Preparing for change during the covid-19 era

By Sarah Vibert and Daniel King

If one thing’s clear from the last few months, it’s how fast the environment we work in is changing. From getting to grips with revised government guidance, to navigating last-minute national lockdowns, voluntary organisations need to be agile.

At NCVO we’ve seen countless examples of organisations – big and small – adapting and innovating as they respond to increasing demand for services alongside financial uncertainty and a changing regulatory environment.

In the face of these ongoing challenges, it’s more important than ever that charities and community organisations are prepared for change.

What helps organisations prepare for change?

Our research project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) – Respond, recover, reset: the voluntary sector and covid-19 – has also been exploring these issues.

A partnership between Nottingham Trent University, NCVO and Sheffield Hallam University, the project uses a monthly survey to provide real-time data on the impact of covid-19 from hundreds of voluntary organisations across the UK.

Our latest survey asked organisations what helped them prepare for the national lockdown in November 2020. Two in five told us they needed greater access to emergency funding, and the same proportion asked for sector-specific government guidance in advance.

That’s why at NCVO we’re continuing to support members by translating government guidance into clear guidance for the voluntary sector. As part of the #NeverMoreNeeded coalition we’ve also set out a five-point plan on how the government can better support the financial needs of charities in response to covid-19.

Encouragingly, our research also found that the majority of organisations (80%) felt more prepared for the November lockdown than they did in March. This is evidence of the sector’s ability to adapt.

We’re also gathering insight through in-depth interviews across the sector to understand how organisations are responding to the situation. This evidence and ongoing insights from NCVO members has helped us to identify key tips to help organisations prepare for change.

Five ways organisations can prepare for ongoing change

1. Put the basics in place

If you already have good policies and processes in place, adapting to change becomes easier. We’ve seen this in the areas of digital preparedness and volunteering. With good systems in place to recruit, support, manage and retain volunteers, it can be much easier to act under pressure. Our tools and resources on NCVO Knowhow can help you get started.

2. Build a supportive culture

Organisations with strong relationships among staff and volunteers are best placed to handle a crisis. It’s a mistake to think that work to support staff wellbeing and inclusion should be sidelined during these times. Organisations should focus on this now more than ever, not least because of the stresses in the external environment. Read ACEVO’s reports on workforce wellbeing in charities and undoing racism and delivering real diversity for the sector.

3. Grow your networks

At a time when many of us are physically isolated, it’s important to build alliances. This includes learning from how similar organisations are adapting and reaching out to professional networks for guidance on regulatory changes. Find out more about how NCVO membership could help you find a supportive community, and sign up for our webinar on successful collaboration with other charities.

4. Seize the opportunities that change brings

We’ve seen how crucial an organisation’s ethos is in helping it navigate this rapidly-evolving time. Staff and trustee boards need to learn and adapt. Prepared organisations have often seen the last few months as an opportunity to reflect on how they can better meet the needs of their stakeholders, work more collaboratively and have more impact. For many, changes that would normally have taken years have happened in a matter of weeks – such as the rapid shift to digital technology.

5. Invest in leadership

Good governance has been never more needed than in recent times, as many boards and senior staff teams have had to make difficult decisions. It’s critical that leadership work together, make effective and timely decisions, and communicate these well. Find out more about the Charity Governance Code.


For more advice and guidance, visit NCVO Knowhow

This month our research is looking at how volunteering is changing during the pandemic. Tell us how covid-19 is impacting your organisation by taking our latest survey.

Contact us at to find out more.


This entry was posted in Research and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.