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briefing paper

Between a rock and a hard place

Briefing 9 on the challenges faced by VCSE leaders during the Covid-19 crisis

August 2020

Ben Cairns, Emily Dyson, Liz Firth, Rebecca Moran


This ninth briefing shares the experiences of 36 leaders participating in online peer support sessions between 14th and 31st July, and our reflections on the questions and opportunities for funders that they raise. 




It’s time to move on from short-term funding. The idea of linear progression in funding from emergency to recovery and then to renewal is becoming unhelpful as restrictions are tightened in virus hot spots, a difficult winter is predicted, and medical solutions to Covid-19 have not yet been found. However, both funders and VCSE organisations desperately need to move on from the demands of applying for and distributing six-month grants. The challenge now is to move back to more conventional cycles of one, three and even five-year funding, without losing the urgency and lightness of touch that has characterised the immediate response by so many. For the foreseeable future, all funders are emergency funders. 


Three things are at the forefront of VCSE leaders’ minds:

  1. Staff and personal welfare: Our clients are really suffering at the moment, which means staff are hearing difficult stories and clients are becoming harder to help – they are starting to take their frustrations out on our staff more, which is very hard’.
  2. Navigating the easing of lockdown: ‘Like many others, we’ve come out of the crisis phase and we’ve survived it. But planning for increasing capacity with physical distancing, infection prevention and having control measures in place is going to make our services very, very limited’.
  3. Long-term strategy: The support that clients will need in six months will not be what they normally need. We are having to rethink our strategy for the long term’.


VCSE leaders need:

  1. Access to peer support: ‘I am able to share things that I can’t share with my Chair or staff’.
  2. Supportive funding structures:Trust us. We will do right by our communities/service users and your money’.
  3. Collaboration and cross-sector engagement: This is a unique and key opportunity to bring organisations across sectors together to develop a multi-agency plan’.


As well as moving on from short-term funding, we’re calling for funders to develop and prioritise:

  • Trust – select organisations whose values and ambitions align with your own and then back their knowledge, experience and skills.
  • Flexible funding – trust is best expressed through genuinely unrestricted funding, which grantees can use as they see fit in response to changing circumstances.
  • Support – respect organisations’ own analysis of their needs and circumstances. Fund them to create the capacity to engage with and use support; and give them the freedom to decline it, if the timing or focus isn’t right for them. 


Read the full series of briefings here


(Briefing 9 - Between a rock and a hard place - IVAR August 2020 - Final)

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