The future is now, but what does it look like?

Apr 2020

Over the past few weeks life has changed dramatically and Social Good Organisations (SGOs – community groups, local charities and social enterprises), just like everyone else, are struggling to adjust. Home has become the new office, and Zoom is the new board room. Services are being digitized quickly and government policies are a series of announcements to decipher. Life is uncertain. Will we keep our jobs, indeed will our jobs continue to exist in the post-Covid 19 world, what will happen to the economy, what does the future look like? Everyone seems to be on edge.

During all this though we have also seen an extraordinary outpouring of community support. The NHS has an astonishing 750,000 applications from volunteers looking to help, so many that they have had to stop their recruitment to process them all! A 99 year-old veteran has raised over £16 million (and counting!) to support the NHS and community chats all over have discussions on how and where to help. Almost everyone is willing to support their vulnerable neighbours, running errands, ensuring they have much needed supplies, getting on the phone for a chat and offering anything else they need. A friend I spoke with the other day told me of a neighbour who had organised a violinist to come and play in the middle of their street in celebration of another neighbour’s 80th birthday. The whole street was on their doorsteps listening and joining in. There is real community spirit in all corners of London and indeed the world right now!

What has become obvious is the immense capacity of people to do good, to care for one another, to help out when times become tough. This is what SGOs are quietly doing on the front lines all the time, not just during a crisis. The absolute essential value of these organisations has become crystal clear over the past few weeks. Indeed, they are the ones who know how to reach the most vulnerable; they are the ones that have been caring and advocating for them all along.

However, these organisations are being stretched beyond capacity and, in the wake of social distancing, many do not have the luxury of big offices being able to support their move online, rather they’ve had to do it themselves as best as possible. Many have pivoted their services to focus on one aspect that is most needed, others are trying to navigate how best to provide services in this new reality (especially when many of their service users do not have the physical technology available to them or the knowhow to access online support). Foodbanks are a good example, previously stocking food for those in need to collect directly. With lockdown restrictions, they’ve had to figure out how to deliver food to these people instead. The service is flipped on its head. Logistically, this is a whole new way of doing things that needed to be sorted out quickly to ensure support for those who need it most. On top of this donations are down and demand is up. The pressure is definitely on and many charities are doing brilliantly to adapt their service so rapidly!

With a keen spirit to support those in need, and a driving necessity to continue to provide their services, many SGOs are overcoming challenges and creating innovative solutions. However, their futures remain uncertain. While government has committed to supporting the social sector, the original amount allocated of £750m is a fraction of what is needed. Funders are coming together and other investment opportunities are trickling in but organisations will remain challenged in both the short and the long term. The effects of this crisis on the Voluntary Sector are set to be devastating.

SGOs need to begin thinking of their future now, at the same time they are urgently trying to address the present. Many questions exist. Will their services revert back to what they were before? How will they change? What will happen if their volunteers, who they rely so heavily on, are no longer available? How will technology be part of their future? What if they are not able to afford to bring their staff back on board? What if their funding runs out? And many more …

Skilled volunteers with the right skills and understanding of how the sector works are well positioned to help SGOs. They are able to bring their expertise to the table without having a vested interest. They can look at an organisation from an unbiased viewpoint and ask informed questions. They can offer different views and help move things forward. If interactions are well-structured with clearly defined goals, skilled volunteers are able to help organisations clarify thinking and build their capacity by sharing their talent, experience and perspectives.

We need to take some time to look past the pain and see the opportunity. It is an opportunity for organisations to reconsider their plans, to look at the potential long-term impact of the present situation and to prepare for survival and ensure a better future. Link UP London has an incredible group of senior level skilled volunteers with strategic and industry experience who are ready to help.

The value of this sector cannot be underestimated, it has proven its necessity and true worth over the past few weeks yet again. It deserves everyone’s support and together we will continue to support and strengthen it through this crisis and beyond.

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