Evolution and adaption in charities

Published by Susan Robinson on 16 July 2020

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The charity sector has been around for many centuries and during its history has evolved and adapted to meet the changing environment. Unfortunately, some basic needs addressed by charities have not changed over the centuries. Almshouses were set up to provide accommodation to the poor and they are still going strong hundreds of years later. However, even though some of the older buildings look the same there have been many changes, not least the removal of outside toilets and introduction of en-suite facilities! Legislation changes, needs change and society expectations change. Charities have had to evolve accordingly.

Recent events have required the sector to make some very rapid changes, with no time to fully deliberate or procrastinate. At the forefront is making sure the beneficiaries are supported, followed closely by the charity’s survival. Usual services have had to cease or be adapted, and new services introduced. Many Age UK charities had already started doing home deliveries prior to March; following the closure of their centres, there has been an increase in demand not only from existing clients but from a widening pool. Contact has changed from face to face with more phone calls to ensure the elderly are coping and not suffering from social isolation. Previous day centre staff are now delivering meals or making phone calls. Domiciliary care has continued throughout but with more protection needing to be undertaken. Foodbanks have had to increase their activity, introducing new measures to protect staff and volunteers as well as the public using their services. The domestic abuse charities have also seen increased activity and have had to look at new ways for people to seek their help when isolated in a home for 24 hours with their abuser. Education charities have moved training courses on-line, a particular challenge when dealing with children from underprivileged backgrounds, challenging needs or learning difficulties. Payment methods will change, and charities are now looking at alternatives to cash and cheques (although there will be cost implications to this). The internal interaction with charities has changed, due to staff, volunteers and trustees working remotely. Trustee meetings have increasingly been held on-line, although this has been a challenge where people live in areas with poor IT connections.

IT has been key to enabling these rapid changes to be made. The sector has often been criticised for not embracing technology. Well, it has taken a huge step, if not a leap, over the past few months. The use of various digital platforms for communication is well accepted now and discussions are underway on the adequacy of systems in place. Products previously purchased are now being implemented. Some charities are looking to use technology to evolve existing services that they will not be able to deliver in the old way for many weeks (and possibly months) to come.

There is still a long journey; the sector has been on this voyage for centuries and it will continue to evolve and adapt. However, society will also have to evolve and adapt in this new environment and consider what is important to it and how it will support the communities that people live and work in, both nationally and internationally, as well as supporting the charities that deliver the services that are not picked up elsewhere.

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