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Brexit: are you a meerkat or an ostrich?

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Brexit: are you a meerkat or an ostrich?

meerkat       ostrich

The chain of events that unfolded, often very rapidly, in the wake of the Brexit referendum on 23 June (yes, it was only seven weeks ago) has generated very challenging times for those entrusted with running charities. 

One of the essential roles for a charity’s board is to develop and keep under review a charity’s strategy, and then to keep the organisation on track.  It can however be extremely challenging to take a strategic perspective in the face of day-to-day operational pressures and in a climate of considerable uncertainty.  As a trustee, are you looking out to see what is on the horizon, or are you hiding your head in the sand? 

As was set out in our recently updated Guidance and Good Practice for Charity Trustees acting with care and involves:

  • making sure the charity is run properly
  • having a clear, up-to-date picture of how the charity is doing financially
  • understanding and assessing potential risks, and having procedures in place to reduce them

Although it is unlikely that a charity is immediately thrown into jeopardy by the referendum result, it is clear that in the medium to long term, the consequences of exiting the EU will be far-reaching.  There will be challenges (and of course opportunities) for charities.  A wise board will begin to examine these quickly to help get ahead of any risks that emerge.

The areas of change include:

  • political – policies and priorities are already shifting
  • economic – the fiscal impact and the knock-on effect on public and family finances will take some time to work out in full
  • legal – many of the parameters within which charities currently operate will change; we are however likely to have some warning about these as the specifics emerge
  • organisational – if you are an employer, you should consider any potential impact on staff and whether your policies and practices still apply
  • technological – OK, Brexit may not have had much direct impact on this, but why waste a good crisis? We now live in a digital world and more and more charities are adjusting their operations to take full advantage the possibilities here.

In these uncertain times, you may wish to review your strategies to ensure that these are still ’fit for purpose’ and that your business plans remain achievable in light of the uncertainties.  Scenario planning might help you to gain perspective on critical issues facing your charity and could highlight the need to take strategic decisions about capital investments and budgeting, particularly in relation to reserves and contingencies.  Charity boards need to embody and transmit their vital mission – they also need to keep a watchful eye on the bottom line.

It may be wise to engage with your supporters, funders and beneficiaries so that your discussions and decisions are properly informed.  And you will certainly want to ensure that you seek appropriate expert advice and assistance if you consider that major changes are necessary. 

So I hope you agree that in the weeks and months ahead, you will better serve your fellow trustees, any staff you have, your beneficiaries and your communities as a meerkat rather than as an ostrich! 


David Robb


Further guidance and assistance:

  • Brexit, what could it mean for the third sector? SCVO blog 

  • Brexit Briefing: what charities can do?  Directory for Social Change

  • Charity governance, finance and resilience: 15 questions trustees should ask, CCEW