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Can business help charities recover from the Annus Horribilis of 2020?

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This year ends with a desperate financial backdrop for many charities. Founder and chair of trustees of the Randal Charitable Foundation, Dr Nik Kotecha OBE, examines whether strategic partnerships with businesses may hold the answer.

This year has been challenging for us all, but for the voluntary and charity sector it really has been an annus horribilis. As we rapidly approach the end of 2020 it’s clear that many charitable organisations may not last the winter, let alone into 2021 and beyond.

This bleak picture was vividly summed up recently by the Pro Bono Economics consultancy, which reported that 166,000 charitable and voluntary organisations across Britain have seen vital income streams shrink at a time when demand for their services has surged due to Covid-19.

The ongoing pandemic and lockdowns have severely hampered charitable organisations” already fragile funding streams, and could lead to the gap between income and expenditure across the sector reaching £10bn due to charity shop closures and the cancellation of fundraisers.

On top of this a staggering 60,000 jobs could be lost and vital community services look almost certain to be cut further.

The Government has been very supportive of business, having introduced some of the most comprehensive financial support of any country in the world. This included furloughing almost 10 million workers and 900,000 small business grants.But what about charities and voluntary groups, which are so vital for society and wellbeing, as business is for the economy and livelihoods?

Perhaps herein lies the answer as business and the charitable sector both play different, but equally as important roles, in helping communities to thrive. If both of these very different sectors could better align and support each other, there would undoubtedly be great benefits to both, as well as society in general.

As the new vaccines edge us towards the end of the pandemic, companies should be seen as partners in tackling problems faced by our communities. This doesn’t just mean jobs, it has to be more than that. Plenty of businesses want to do their bit and support charities through corporate partnerships. This can often involve company employees taking part in voluntary activities for the good of the local community and this kind of mass participation exercise can have a big impact.

But this will not be enough, and the charitable sector is another industry that will need to boom to support our post-Covid-19 recovery. The sector’s role has never been more important in supporting local people. These people will be our employees, their families, neighbours and friends.

It is often the smaller charities, which are making the biggest impact locally, but they are unlikely to have large fundraising and communications departments to facilitate the branding and public relations expectations of many companies.

Having a mind-set from the beginning that making an impact” with charitable support isn’t about how much publicity can be generated, but the positive effect the support will have to people directly on their doorstep, is also important.

I know through my own business and from founding the Randal Charitable Foundation that the best way to help is to seek out those smaller, local charities who will likely know many of the people we work with and the communities we live in. Strategic collaborations, where companies commit over a period of years to help can lead to genuine, long term partnerships. This can be a win-win for both parties as charities benefit from more sustainable funding and tap into the expertise found around the board room table.

Supporting charities also chimes with the values of companies and the sort of company which employees want to work for. They rightly have higher expectations of their workplaces now and the contribution their employer makes to the world on their doorstep.

It can’t just be a one off event or fundraising drive, to really work we need to see long term partnerships to benefit local communities and business as well.

Perhaps one good thing to come out of this annus horribilis will be a better sense that business, alongside government and charities, also has a key role to play in supporting local communities. Wouldn?t it be great if this unleashed a strong voice for business, as a partner in helping out and supporting local communities and the nation, as well as shareholders.

During the pandemic those working in the Charity and Voluntary Sector have led the way in providing care and support for those hardest hit, and we all owe a great debt of gratitude for their dedication to helping others.

Let’s take their lead and work better together in 2021 for the benefit of our communities.

Dr Nik Kotecha OBE is the chair of trustees of the Randal Charitable Foundation. He is also the founder and chairman of generic medicines manufacturer and supplier, Morningside Pharmaceuticals.

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