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Charities struggling to survive after Covid-19

Charities have always faced challenges when it comes to their income, but the current pandemic is threatening the survival of many organisations within the charity sector, large and small.

Diane Hall


Donate word written on a little wooden circle.

At the outset of lockdown the government answered calls for support, introducing the furlough scheme so that charities could keep their staff. It also fed millions into third party charitable organisations across the UK who were tasked with distributing this financial support on a local level.

During the pandemic, many funders paused their usual programme of support in favour of coronavirus crisis grants. However, the number of applications they received was overwhelming.

One medium-sized funder could only meet 4% of the hundreds of applications it received for financial support. Another prominent fund had 800 applications for the twenty grants they were awarding. The desperation currently being shown by charities is significant. 

On top of these grant-funding issues, other methods charities use to raise money, e.g. offline events and days spent tin-shaking in shopping centres, have been given the kibosh due to social distancing, which has also affected organisations’ incomes.

Some people in the industry believe that, because charities are so desperate, they’re applying to anyone and anything for money—including funds that aren’t aligned to their specific cause. This increases the number of applications to each individual fund, when only a handful are actually eligible, according to the fund’s criteria.

The charity sector was already coping with an 18-month high in funding applications before the pandemic hit. And as corporate funders scale back their donations because they have their own financial challenges, there’s little wonder that there are many more unsuccessful applications than successful awards. In an effort to filter/pre-empt the number of applications, funders are being even more specific with their criteria currently, which only exacerbates the desperation felt by charities already close to the wire.

Almost 6,000 charities went to the wall in the year to June 2020, which represented a 19% increase on previous years. It’s a given that there’s a finite amount of money to go around, and that some charities will not stay afloat as a result. It is indeed a precarious time for charities at the moment.

The Elm Foundation logo

The Elm Foundation logo

The Elm Foundation

Novus Marketing Solutions is a partner of The Elm Foundation (TEF), a domestic abuse charity that has seen the need for its services skyrocket during lockdown. TEF, luckily, received a large financial award a few months before the pandemic took hold; although this has put the charity on a much better footing than others in the sector, the money won’t last long when demand for their support is so high. The last thing any charity would want to do is reduce its services or cherry-pick the people it can help.

A number of charities exist because gaps in government funding over the last couple of decades has seen the number of frontline services cut, despite there being no lack of demand for the respective support. The cutting of local services isn’t an option for the government to save money after this pandemic, however, as there are very few left that haven’t already been handed over to charities to run.  

Macmillan cancer charity

Macmillan cancer charity


Macmillan, the national charity for cancer sufferers, has announced job cuts at a time when they should be gearing up for one of their biggest annual events—their national coffee morning. The organisation has projected a loss of £175m this year, which is a huge financial hole to fill. Their disappointment is further compounded by the rising number of cancer patients needing their support during the pandemic, after crucial check-ups and treatments were put on hold so that the NHS could concentrate on treating those with coronavirus.

If a charitable organisation as large and established as Macmillan can be in trouble, it’s damning for the other 168,000 charities across the UK. With individual donations down, too, due to the pandemic’s impact on people’s incomes, it’s difficult to see what the solution could be. 

The answer is to be proactive.

The work we do with TEF helps them to tell/show the impact of their support, across a variety of mediums. This frames their grant applications; funders can clearly see how their money will change beneficiaries’ lives. Those making the funding decisions don’t have to imagine or visualise the outcome of TEF’s support—they can hear about it, see it, understand it, and straight from the horse’s mouth, too.

Whilst assigning a marketing budget may seem counterintuitive to charities that are suffering a loss of income, it’s actually quite necessary. In business, you have to speculate to accumulate. If a charity wants its application to stand out against all others, strategic marketing will make the difference. Don’t just think of your charity, think of your competition—after all, every cause is a good cause. Every plea for funding is worthy.

An effective professional promo video, clear and attractive charity literature, and new income streams from diversification could be the difference between sinking and swimming for some charitable organisations. 

It’s not enough to simply rely on the begging bowl approach.

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