As we come out of the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, the issues affecting the Boards of medical research charities are, in many ways, no different to those affecting every organisation, both for-profit and not-for-profit. If communities represent civil society in action, Boards represent corporate society in action, a slice of society in microcosm. This is why so much progress, both corporate and societal, can be made, or unmade, through Boards.

Charities are even more important now

While income overall is expected to fall by an average of 24% this year1, the needs of the beneficiaries of medical research charities have grown, largely because of the effect of the pandemic on public health systems. Screening and diagnosis have slowed, or stopped, and patient needs have consequently increased with longer waiting times and worse outcomes expected, even after the pandemic has left us and for a significant time into the future. This time of maximum risk is counter-balanced by the pressure of maximum need.

Discretionary income makes charities particularly vulnerable

With economies forecast to shrink by double digit percentages this year and next, the uncomfortable truth for charities, in the face of a significant reduction of available funds, is that they are sustained by discretionary income and many will have had to dip into reserves. They are not alone. Whether the source of their income is individuals, corporations, philanthropy or governments, a healthy economy is necessary. This is out of the control of Boards but being able to adapt and survive is not.

Charity Boards need to find the good in this destruction and nurture it

Boards have a duty to ensure their charities survive for the people they are there to help and their role is now to navigate between an extinction event and evolution. The key immediate task is to find the good that has come from this situation and to ask: “How do we keep going and how do we continue to do what beneficiaries need us to do?”

The societal value of medical research charities should give them some insulation from this crisis by demonstrating the importance of medical research to everyone on the planet, however this doesn’t diminish the current funding crisis. Research charities are science-based, and science is global, able to apply its progress to beneficiaries’ problems wherever they are, allowing results to be shared more widely and effectively than before. Unlike non-medical charities, the medical research ones have a real “north star” to guide them and help them to understand whether the next thing they plan is the right thing to do. Definable solutions exist for the problems that their beneficiaries face.

There are signs of a brighter future that may arise from the pandemic for the people who depend on research charities both now and in the future. It’s the duty of charity Trustees to bring it about through innovation and re-building more efficient organisations, able to deliver vital services and buffer themselves against the next disaster.

Read volume 2 of this blog to find out how research charity Boards can adapt and thrive to ensure they can bring this about.

1Insitute of Fundraising, 19th June 2020: “Charities are facing a £12.4bn shortfall in income for the year due to impact of coronavirus”

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