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Support for charity trustees during lockdown
22 Apr 2020
Charities are facing their biggest challenge in a lifetime: their shops are closed; events through which they raise funds are cancelled or postponed and with economic uncertainty facing so much of the UK’s population, the ability to donate has been significantly curtailed. Many face an uncertain future and whilst Government support has been announced, questions may remain.

Stuart Rea, Head of FBC Manby Bowdler’s Charities and Not-for-Profit team, answers some of those questions.

Will I be able to access Government funding to support my charity?

Before seeking Government funding, charity trustees should first consider if i) there are any specific activities, spends or projects that can be placed on hold in order to preserve precious funds and ii) what financial reserves exist that can be drawn on to cope with these exceptional circumstances.

Where external support is required, the Government has pledged a £750 million pot for front line charities across the UK – including hospices and those supporting domestic abuse victims.

In many cases, UK charities will also be able to access many of the measures the Chancellor previously announced for businesses.

I am keen for my charity to play a part in the collective effort to support those most in need during this pandemic. What should I first consider?

First off, you should consider the terms of your charity’s existing charitable objects. These will be set out in your governing document and trustees should consider whether they can be carefully adapted to address current needs.

For example, an object to advance religion may allow a charity to offer support as part of its pastoral work, or an arts charity might help relieve isolation through online work. Some charities may also have a general object that allows for any charitable purposes, or an object that allows for support that generally benefits a local area.

In considering what you can do under your existing objects you will need to check whether your objects have restrictions, or if there are other local charities better placed to respond to a specific need.

My charity’s AGM is due to take place in the next couple of months. Should we consider a cancellation or postponement?

The impact of social distancing will inevitably mean many charities need to cancel or postpone AGMs and other critical meetings. This cannot be helped but trustees should record this decision to demonstrate continued good governance of the charity. This is particularly important where not holding an AGM may make it difficult to finalise annual reports and accounts.

Guidance is available on the steps that charities with an imminent filing date should take.

With working from home now the norm, is it a viable option to hold important charity meetings virtually?

In many cases, yes! Some charities already have clauses in their governing documents that allow them to meet virtually or to use telephone facilities so trustees should check their governing document as it may be possible for them to make amendments themselves to facilitate changes as to how or when meetings are held.

Where no such clause exists in a governing document and a trustee decides to hold meetings over the phone or using digital solutions, a clear record of this should be made, again to demonstrate good governance.

Is it an option for my charity to partner with local businesses to deliver support or raise additional funds during these difficult times?

Yes, absolutely if you think it will be beneficial. Charities can work with non-charitable companies or businesses in a number of ways. For example: providing a service or running a project together; inviting business staff to be seconded or to volunteer for your organisation; or by entering into a commercial partnership to raise funds (for example, a company donates a percentage of sales and uses your charity’s name on their promotional material).

Of course, trustees should first consider that such a partnership is in the charity’s best interests; that the partnership compliments the charity’s focus and purpose; that all risks as well as benefits have been considered and that there are no conflicts of interest which could be detrimental to the charity’s reputation.

My charity is facing its most pronounced financial crisis in its history and I fear for its future – what should I be considering in order to mitigate any negative impact here?

With more and more charities speaking out on their concerns about financial stability, the Charity Commission has released updated guidance which can be found here. 

In short, this focuses on the practical steps that charity trustees can take to identify the most appropriate options open to them. Consideration should be paid to the charity’s membership of any networks which may be able to offer support, as well as larger organisations such as the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and Institute of Fundraising.

Charity trustees will also need to think about the best interests of the organisation and consider trade-offs between actions now and longer-term impacts. Each charity will have distinct situations and needs and should seek guidance based on their specific challenges.