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Reforming fundraising will be vital for charities’ survival

By Billy Wright  

UK charities are being forced by the pandemic to reassess how they work: in terms of service delivery and raising funds.

The prospects appear bleak. A report in May suggested that one in ten UK charities would be forced to cease operating entirely due to collapsing funds. For charities that may have relied on social interactions—the familiar fun runs, bake sales, and charity shops—restrictions have had a huge impact.

With decreased resources and furloughed staff, charities are scrambling for core funding just to stay afloat. It’s grimly ironic that many now find themselves spending more and more time on grant applications, with decreasing chances of success. A survey carried out by Brevio in September 2020 revealed that at least £440m had been spent by charities in the UK in attempts to secure funding.

One in eight charities (13 per cent) reported spending the equivalent of three working days a week (21 hours or more) on grant applications since March this year. This makes up 60 per cent of the average working week and equates to over £20,350* a year in potential staff time per charity – collectively costing the third sector £442 million annually.
But this massive expenditure of time and money is not a new phenomenon that emerged with Covid-19. For decades, the charity sector has discussed how inefficient and complicated the current model is, with every application demanding charities start from scratch, often asking many of the same questions in different ways.

At The Big Pivot, a webinar recently hosted by Prospect and Brevio, Peter Laing, CEO of east-London based community charity The Renewal Programme, described how for a small charity like his, “the amount of time and effort [in filling out applications] isn’t proportionate to the outcome very often.” He went onto explain that: “Funders want so many different things, I’ve filled out forms [applying] for small amounts – less than £10,000 – that have reams and reams of questions, and I’ve filled out applications for £50,000 that have got one side of A4.”

Laing explained that Covid has had a significant impact for his organisation, which amongst many services, provides a vital food bank for people living in deprivation in Newham. He expects the Renewal Programme will lose up to £100,000 in funding this year due to Covid.

For him, aid from funders with building resilience was key. In Newham, “there are a few charities and where those charities exist, they’re less robust – they don’t last as long as those in more affluent areas. I think there’s a massive challenge about how we get smaller organisations to be more resilient.”

Philip Almond, Executive Director Fundraising & Marketing at Cancer Research UK
explained the organisation had already cut funding for research by £44 million. The charity has seen a 30 per cent drop in revenues since the beginning of the crisis. Leaving a huge gap in the vital research carried out each year, along with 20% of staff being cut.

Laura Chow of the People’s Lottery described how a recent funding round had seen the lottery release £4m in additional funds, only to be inundated with applications that covered a total need for £51m in funding.

She believed that helping charities keep their heads above water by being more flexible and opening themselves up to funding core costs would be crucial: “As we weather the recession that’s in front of us, funders need to be more open to funding costs, even for the tiniest volunteer led groups, to allow them to build their own resilience, and make space for innovation.”

Baroness Kennedy of Cradley, who heads Generation Rent, agreed that the Covid crisis had served to highlight the need for innovation in the sector, noting that “demand for services grew at a time when the charity sector and childhood organisations were struggling themselves financially. So it’s been really tough to both deal with the increased workload. When you’re struggling yourself financially a solution like Brevio is very welcome.” She noted that while the government’s £750m package for charities was welcome, NCVO had estimated that charities would lose up to 4.3 billion during the initial lockdown in the first half of 2020.

The expert voices we heard on the webinar echoed what Brevio’s own research has shown: the third sector can no longer afford to put off reform of how funding works.

Brevio wants to play a leading role in that change. You can think of the Brevio platform a little like UCAS, which revolutionised the university application process by streamlining the applications, offer and acceptance process for both students and institutions – or like the current slew of digital dating sites that significantly increases the potential matches outside of your immediate social circle.

Brevio believes in using technology to create more impact and reduce admin. To achieve this, they focus on making a simple solution that is easy to use and based on user feedback, all for the collective benefit and growth of the charity sector. Essentially, Brevio automates the initial steps in grant applications, to free up hundreds of millions of pounds every year, and reduce the time to impact.Charities simply build a profile and outline their funding needs as they arise. Grant makers easily enter their eligibility criteria into the system, and Brevio matches the two.

Brevio will free up charities to concentrate on delivering their vision, and help funders new and old to focus their resources where they can make the most difference. The platform also creates more of a “level playing field” where charities can be judged on the quality of their work, not just the size of their fundraising teams. According to Brevio’s research, many in the sector fear that as resources are squeezed, more established and larger charities will command the lion’s share of funders’ attention and resources: Brevio can go some way to alleviating that problem.

We don’t have all the answers to the charity sector’s issues; but we want to start the conversations on the collaboration and transformation for good.

If you want to be part of the conversation, you can learn more at www.brevio.org—or contact Brevio at hello@brevio.org to discuss any opportunities for collaboration.

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