Charity FM survey: how are charities responding to the coronavirus?

We surveyed members of the Charities Facilities Management Group to find out what actions they are taking in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

a closed sign

Not an option: many charities deliver vital services. They will be struggling to find ways to continue and adapt in the present emergency. (Photo: Throgers, via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

By Annette McGill

Charities and community groups are facing up to an enormous range of issues as they try to continue to deliver services during the coronavirus pandemic. 

There are more than 168,000 registered charities in England and Wales, and another 24,000 in Scotland. They deliver services ranging from debt advice to end-of-life care. All of them are having to make decisions about how to cope with the coronavirus.

Charity facilities managers were probably the first people to start implementing workplace changes in response to COVID-19. Intial steps would have included highlighting the importance of handwashing and upgrading cleaning regimes.

Since then the pandemic has become a critical risk for all charities, and fms are still playing an important role in co-ordinating responses.

We surveyed members of the Charities FM Group about what actions they were taking. 

(This survey took place from March 10-16, and many of the responses will have been overtaken by events - but the responses give some idea what charities are doing.)

We asked:

What are you doing about cleaning?

  • put up posters re handwashing/hygiene:  92%
  • communicated handwashing/hygiene measures via intranet :  76%
  • provided hand-sanitisers:   84%
  • made additional arrangements for staff in high-traffic locations - eg reception:   38%
  • upgraded or changed cleaning regime:   76%
  • discussed changes to cleaning provision with contractors:  61%

One voluntary organisation with tenants in the building is requesting that tenants share planning on how they will ensure hygiene within their spaces

Events: What actions are  you taking?

Of the charities which held public events, a third had cancelled public events for more than 100 people, a third had cancelled or  postponed international events, and 15% had cancelled or postponed events due to host more than 1000 people. 

Travel: by last week, this is what charities had put in place:

  • Not taken any action: 38%
  • Asked staff to avoid UK travel: 15%
  • Asked staff to avoid international travel: 15%
  • Restricted international travel to essential only 23%
  • Suspended all international travel: 30%

Closing sites and home working

  • Giving staff the option to work from home: 61%
  • Asking staff to work from home as much as possible: 23%
  • Closing sites to visitors: 7%
  • Closing sites to all but key staff: none
  • Rolling out training on online meeting software: 38%
  • Upgrading software and hardware for online meetings/conferencing: 30%
  • Reviewing and/or upgrading arrangements for online file storage and access - e.g. cloud storage:15%

In the past few days many charities have begun closing sites. For example, the RLNI has taken the decision to close all RNLI shops, museums and visitor centres with immediate effect. Their lifeboat stations will remain operational but will not be open to visitors. RNLI have combined this action with a clear and effective fund-raising message, reminding supporters that their work doesn't end - and providing a link to their fundraising page here: RNLI support us

What online meeting/conferencing software do you use?

Meeting and video conferencing services vary from apps which let users have a simple voice chat over the internet, to apps which let users share screens, watch presentations while interacting via text, jointly access digital whiteboards or broadcast conferences to large groups of viewers.

A lot of different options were mentioned by our survey respondents and many organisations are using a variety different services. These were the top four listed:

  • Microsoft Teams: 54%
  • Skype personal: 23%
  • Zoom: 23%
  • Google Hangouts: 10%

What special arrangements are charities putting in place for contractors on site, consultants, temporary workers, or people on zero hours contracts?

Voluntary sector organisations employ, and depend on, the services a wide range of people who are not employees. Responses varied widely, but overall, charities are working with contractors and others to find solutions that can enable work to continue. Common responses included:

  • Asking consultants to work from home and postpone any planned travel
  • Consulting with on-site contractors about additional hygiene measures
  • Reviewing how deliveries are made
  • Paying people on zero hours contracts for cancelled shifts

Visitors - are you taking any actions related to visitors to your site(s)? If so what?

For non-profits such as care homes, hospices and community centres, welcoming visitors is a vital part of their service. These organisations are struggling with difficult decisions. 

As of last week, actions ranged from not making any changes to cancelling all appointments. Where visitors are an integral element of their services, charities are taking a step-by-step approach:

  • Posting additional signage re handwashing facilities, and requesting visitors to wash their hands and use sanitiser on arrival and departure
  • Contacting visitors in advance, asking them to confirm that they have not been in contact with anyone infected, and to provide their contact details in case visits need to be cancelled.
  • Advising non-essential visitors not to attend.

Finally, we asked our members:

What are your most critical concerns? 

The responses to this question highlighted the wide range of activities and services which charities provide across society: from hospice care to animal sanctuaries, from homeless shelters to family support for sick children, from drop-in centres to local community groups.

Most respondents highlighted their worry about how they can keep essential operations and client services running if many staff are taken ill. This is a huge concern for organisations such as hospices, care homes, shelters and animal rescue organisations.

The second biggest concern was the impact of reduced funding: voluntary organisations are cancelling fundraising events, charity shops are closing due to lack of volunteers, and face-to-face collections are being suspended - but many charities depend on this income to deliver their services. 

During the pandemic, charities and voluntary organisations will be doing everything they can to maintain the crucial services they provide across the UK and overseas. For those who have the means or the opportunity, there is no better time to think about supporting charities with a donation or other practical support. 

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