Why we need to pause before we plan

Zoe Amar
25 May 2021

What are you up to this weekend? Perhaps you’re going to the pub or a restaurant, or even the cinema. Life as it was before the pandemic is starting to return. Maybe you’re even planning your first face-to-face work meeting or a day in the office soon.

Yet so many things have changed. Perhaps I am being awkward, but this doesn’t feel like a return to normal, and I don’t think we can, or should aim to go back to exactly how things were before. There are, and will continue to be, big changes to how we live and work. McKinsey are forecasting that digital adoption will continue to grow post-pandemic. Flexible working is also here to stay; 90% of the respondents to Blackbaud’s report into the Future of Work in the charity sector agreed with this view. Blackbaud revealed further signs of disruption in that report, with 64% of decision-makers saying that they are now more likely to invest more in technology as a result of the pandemic, and 42% also planning to kick off digital transformation projects.

Digital adoption has grown across the sector over the last year and we are tracking this in the survey to build The Charity Digital Skills Report. We want to map how this is changing charities like yours, so we can create a resource for you to benchmark your charity against and identify where the sector needs support as it reaches the next stage of its evolution.

We’re in transition. If the vaccine rollout continues to scale and be effective, then this is ‘the great in-between,’ a moment between leaving how we lived during lockdowns behind and our future as a sector emerging. Yet some boards will want to capitalise on the potential growth of the economy and pent up demand, and I suspect that fundraisers will be under huge pressure to make the most of this, especially for face to face events.

My worry about this is that we need to take the time to pause, reflect and learn the lessons from everything that has happened over the last year, otherwise how can we create meaningful strategies? We must be ruthless about blocking out the space to do this, and we need to create a shared understanding right across our charities about the insights we’ve gained over the last year and what our new north stars are. How else will we unlock the motivation and energy needed to move forward after an exceptionally difficult year?

Here are 4 things you can do to make sure this happens.

Take a break

Before you get out the Post Its and start brainstorming about the future, we all need to recharge. The Blackbaud report revealed that 83% of staff in the third sector have felt supported during lockdown but 48% still feel their well-being has deteriorated. Psychologists have reported a rise in pandemic burnout. In response to this, some charities are taking wellbeing days, whilst Citigroup have launched Zoom free Fridays. 

If the predictions about pent up demand are correct, then we will all need a lot of energy to make the most of the economic recovery. If you were about to run a marathon you’d plan your training schedule, meals and sleep ahead. I’m sorry to sound like your mum but please, get some rest.

Review what you’ve learned over the last year

Pretty much every single project we’re doing with charities at the moment starts with a retrospective. The scale of digital adoption is such that everyone has lots of learnings to share about digital, but they may not realise the value of what they know. Get your team together (you can do this online) and review what’s gone well, what could be improved and what the next steps are. There is something about a group of people coming together to share their experiences, establish priorities and nail a game plan for the future that is really energising.

Talk to your supporters

I can’t emphasise this enough. People’s behaviour is likely to change several times this year as they adjust to new patterns of living and working. Stay close to them by doing regular user interviews and gather insights from colleagues who have regular contact with the people you work with. What’s changing and how can you meet these needs? Before you agree to those new face to face events that your fundraising director wants check in with donors to measure demand.


There’s a lot on leaders’ minds at the moment, from re-opening offices safely to starting up face to face service delivery and fundraising again. You can influence their thinking. They may not have time to keep on top of all the many reports emerging about how the world has changed. For example, Blue State Digital’s report shows how charity fundraising has morphed during the pandemic, with digital an important part of the mix. During the pandemic, 45% of respondents had given a one-off online donation, whilst 21% do not see themselves donating to a street fundraiser in the next year. Keep an eye on the data that is emerging about how the world around us is changing and offer to brief leaders on developments. I bet they’ll appreciate it.

There will be a rush of activity as society reopens, but if we can all take a breath to regroup, reboot and rethink our plans with our teams then we will be in a much better position to move forward with purpose.

The Charity Digital Skill Report survey is open until midnight on 1 June. Share your thoughts on how your charity is using digital here. We will launch the results in the charity press in July.

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