Cautious road map – a practical approach for your VCSE organisation

Read The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy here

The government’s aim is to return to life as close to normal as possible, for as many people as possible, as fast and fairly as possible. What does that mean in practical terms?

A phased recovery

The government’s stay alert approach is to limit the number of social contacts people make each day, ensure the exposure of vulnerable groups continues to be reduced from normal levels, and to continue isolating symptomatic and diagnosed individuals.

Re-designing workplaces and public spaces to make them COVID-19 secure

For the foreseeable future, workers should continue to work from home rather than their normal physical workplace, wherever possible. All workers who cannot work from home should travel to work if their workplace is open.

Before you consider re-opening your doors employers have a duty to assess and manage risks to employees and volunteers safety in the workplace, including consulting with your workforce and volunteers. The Health Safety Executive guidance will help you carry this out appropriately.

The government, in consultation with industry, has produced eight guides to help ensure workplaces are COVID-19 secure, including guidance for people working in, visiting or delivering to other people’s homes.

The British Council for Offices has wrote a briefing paper which covers things from communal kitchens to humidification systems, as well as a new normal YouTube series.

Modes of travel

During the lockdown there has been an increase in home working as VCSE organisations innovate to provide an appropriate online service. This type of working has significant benefits in reducing the carbon footprint associated with commuting.

Everyone is being asked (including critical workers) to avoid public transport wherever possible. The government suggests people should choose to cycle, walk, or drive, to minimise the number of people with whom they come into close contact. Alongside this the government has published a £2 billion package to create a new era for cycling and walking, which will fund and work with local authorities to help make it easier for people to use bikes to get around.

The package includes vouchers to be issued for cycle repairs to encourage people to get their old bikes out of the shed and changes to the Cycle to Work scheme, which continues to give employees a discount on a new bike and discounts on accessories.

Leicester City Council has already put some things into action with Leicester Bike Aid – a new free bike hire scheme for key workers.

Utilising these opportunities might assist your organisation’s COVID-19 secure procedures and at the same time might help your next tender for public sector contracts, when you have to describe your organisation’s environmental impact.

Lifting restrictions step by step

The government has a cautious road map to lifting restrictions step by step.

Charity shops are classed as non-essential retail and the current phasing of re-opening for these is estimated from 1 June.

Cafes run by charities and social enterprises fit into the hospitality category and the government’s ambition is that this phase of re-opening will be no earlier than 4 July.

If, after lifting restrictions, the Government sees a sudden and concerning rise in the infection rate then it may have to re-impose some restrictions. This means that the process may include a set-back as well as a step-forward approach.

VCSE organisations will need to include this scenario in any business recovery model.

In the short term, you may need to rely on the government’s extended furlough scheme, to reduce the impact of employee salaries on your organisation’s finances.

You may want to consider accessing finance for the first time ever. The government is working alongside 11 lenders to provide a bounce back loan scheme. There are no repayments for a year, low interest after year 1 (2.5%), and no personal liability – the government guarantees the loan.

In the medium to long term, those previous successful trading models for charities and social enterprises may need to be probed to see how viable they will be in the new normal.

Coventry University Social Enterprise is running a free online workshop, which promises to give processes and tools for understanding how your business can change to meet a new environment.

Protecting clinically vulnerable and clinical extreme

Finally we know that a number of VCSE organisations have been adapting to meet the needs of their communities during lockdown, which we have been promoting on our support services during COVID-19 webpage.

That much-needed support will still be needed. The government has emphasised that some people are more clinically vulnerable to COVID-19 than others. These include those aged over 70, those with specific chronic pre-existing conditions and pregnant women. It advises those people to continue to take particular care to minimise contact with others outside their households, but do not need to be shielded.

Those in the clinically extremely vulnerable group are strongly advised to stay at home at all times and avoid any face-to-face contact, also called ‘shielding’; it means not leaving the house or attending gatherings at all, with very limited exception. The government is providing funding to the sector to support this client group and other people they class as vulnerable, such as the Loneliness COVID-19 Fund.

For smaller funding needs, Leicestershire and Rutland Community Foundation is administering the Coronavirus Emergency Support Fund.

If you would like help with your own VCSE organisation’s COVID-19 road map, such as read and review of a funding application, putting in appropriate measures to follow the new COVID-19 secure guidance, or drawing a business recovery plan, then send us a message.

Get support from VAL

If you are a charity or community group and you need additional support to deliver services during the pandemic, VAL is here to help.

We can offer advice on issues that affect charities, from fundraising to proper governance and managing volunteers.

You get can in touch via:
0116 257 5050

Virtual trustee meetings – why it is still important to communicate

The service might be closed, the staff furloughed, and you are having to self-isolate, yet the roles and responsibilities of a trustee continue.

In fact your role might be busier than ever as you try to cope with the serious financial challenges that the lockdown is having on your charity. As a trustee board you may have to make decisions on how to adapt to provide a COVID-19 response to the communities you support.

No longer able to meet face to face

Even though the lockdown rules mean you can’t have a face to face trustee meeting, we recommend trustees still discuss the needs of the charity.

The Charity Commission’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance for the charity sector provides advice on postponing or cancelling meetings. As well as conducting virtual meetings. You might have a clause in your governing document about allowing to meet virtually. If you don’t, then you should record this decision and the reason being that there was a need to do this, to carry out good governance of your charity.

Financial challenges

The essential trustee guidance explains that it is the legal duty of a trustee to act in the best interests of the charity.

As grant opportunities for non-COVID-19 initiatives reduce and trading options such as running a café are no longer options, a trustee board will need to consider if it is in the best interests of the charity to reduce costs in order to be there to support beneficiaries in the future. This is alongside meeting the immediate needs of the charity’s beneficiaries, with the possibility that in future the charity will have to reduce its services or close entirely.

There may not be an obvious ‘right’ decision for a trustee board to make. However, by following suggested steps in the Charity Commission’s guidance for managing financial difficulties in your charity caused by Coronavirus, a trustee board can understand their charity’s financial position better, create a plan, and make the appropriate decisions.

If your trustee board would like help in deciding how to manage your financial situation please send us a message. Use the “support for your organisation” in the reason for contact drop down box.

How to talk virtually

Finally it’s alright saying meet virtually, but how do you do this? Catalyst is a charitable network which helps the voluntary sector strengthen its digital capabilities. They have produced a short guide to help charities choose the right video call software for their needs. They have also created online guides to help charities use Zoom, Skype and Google Hangouts.

VAL’s Chair, Linda Jones, has also written about her experience of running VAL’s first virtual board meeting.

Get support from VAL

If you are a charity or community group and you need additional support to deliver services during the pandemic, VAL is here to help.

We can offer advice on issues that affect charities, from fundraising to proper governance and managing volunteers.

You get can in touch via:
0116 257 5050


Communicating with your trustees at the press of a button

I think it is crucially important for trustee boards to continue to meet. Trustees’ responsibilities remain and we need an effective means of carrying them out. Good governance means that we need to make key decisions about the organisation, its people – staff and volunteers – its services, and its finance.

Given the huge potential impact, we decided at VAL and Voluntary Action South Leicestershire (VASL) to each develop a specific COVID-19 Risk Register. This helped us identify all of the risks, including People, Finance, Services, Premises, Reputation, Data Protection/GDPR, and determine the actions we can take now, and in the future, to mitigate the negative impact – and maximise the opportunities. At VASL, we also decided to increase the regularity of our board meetings, from every two months to monthly, recognising that we need to monitor the impact and be available to make key decisions.

We have used Zoom to hold our board meetings. I had never used it before so my first step was to do some online training about how to host and manage Zoom meetings. There’s lots of tutorials on YouTube but Zoom provides excellent live online training or you can watch their recorded training events. After a couple of these I was ready to go! I have found it a great way to hold effective meetings. There isn’t the same interaction, of course, but it allows the trustees to exercise their responsibilities effectively.

Some tips from me:

  • Plan the meeting, as you would any board, with clear agendas and supporting papers
  • Be clear about what you need to achieve, what decisions are required
  • Enable all trustees to participate and contribute to the discussions. If it’s a large board, getting everyone to ‘mute’ themselves, only speaking when you signal to them that it’s their turn, really helps to avoid possible mayhem!
  • Minute the meeting, as usual, and follow through on actions.

Communication is the key to an effective organisation and board. Keep trustees advised of what is going on through regular emails and updates. If important decisions need to be taken, these can often be done by email – recording it in the minutes of the next board meeting – or one of the great things about virtual meetings is that you can call a short meeting at a ‘press of a button’.

Helen Oparinde, VAL Development Officer for our Voluntary Sector Support team, has also written an accompanying blog post about virtual trustee meetings.

Get support from VAL

If you are a charity or community group and you need additional support to deliver services during the pandemic, VAL is here to help.

We can offer advice on issues that affect charities, from fundraising to proper governance and managing volunteers.

You get can in touch via:
0116 257 5050

Furlough: the new buzzword. What does it mean?

Financial sustainability is a key priority for all charities and social enterprises (VCSE). However, with the recent lockdown rules various ways of fundraising is becoming a lot more difficult. For example the National Lottery Community Fund is only providing grants for COVID-19 response over the next six months. You can apply for other types of funding needs but it is unlikely you will hear back from them for six months.

Therefore if your VCSE has had to close some of it services, or trading functions, then you might be able to consider using this government scheme to continue to pay some of your staff costs which will help to reduce the burden of salaries costs from your expenditure.

Whether to furlough or not

The starting point is to look which services might be relevant for the scheme and what staff work within that service.

The government says “Where employers receive public funding for staff costs, and that funding is continuing, we expect employers to use that money to continue to pay staff in the usual fashion – and correspondingly not furlough them.”

The government is advising commissioners which public services should continue. For example they feel that drug and alcohol services are important to keep operating as they protect vulnerable people who are at greater risk from Coronavirus (COVID-19) and help reduce the burden on other healthcare services

One thing to remember is that the employee cannot do any work for the employer that has furloughed them. This includes providing services or generating revenue.

Therefore in the VCSE sector, it is more likely to be where organisations are not primarily funded by the government and whose staff cannot be redeployed to assist with the Coronavirus response, that the scheme may be appropriate for some of your staff.

If you want advice on whether it is appropriate to furlough your staff, then just send us a message using the online contact form and use the drop down box of support for your voluntary organisation in the reason for contact section.

How will it help financially?

You can claim 80% of wages up to a maximum of £2,500 per month per furloughed employee. Those employees need to be on your PAYE payroll on or before 19 March 2020.

The scheme is quite versatile. You can furlough staff for a minimum of three weeks.

Therefore if you come up with a COVID-19 response idea and get funding for it, then those staff could come off furlough after that initial period and deliver a new service using the new funding to pay those salaries.

You will receive payment six working days after making an application.

Furlough agreements

Finally to be eligible for the scheme an employer must agree with the employee that they are a ‘furloughed worker’. Employers must select people for furlough in a fair way, especially as an employer you may not be able to afford to top up the extra 20% of a furloughed workers salary. Employees must be notified that they have been furloughed. We recommend drawing up a written furlough agreement to include, the date furlough starts, how much the furloughed worker will be paid, when the furlough will be reviewed, and how to keep in contact during furlough.

Get support from VAL

If you are a charity or community group and you need additional support to deliver services during the pandemic, VAL is here to help.

We can offer advice on issues that affect charities, from fundraising to proper governance and managing volunteers.

You get can in touch via:
0116 257 5050

Fundraising during challenging times

Funding is a critical topic for all charities but during a national crisis there is increased pressure on existing funding sources, especially for charities that rely on trading. At the same, there are potential new options opening up as the government and other bodies offer alternative funding opportunities for those organisations that might be struggling.

The principle of fundraising is that trustees should agree, set, and monitor your charity’s overall approach to fundraising. The Charity Commission guidance on trustee duties and charity funding states that your fundraising plan should take account of risks, your charity’s values, its relationship with donors and the wider public, as well as its income needs and expectations.

Now is the time to review your fundraising plans

The charity commission has included some guidance on holding trustee meetings online or by telephone in its Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance for the charity sector.

If your organisation already has a fundraising plan, then we recommend that you review it.

If your service is closed, have you discussed it with your funders/commissioners and ascertained what income will still be received or can be carried forward? Especially as lockdown has occurred during local authorities year end – 31 March.

Using that information you can revise your fundraising plans and activities to consider how you might need to raise income for such things as running costs. A number of funders are providing funding for this type of scenario.

Sign up for VAL’s sector support newsletter so that you can be kept informed of those opportunities. VAL can provide advice on which to apply to and carry out a read and review.

Revise existing plans to adapt and continue delivering services

If you are continuing to deliver a service, look again at the costs involved to adapt to lockdown procedures and the revised service you want to provide. Chat to your existing funders and commissioners about your plans. Some like the Heritage Lottery Fund have specific grant programmes to support their existing or previous grant holders.

If you need to apply for some extra funds to deliver the revised service, first check that you are operating within your charitable objectives. If not, look at how you can revise them. The Charity Commission has written some guidance on whether you can help with Coronavirus efforts.

If you haven’t got a fundraising plan, now is a good time as ever to consider implementing one.

The Institute of Fundraising has some useful tips.

Get a boost from digital marketing

If you rely on fundraising events and donations for your income, but now aren’t able to get out and about to meet potential donors, then you may want to look at digital marketing. VAL has been in touch with Rory Mason of Ground Up Digital Media Ltd, a social enterprise digital agency. Presently, they are offering free health checks. They have a video on Facebook to explain the free service.

Stay informed

Finally from a forward planning perspective, keep up to date with the government’s lockdown decisions and adjust your fund raising plan accordingly. On 16 April Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, advised the daily Number 10 briefing that the lockdown restrictions in the UK will continue for “at least” another three weeks.

Get support from VAL

If you are a charity or community group and you need additional support to deliver services during the pandemic, VAL is here to help.

We can offer advice on issues that affect charities, from fundraising to proper governance and managing volunteers.

You get can in touch via:
0116 257 5050