distance from each other, so there’s probably not much risk of people shaking hands when they meet. However, it’s the other sociable behaviours that are sometimes harder to avoid: making a cup of tea for a colleague, lending someone a pen or stapler, holding a door open so that they have to come within a metre of you to get past. These habits are really hard to unlearn, but we all need to do our best to change these behaviours, and organisation leaders have a role to play. Door handles and light switches present significant challenges that may require a creative solution.

Keep things simple. Staff and volunteers can be expected to read some instructions and agree to follow them, but limit them to a page or two of A4 text and don’t be afraid to state the obvious.

For the public, lots of signage at key locations is the best way to change behaviours. Have a browse of signage suppliers such as Instantprint to help you think about how to influence people’s behaviour in the buildings and environments you manage. People can become blind to posters so try to be creative in how and where you display signs, and consider removing your normal signs and posters if they’re likely to be a distraction.

Find and follow the guidance

Health and safety guidance from the UK Government is constantly evolving, and to be frank, it’s a bit of a minefield trying to find the most up-to-date, relevant information. The links below aren’t a definitive guide but they hopefully provide a useful starting point. If in doubt, start with the main coronavirus page or do a good old-fashioned Google search.

Looking out for mental health

The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t just a physical health issue. The isolating effects of lockdown and social distancing, the fear of infection and coping with bereavement have significant impacts on people’s mental health.

As with physical health, employers have a duty of care for the mental health of their workforce, including volunteers. Discharging this duty can be difficult in these unprecedented times, but there are resources you can draw on.

ACAS has published an excellent guide to Coronavirus and mental health at work, with chapters aimed at employees and employers. It includes clear, concise advice plus links to further reading and resources, so we won’t try to duplicate it here.

If your staff and volunteers are interacting with the public, it’s a good idea to give them the skills to identify people who are struggling with mental health, and how to respond. This is known as mental health first aid. It’s similar to physical first aid in that it doesn’t train people to be expert medical practitioners, but rather, how to be an effective first responder to someone who needs help.

Public Health England has produced a free Psychological First Aid online course in three one-hour lessons. It explores the psychological impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and what people can do to help others cope.

Various first aid trainers (such as Hunts Forum member ABC Life Support) offer Mental Health First Aid courses.

The UK Government has also published guidance for the public on the mental health and wellbeing aspects of coronavirus.

Risk assessments

Nearly everything you do in response to COVID-19 is a risk assessment. You’re identifying a problem, working out how severe and how likely it is, and then taking steps to reduce its likelihood, severity or both.

A written risk assessment is your paper trail that documents the steps you have taken. If anything goes wrong, you can prove that your organisation took the necessary steps to protect people from harm. Don’t think of it as extra work – it should just be a record of the steps you are already taking.

Read the Health and Safety Executive’s guide to risk management here, its example risk assessments for various business and organisation types here and its guide to COVID-19-specific risk assessments here.

Communications

We’ve covered getting your finances, building, staff and volunteers ready to reopen, but what about your service users, customers and supporters?

It’s vitally important that you keep them abreast of your activities. Keep them informed as early as possible about your plans – when you will reopen, how things will be different and, most importantly, the steps you’ll be taking to keep them safe.

Many voluntary and community organisations work with vulnerable people. Just because lockdown restrictions are easing, it doesn’t mean they feel safe to return to their normal activities. Try to find ways to give a personal touch to reassure them that you’ve thought about their safety. That might be hard if you’re not able to see them face to face, but you could create a leaflet or video showing how things will be different – but that other things, such as the people they know, are still the same.

 

Something wrong with or missing from this page? Please tell us.