Summary of new briefing: Birds in a hurricane

Voluntary sector adaptation and resilience through and beyond Covid-19

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, we have spoken to over 1,000 voluntary organisations across our portfolio of research. In every conversation, whatever the focus, we have heard about how small charities, social enterprises and community groups have been coping and adapting.

Along the way, we have been capturing snapshots of the live situation through our regular briefing series, drawing specifically from our peer support sessions for voluntary sector leaders. We have been inspired by individuals, holding their teams and organisations together in the toughest of times. And we have reflected on how funders, in particular, could best support their efforts.

This latest briefing, however, draws material from a wider range of projects – most of which began before the pandemic hit. In early 2020, we were facilitating local, cross-sector health partnerships, and looking at how small charities were using technology, not knowing just how vital these already important and interesting fields would become.

We decided to explore how organisations have survived – and in some cases even thrived – since the pandemic began. And we share the things that we believe will help both voluntary organisations, and those who support them, to sustain and develop their contribution for the longer term.


Leading a small VCSE organisation is a tough job at the best of times: ‘As a CEO, you’re the HR department, the marketing department, the finance department, the operational manager and so on. It’s difficult managing all this and the staff’. But Covid-19 has turned the volume up right across the spectrum: ‘I feel like a bird in a hurricane!’

Key pressures organisations have faced:

  • Funding.
  • Increasing/changing demand.
  • Going online.
  • Taking care of their teams.
  • Leadership.

The past year has been a ‘story of extraordinary resilience and adaptation’; a rare, shared period of experimentation and taking risks; and a time when new possibilities and options have sprung up: ‘Learning from the crisis will stand us well in the future’.

So, what has helped VCSE organisations to stay afloat in a period of adversity?

  • Collaboration.
  • Taking care of staff and volunteers.
  • Discovering new ways to connect.
  • Responsible, supportive funders.
  • Financial cushions.
  • A space to share.

It is clear that the pandemic has both stimulated new thinking and demonstrated the value and workability of approaches to funding and collaboration that VCSE organisations have been advocating for years. The intensity and visibility of need during Covid-19 has accelerated the pace of change, but its foundations feel fragile.

What next?

  • Judging progress.
  • Embedding joined-up working.
  • Blended services and ways of working.
  • Making digital inclusion a reality.
  • Embedding a more responsive, agile, proportionate and trusting approach to funding.
  • New thinking about unrestricted funding and income diversification.
  • Organisational health and wellbeing.
  • Mutual aid.
  • User voice.

We have all been affected by the pandemic. It has upended our lives, both at home and at work. Across our families and our organisations, we see exhausted and anxious faces. And the uncertainty isn’t over. At such a moment, there needs to be a premium on patience and kindness, and a concerted effort to bring imagination and empathy to our work. If the last year has taught us anything, it is that voluntary organisations have these qualities in abundance; and that if they are trusted and respected, they will deliver for those they exist to serve.

Click here to read the full briefing, Birds in a hurricane

Photo by Fer Nando on Unsplash.

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