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Lessons Learned: preparing for uncertainty

The indications are that we’re heading towards a second wave and further restrictions resulting in local lockdowns, and possibly a second national lockdown, so I wanted to reflect on the lessons learnt by the local voluntary sector during the first lockdown.

Many of our successful bids and conversations with our clients has centred around technology and digital transformation so that they could maintain connection with their beneficiaries. Life has certainly gone virtual. We’ve all noticed that more people are working at home, living and connecting to the outside world through their computer. A major part of these transformation, and the funding need, for these digital infrastructure changes has really emphasised the digital gap between the most vulnerable members of society. Our clients serve a range of sectors including; domestic abuse, mental health, young people, physical and hidden disabilities and older socially isolated individuals, and all have had to think creatively about connecting with their clients.

We are preparing ourselves for the uncertainty ahead and beginning to adapt our thinking by looking at new research, thinking creatively about project delivery and presenting need so that funders understand the issues the voluntary sector face.

1. Think beyond digital

Funders have committed significant amounts of funding to digital technology over the past months and I’m not sure this will continue so we need to identify new ways of interacting with beneficiaries. You might want to think about outdoor provision, can you offer your services in outdoor settings? Can you develop more outreach and mobile intervention and what do you need to achieve that? I’m sure funders would want to know…

2. Speak to your beneficiaries

When I was an assessor we’d like to see consultation that was less than two years old, and that would do. We’re in such unprecedented times and the effects of COVID on vulnerable people in our communities has changed the way they need support and how they access help. Funders will want to see evidence what you’ve done to understand these new challenges and what your beneficiaries needs are now. Once again, think creatively on how to engage your beneficiaries, online discussion, simple questionnaires or online focus groups will provide you with good data. Remember to explain that you’ve broken down the barriers to participate in your consultation too!

3. Understand your community

A lot of funders are now focussing on those that are disproportionately effected by COVID such as BAME, LGBT, migrant and alyssum seeks but they also want to see new and effective methods and approaches to engagement. Taking a moment to understand your community and explore the statistical evidence that underpins that community such as population figures, deprivation stats, or health inequalities. You should also look at your local authority as many have released research or policy updates that give you clues about the community you serve.

4. Understand your funder

In the early days of COVID, we saw many funders delay or cancel their funding programmes while the big hitters like the National Lottery Community Fund, Arts Council and Sport England opened up large pots of funding to help groups. We’re now seeing the majority of funders and Trusts re-opening their programmes but they all have had time to refocus their priorities and strategies. To be successful you need to understand these priorities and ensure your application form meets this clearly. Before you apply, read their websites, read the guidance notes and re-read their strategic documents as this will certainly put you ahead of those that don’t!

We hope these suggestions help with the next couple of months. If your organisation is struggling with funding then contact us and we can provide you bespoke advice.

Wil Woan Consultancy

c/o WeWork Spinningfields
1 Quay Street
Manchester M3 3JE

Tel: 07528 665 977