Blog May 2020

A coronavirus message from our chair

In this personal blog, our chair, Shonaig Macpherson, talks about the Trust's response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Life has been turned upside down over the last 6 weeks for everyone.

Charities are stepping up to meet the immediate needs and demands facing their communities as a result of Covid 19. Trusts and Foundations have similarly had to adapt at pace to ensure that the charities they fund and support have been able to meet those challenges. It has been heartening to see funders, third sector and governments respond in a spirit of collaboration, trust and innovation in order to take on the unprecedented challenges we all now face. In these most pressured times, we have seen new partnerships formed, new approaches to funding and a simplification of “doing business” as - without exception - funders have responded by adapting how they support charities.

At The Robertson Trust we adopted a simple approach which was largely informed by two things. Firstly, we have engaged in ongoing dialogue with other funders, SCVO and charities to establish what they were doing, what new support was available and where our resources could quickly make a difference to the charities we support.

We also reflected on what we had heard from the third sector in Scotland when we conducted a major stakeholder engagement programme in 2019 to inform our new strategy which will be launched in late summer.

We had heard about the need for unrestricted funding, for simplified reporting mechanisms and for funders to trust charities in delivering their core purpose rather than seek to impose conditions on funding where a funder determined what desirable outcomes might be. We reflected on the many immediate challenges that leaders of charities would be dealing with in responding to Covid19 and serving their beneficiaries.

This led us to take a simple and immediate approach, contacting every one of our current grant holders to let them know that we had lifted all conditions on our grants and that they should use the funds as they thought best. It does not matter if the original grant was for a project that would now not happen; we don’t want the money back. Instead we encourage the use of funds where they are needed most. We have also lifted our normal reporting requirements in the understanding that it is more important for organisations to be putting their energies into working with their communities than providing us with feedback.

We thought about grant holders whose current grant would expire in the next 6 months. We contacted them to let them know that we were sending them an additional 50% of their annual grant for them to use wherever they wanted. That means no complex application or permission process and no additional reporting. Going forward, we will continue to listen to charities to understand what more we can do to provide support.

We intend to build on this approach in our new strategy: trusting charities, using simpler processes for application and reporting, and - importantly - learning from those we support and other funders.

Collaboration is often spoken of as a required tool for funders to deliver their objectives. Never has it been more necessary for us to engage in truly collaborative practice than now. The last 6 weeks has shown what true collaboration can deliver for those we all seek to support. If we can act in new ways in a time of crisis, we need to learn from that and ensure that we continuously challenge how we do things and how we can improve our funding practice.

The road ahead is fraught with uncertainty. None of us have the answers yet, indeed, we are all still trying to work out what some of the questions are but it is not a time to retreat. Now is the time to be prepared to be bold. We are committed to working alongside our partners across Scotland to make sure that, whatever our new ‘normal’ looks like, we are able to provide appropriate support and respond to it together.