Guest blog: Corona secondments - how foundations and charities can help each other

This blog is from Anne Kazimirski, who was Associate Director for Data & Learning at NPC, and is joining Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity as Evidence and Impact Director in May. Anne is gathering corona secondment case studies, and is contactable on Twitter (@AnneKazimirski) if you are a funder considering a secondment or have already arranged one.

Charities are in trouble, and hence so are the causes they respond to and that funders support. NCVO has estimated a minimum £4bn loss in income in the first three months of the crisis. A government support package has been announced, which is welcome, but there are concerns around how far it will stretch.

Many charities are furloughing staff to survive, often due to drops in fundraised income. The timings of the furlough scheme are leading charities to go down that route earlier than they’d like, even when there’s lots of work to get through as a result of increased demand or new important campaigning to be done. Charities are making the tough calculations of kicking off enough furloughs now so they can still pay their staff in the summer, but not so many that they fold and can’t fulfil their contracts or stop providing any support: a national game of jenga. And although some people may enjoy a bit of unexpected time off, there is a financial toll, with a 20% pay cut, or more for those with higher salaries given the cap, and a social toll given Zoom work meetings may be your main social contact at the moment. And what happens when the furlough scheme is over and charities still don’t have enough income coming in?

Secure foundations, on the other hand, will endure, but have reduced capacity as a result of sickness absence, or employees’ caring responsibilities. They are busy setting up or participating in new funds, or updating their long-term strategies for the post-covid 19 world. Some are reviewing their payout ratios: balancing the short-term with long-term ambitions has never been harder for funders.

All this additional thinking and activity needs extra resource, which is why temporary secondments from charities into the larger foundations feels like a great solution. Some foundations have the financial flexibility to up their salary costs at the moment, to help get more funds out of the door in their emergency response, as well as replan their future strategy, and make sure they have the staff to manage all this.

As Kate Langford, Programme Director, is finding at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity: “We need to think through what the world will look like after this pandemic, and how we minimise the acceleration we are expecting in widening health inequalities. We are looking at a range of placements, secondments and projects with our existing partners to help us get through this busy period and begin to think ahead.

Taking in a charity secondee will help foundations meet their missions, and helps charities retain that member of staff and all of their skills and expertise for longer-term survival. The usual resource need and skills match is important as for any secondment, but I expect timeframes to need to be shorter or more flexible than typical, to be most helpful to the charity. This could also involve moving to a part-time arrangement across both organisations, as charities’ income (hopefully) picks up.

The emergency funds and the government rescue package will make a difference, but we need to throw everything we’ve got at the problem, to make sure that we still have charities there to apply for our funding. Every secondment will help the voluntary sector build itself up again. Charities will be needed more than ever post-covid-19: every contribution counts to keep them open. And as funders we need to make sure we are as responsive as we can be in the current crisis, which extra resource will enable us to be.

Anne Kazimirski

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