How are grant-making charities responding to the cost of living crisis?

The Association of Charitable Organisations (ACO) surveyed our members to identify how grant making charities that offer financial and non-financial support to individuals are responding to the current cost of living crisis.

How are grant making charities responding to the Cost of Living Crisis

The Association of Charitable Organisations (ACO) surveyed our members to identify how grant making charities that offer financial and non-financial support to individuals are responding to the current cost of living crisis. ACO membership represents charities from diverse categories such as occupational charities, armed forces charities, and regional charities.

Current economic uncertainty is prevalent across all sectors and is particularly disruptive for those that faced turbulence during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Charities are having to respond flexibly and efficiently to meet the needs of the individuals and families they support.

Initially we asked our members whether they had seen an increase, decrease or no change in the volume of applications over the last quarter. This graph below indicates that 74% of respondents have seen an increase in applications for support.

One charity member quotes, “Within three minutes we will receive our maximum grant capacity of 140 grant applications”. This sentiment was echoed by another charity, “Since opening cost of living grants we have seen more than double to volume of applications. Receiving 1600 applications in 2 weeks”.

The response was mixed on whether charities have introduced new financial grant programmes during the crisis, with 53% saying yes and 46% saying no. Those that have implemented new financial programmes quoted specific energy grants and Cost of Living grants for their beneficiaries to match the surge in applications of this nature,

In response to an dramatic increase in applications charities shared ways that they are offering non-financial support to their beneficiaries. In some cases, this kind of support was not in place before the cost of living crisis. Charities shared that they are offering resources and advice around energy bills and the cost of living crisis on their websites. Moreover, our survey highlighted that charities offering grants to individuals are responding by collaborating with external agencies to offer wrap around support for beneficiaries. As for a lot of charities finances are not infinite, offering non-financial support could be a vital supplement to grants during uncertain and everchanging times.

“(We have) increased our grants to support organisations dealing with mental health support and debt advice looking to support local “warm place” facility”.

We posed a question to members around their due diligence approach during this time. The response demonstrates that largely charities are continuing with their current due diligence approach.

“We continue to operate significant due diligence”. Whereas, a small portion of member charities have adopted a lighter touch in particular circumstances.

The survey responses also demonstrated that the emergency state many grant making charities experienced during the pandemic has continued on into the cost of living crisis. “A Number of emergency grants increased from 2 to 3 during Covid and uplift maintained”. The stark proximity between the tail end of the pandemic and the onset of the current crises has meant that some charities are responding to impacts from the pandemic alongside the cost of living crisis.

In terms of fundraising, responses were mixed from charities, with the majority 58% stating that they are not planning any alternative income generation or fundraising in response to the cost of living crisis. This may be due to the fact that 90% of respondents have endowment funds and use this capital to fund grants with sizeable room for adjustments to be made if necessary. One of the members quoted, “Once we have finalised our strategy we are going to produce our first ever fund-raising strategy”. Therefore, actions are varied in this area depending on the charity.

With the growth gap between public and private sector salaries the widest it’s ever been, we posed questions around staff support during the cost of living crisis. A quarter of respondents have introduced specific financial or non-financial support for their staff during this period. One charity has offered “One off winter payment for staff with salaries under £35K”. Those that answered No to offering specific support often had assistance in place for staff previously and are utilizing this. “We already have employee assistance programme, Help at Hand GP and mental health support, and reasonable pay amounts”. The survey highlighted the impact that the cost of living crisis will likely have on internal staff as well as the individuals receiving grants.

Charities reflected generally on their experience as grant makers over the past quarter. It is clear that new ways to reach individuals are being tested to respond more effectively as demand increases.

“We are constantly running to keep up and we have been inundated both via our own website and through the Lightning portal. This is the worst I have ever known”.

“We are going to reduce the number of frontline organisations we work with. Some are registered but only submit less than five applications in a year. We want to focus on fewer organisations but have confidence in their quality and build deeper relationships with them”.

“We have been involved in promoting the availability of COL support at events. All staff are regularly updated on what support is available, both for themselves if needed, but mostly for the clients they’re working with”.