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The impact of Covid on grant applications and awards


There’s no doubt that Covid-19 has negatively affected many sectors—the third sector being no exception.


In the early days of the pandemic, between March and July 2020, grant-making organisations were quick to react. Their usual programmes/framework for funding were put aside, and monetary awards addressed the immediate impact of the ‘stay at home’ rule. Grants given were for core/running costs and staff salaries, as well as to help meet beneficiaries’ basic needs, i.e. their health and welfare. Foodbanks and domestic abuse charities saw extra funding, as did organisations related to medical conditions effectively ignored when the virus slowly took over the world as we knew it.


Fast forward more than a year and the situation has changed once again. In most areas, though the Covid emergency funds have now fallen away, third sector grants have not reverted to the same programmes they did before March 2020. The world has changed. People’s needs have changed. Charities have also changed to meet these needs, which means that the funding of organisations’ aims and objectives has also had to change.


Pre-pandemic, grant-making organisations were, on the whole, quite specific when it came to the eligibility criteria of a fund, the measurement of any impact, and the terms and conditions of the awards they granted. This helped them filter applications, so they found the right ones that fit their own missions and visions.


From what I’ve seen, grant-making organisations have become attuned to the changes and developments that have occurred within the sector over the last fifteen months (which is fantastic). They understand that the initial panic has now passed and, at this point, they simply want to ensure sustainability within the organisations they work with. ‘Future-proofing’ will be a valuable term to use over coming months in bid applications.


It’s too early for grant-making organisations to return to their previous criteria and aims. This mid-point—no longer providing emergency funding but far from business as usual—from my observations, has resulted in funding awards that are more open and free in nature. Rather than demanding funds be spent on specific capital or project costs, these organisations are keen to hear about the big picture and future plans of the charities applying for their help.


They’re interested in how the charities they support have changed, and fully expect that most will need to regroup, refocus and re-energise. They simply want to hear how individual charities plan to sustain themselves from this point forwards, given the upheaval the economy has seen, and the experiences people have had because of the pandemic. So, for instance, whether a charity’s beneficiary groups have changed and/or expanded. What their priorities are, currently. Their cash-flow forecasts and the financial impact Covid has had on their charity.


This may sound positive and encouraging—which it largely is. For grant-making organisations to relax their guidelines and listen and respond to those they support is significant…and long overdue. However, studies have shown that, overall, there’s been a decline in the amount of funding available to go round, following Covid. Experts predict funding pots will continue to decrease in the coming months, which will likely increase the amount of competition for awards.


Unfortunately, some small charities will have succumbed over the last year—casualties of the pandemic. If, before March 2020, these charities’ reserves were already low and they were already on a cliff-edge, there’s little doubt that Covid will have pushed them over the top. Though this will even out the playing field somewhat for everyone else applying for grants, it’s beneficiaries who will ultimately lose out.


For many of the charities that have survived, demand for their services has only increased, which impacts their finances from another direction. With a good portion of their reserves likely spent on core costs to see them through the last year, it’s still a precarious time for many in the third sector.


My advice for these small charities is to seek advice. They’ve been through a lot and it’s not a surprise if they’re unsure of where to go from here. It’s also difficult to see the bigger picture when you’re within the organisation…when you’re battered and bruised from fighting hard to simply exist. To properly address if you’re getting the right help to the right people who are in genuine need of it—because this may not be the same group of people as before, now that we’re past the worst of the pandemic. Because, if the world and its dog has changed, due to a global problem few saw coming, how can everything in it have remained the same?


In every sector, businesses have had to adjust. The digital world has enveloped us completely now. A whole new medical era has begun, with different priorities and procedures. Our lives have been put on hold; how we spend our money and our downtime have irrevocably altered. How can all of this not had an effect on organisations?


I’ve advised and worked with charities large and small over the last couple of decades. Let’s identify the right route out of the pandemic for you—call me for a chat.