Five questions CEOs ask to ensure their charity is fundable in the 'recovery phase'
by Alex Blake
In the last six months, I have reviewed the cases for support for a range of charities. Some look as though they could have been written a year ago and had a line added to say there is even greater demand due to Covid-19. They are not necessarily bad, some of them are very good, or at least they were a year ago. However, given the impact coronavirus has had on almost every aspect of society, grant assessors could be forgiven for perceiving these charities as being out of touch or complacent.

The cases for support that really stand out at the moment are those where the charity conveys clearly how the world has changed for its beneficiaries and how it has adapted its services to best meet the need and demand in this new environment. This means being able to share the stories of your beneficiaries and explain the in-depth understanding of the situation that you have from speaking to the people you support and your front-line staff or volunteers. This positions your charity as an expert in the issue you address, a credible authority that is engaged with the people it supports and can be trusted to meet the needs identified.

So, my first question is do you want your charity to be seen as a complacent bystander waiting for things to go back to ‘normal’ or as an expert in your field that can be trusted to meet the needs of your beneficiaries?
In an ever more competitive funding environment, you’re going to need to be the latter to be fundable. As CEO, you can help your charity to achieve this (whether you have a fundraising team or not), by asking the strategic questions that will position your charity as a credible, fundable authority in your field.

1. What are the needs of your beneficiaries and how has this changed as a result of Covid-19?

The answer to this question really needs to come from the people you support. Of course, you can use relevant statistics, but it is the individual stories of the people you support and their feedback that gives the richest and most up to date information on what challenges they currently face.

Gathering this information and analysing it in your organisation, with input from front-line and senior staff, enables you to continuously improve services to best meet the needs of your beneficiaries. It also creates a culture of learning and insight based on the experiences of your community. Most organisations can get better at this if we’re honest with ourselves. Becoming a more beneficiary-led charity could be your silver lining from the Covid cloud.

Almost every large grant funder asks how you involve your beneficiaries in the planning, delivery and management of your project/organisation and all supporters are moved by these personal stories, so investing in beneficiary involvement can generate a positive return that will compound over time.

2. What is the best way to meet these needs now (and in the next 6/12/18 months)?

If the change has been subtle and your services are still the best way to meet the need, the answer could be quite simple. For example, many charities are adapting their services to run sessions online instead of in-person.

However, if there has been a more significant change to the needs in your community, this could be a much more challenging question to answer.

It can be scary to ask these questions and to solicit answers without bias (how many consultations and evaluations support the status quo?). If you’ve been avoiding them, maybe the pandemic will push you to do so now, and dare I say give you a justification for making radical changes if needed.

For example, if your core service is a national helpline and the results of your beneficiary consultation show that people say the best way to meet their needs would be through local face to face interventions, what do you do with that?! Your helpline is what you do, it’s what you’re known for, it’s what you’re funded to deliver, you employ x staff and volunteers and have x years of experience and expertise in running a helpline.

Well, that’s a pretty extreme example, although not that farfetched and if that’s what people are telling you, I recommend you listen and think seriously about how you best meet their needs. It might not be as drastic as it first sounds, maybe video calls make all the difference, or maybe you can shift to a blended approach of a helpline with local volunteer groups, or a strategic partnership could be the solution.

For many charities the answer to this question is going to be somewhere in between these examples and the precise solutions will be unique to the community you serve. What is important in your case for support, is that you can be specific about what you have learned from engaging with your beneficiaries and how you are meeting their needs in new ways.

3. Where does your support fit into the wider context of your community?

Another aspect to understanding the needs of your community and how best to meet those needs, is knowing how your support fits into their lives alongside other factors that impact on their needs positively or negatively, including employers, public services (e.g. school, NHS, local authority provision) and other charities or community groups.

This may have changed due to Covid-19 if some charities or groups no longer exist or have stopped certain activities, or if statutory services have reduced support. There could also be new types of support available, for example with the creation of mutual aid groups who continue to run after the lockdown.

Funders want to know that you are aware of what other support is available to your community, that you have ensured your activity is adding value to this rather than duplicating and that you work in partnership where appropriate.

4. Why is your charity best placed to provide this support?

Ok so you have an in depth understanding of the need, how best to address it and how your service fits in with other initiatives; why is your charity best placed to provide this support? Part of the answer will be to do with your track record, expertise, beneficiary involvement and other organisational strengths. The other aspect of this links back to your place in the wider context.

For example, let’s say you are seeking funding to provide a welfare advice service in your local community centre. A funder might say ‘people can go to the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) for that’ or ‘that information is available online and everyone can access the internet now’.

You may need to demonstrate why your charity needs to provide this support to your specific community. For example, the answer may be that you work alongside CAB to provide specialist advice to your community because the welfare system is particularly complex for the group you serve or because they face other barriers, such as communication needs or geography. So, your charity would be best placed to provide this support because you are already trusted in this community, have in depth knowledge of their issues and can reach them effectively.

5. How can you be effective in a complex world of uncertainty?

How can you know what’s best for your community at a time when we can only guess what the social, economic and emotional impact of Covid-19 will be in the next 6/12/18 months?

I think this brings us back to creating a culture of learning and continuous improvement, with meaningful beneficiary involvement throughout the process, for example, continually consulting with beneficiaries to understand changing needs and whether your activities are making a difference so that you can adapt if required.

In a complex environment, learning is a continuous process. There is no such thing as ‘what works’ because ‘what works’ is always changing. ‘What works’ is a continuous process of learning and improvement, which is strengthened through beneficiary engagement.

One key action

Having the voice of your community in your case for support is vital to successful funding applications. One key action you can take to make your charity more fundable in the ‘recovery phase’ is to increase your beneficiary involvement. This will increase the effectiveness of your services and will ensure it is the people you support who articulate their needs and how your support makes a difference to them.

What next?

We have developed a free Trust Fundraising Scorecard that will score your charity and provide recommendations in five key areas that influence the success rates of your funding applications.

If you need help with updating your case for support, securing funding or answering strategic questions, e-mail Alex at

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