7 Oct 2021

There are many inspiring examples of charity work during the recent pandemic, but perhaps the greatest impact has been charity involvement in developing the Oxford AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine.

Much of the funding for vaccine research has come from charities, including the University of Oxford, which has ultimately enabled us to find a way out of the Covid-19 restrictions.  

The pandemic has shone a spotlight on the fundamental value and purpose of charities. Many charity initiatives have provided exceptional support, for example in areas such as food distribution and supporting mental health, and many people have showed a willingness to give time and money in order to support others in society – the heart of charity. However, the pandemic has also highlighted big challenges for the large charity model of delivery.  

Limited state support 

The coronavirus pandemic has seen many charities caught between two stools: they have generally been ineligible for business support and yet the demand for their services has increased. Whilst businesses have been able to furlough staff and take advantage of other support such as tax deferrals, charities have been unable to participate fully in the furlough scheme because their staff were needed at work to meet increased demand for services. Charities have also been unable to apply for many of the loans on offer, and given charity tax exemptions, the tax deferrals haven’t made much difference.

Where charities did decide to furlough staff – eg in fundraising teams focused on running events – this held back their ability to adapt to the circumstances and generate new sources of funding. 

The package of government support that eventually arrived for charities required a complex application process and sometimes seemed to be skewed towards influential connections rather than meeting a specific set of criteria. It was also criticised as too little, too late. Whatever the politics, it was widely felt to be harder for charities to access funds than it was for businesses.  

More effective responses 

The limited available support mattered more for some models of charity than others.   

The conventional charity model has not always been sufficiently adaptable, whilst social venture and individual volunteering models have clearly been highly responsive and effective. Compare the huge revenue drops for large charities with the money raised by Captain Sir Tom Moore, or Meals for the NHS’ rapid fundraising and delivery of hot meals for NHS staff. The explosion of grassroots community groups has been a positive sign of charitable intent, and it remains to be seen how established charities can engage with these new movements. 

These routes, together with direct donations and large-scale philanthropy, are rapidly gaining ground in the charitable sector and we will examine why in our forthcoming articles. 

In the meantime, if you’d like to discuss your charity model, a possible social venture or any other aspect of charity work or impact-driven enterprises, please get in touch.