Charity Toolkit 3 - Create A Charity Financial Sustainability Plan

Enables you to assess each area of your charity's finances and use the results to create a finance sustainability plan, to underpin your overall plan, in response to the crisis. Charity Toolkit 3 of 6.

COVID19 Response Toolbox

The funding gap is huge, and cost cutting can be a race to the bottom, and often is.  Health check any aspect of your charity in 30 mins, with access to the largest resource base in the sector, including its Funding Finder database, with 100+ core funders and 250+ other free funding finders, and 50 funding lists by  Registering Now; everything is free.

  A big thank you to Moore Kingston Smith who co-produced this toolkit with me.  You can download this in toolkit form,at from the system.

COVID19 Toolbox


What it does

Which questionnaire is it in?

Survive & Thrive

How to identify and respond to emerging risks and opportunities.


Closing The Gap

How to create a financial sustainability plan (co-produced: Moore Kingston Smith).

Finance & Resources

How to create a financial sustainability plan – lite version

Finance & Resources

Secure More Funding

How to create a fundraising recovery plan.


Save Money

How to save money, without cost cutting.

Finance & Resources

Coping With Crisis

How to manage cash in a crisis.

Finance & Resources

Forecasting Income

How to get it right and stay on target.


Financial Outlook

The sector has experienced a huge loss in income, with many facing increased costs.  Funders are being very flexible and something like £2 billion has been made available, but some of this is repurposed funds and loans, and the funding is not equally available to everyone.  The focus has been on front-line charities, particularly those caring for the vulnerable, older people and food banks.  Applications tend to be simplified , with fast turnarounds, but competition is fierce with funds closing.  The funding available appears to be tapering off.  

Recent reports have suggested a huge funding gap, of up to £10 billion (Iof, Pro Bono Economics - June) and as many as half of charities have indicated they close within 6 months (DSC).  In 2008, charity closures increased four-fold.  This may well be much worse. Some larger charities are already announcing redundancies and we can expect to see to an increasing number of redundancies/closures in the coming months, as we approach late summer.  Not least as staff furlough costs begin to kick-in in August and the scheme closes 31 October.  Some 160k charity staff are on furlough. 

Looking further ahead, there is the potential for a deep recession and there are other risks on the horizon, such as Brexit.   The Survive and Thrive strategy toolkit provides a much more detailed assessment of the above.   


Finance can be broken down in to three main areas; strategic, operational, and cultural.

  • Strategic – income, expenditure, reserves, balance sheet, and cashflow. These are all the basic elements of finance which you will need to consider to ensure financial sustainability. 
  • Operational – this is where we look at the mechanics of finance: financial governance, transaction processing, controls, management information and sign off on bids, costing and cost recovery. 
  • Cultural – this is often forgotten about, but looks at whether people think that finance is important or whether finance lacks teeth to get budget-holders to take action. 


Income, expenditure, reserves, balance sheet, and cashflow. The basic elements you will need to consider to ensure financial sustainability. In the long-term, if your expenditure is greater than your income and you can’t support this from your reserves then you are no longer financially sustainable. To prevent this, and ensure that you have enough cash to trade, you need to keep on top of the basics. Do you understand these and also your business model – how you generate and spend cash? Do you understand your income streams and services sufficiently to understand which make money and which don’t? You are going to need to know this to make decisions about which services and activities to keep going and those potentially to scale back, or stop.



Short-term income heavily impacted.

Longer-term income pipeline uncertain and/or substantially impacted.

Fundraising: Income from fundraising, events, and regular giving significantly affected.

Trusts and Foundations: Income from trusts and foundations at risk, or moving towards those services only focused on Coronavirus.

Grants and Contracts:

Income from grants and contracts disrupted, or cancelled. Payment by results not possible.

Grants not paid on time (affecting cashflow). Funding bid decisions delayed, or core grants potentially at risk.

Loss-making grants or contracts: Subsidising large contracts and grants from unrestricted reserves.

Multi-year funding: These end with no replacement secured yet.

Investments: Income from investments significantly delayed or reduced.

Trading: Income from shops, and other trading significantly impacted (there is also a potential cashflow impact here).

Diversification: Income not diversified adequately - single/limited income streams.


Fluctuation: Increased/decreased costs due to disruption of charity activities, non-delivery by contractors, changes in delivery of services, or changes in service demand.


Specifically consider the impact on the main areas of your work, typically:

-        Staff costs (including furloughing)

-        Non-staff costs

Specific large contracts with suppliers or sub-contractors

Fixed Costs: High levels of fixed costs (don’t vary – eg rent) compared to variable costs (vary with level of activity). Limited ability to be flexible in making changes to your cost base.

Cost Reduction: Has the charity considered how best to hold back on costs, through cost reduction, stopping services or furloughing?  Or using free goods and services available to charities?


Unrestricted cash reserves well below target to support additional losses, invest in the business, or provide cashflow.

Limited free reserves (freely available and liquid cash reserves).

Balance Sheet

Cash: Limited cash at bank, or financial assets that could be easily liquidated into cash, to pay bills, wages, and other costs.

Cash Flow

General: After mapping out all major cash needs (Salaries, critical supplier payments, HMRC), cash is insufficient to keep the business solvent.

Business Cycle: When looking at your business cycle you are not aware of when cash peaks and troughs.

Overdraft: Bank unlikely to agree overdraft, or loan, and/or no assets to secure loans against.


This is where we look at the mechanics of finance: financial governance, transaction processing, controls, management information and sign off on bids, costing and cost recovery. Each element of the finance function is critical to protecting the assets of the organisation, and reporting on this quickly and in a good enough format to make management decisions.



Reports: Trustees and management not sure of current financial position, coronavirus impact not reflected in finance reports, including current cash position.

Budget Control: Lack of effective budget control, including of any coronavirus costs being incurred.

Forecasts: Trustees and management not aware of future year finance estimates, coronavirus impact not reflected in these.

Business Planning: Robust plans to replace lost income, or hold back on expenditure not yet in place. No contingency plans or scenarios modelled.

No Coronavirus Response Plan: The response plan is not formed or is not sufficient.

Reserves: Management of reserves is insufficient. Unplanned spending of free reserves.

Reserves: Spending restricted money on non-restricted purposes; including bank-rolling activities and cashflow from restricted sources.

Management Information

Timely: Management information not produced on a timely basis to provide relevant and current information.

Up-to-date: Income and expense forecasts not up-to-date and/or prudent.

Collaborative: Management information is not produced using financial and non-financial information that really matters; it is generic data and not owned by budget holders.


Security: Insufficient controls in place to ensure security of cash and where this is paid to (there are growing fraud attempts in the Coronavirus environment).

Going Round Processes: Staff are no longer adhering to process and procedure and are going round these.

Sign off: Effective sign off of paperwork has broken down or is insufficient (this usually occurs because sign off is paper-based and staff are no longer in the same physical location).

Transaction Processing

Input Errors: Inefficient and outdated finance systems meaning duplication of data entry and increased input errors.

Processing Delays: Significant delays in processing now occurring due to Coronavirus and poor systems.

Cost Recovery

Visibility: Trustees and management not aware of what each service truly costs to run, including a fair share of overheads.

Subsidising Grants and Contracts: Unrestricted funding being used to subsidise overheads and grants and contracts without effective sign off.


This is often forgotten about, but looks at whether people think that finance is important or whether finance lacks teeth to get budget-holders to take action. It also focuses on finance’s role as a business partner, to help the charity think in difficult times, and not just act as a processing function.


Business Partnering

Decisions: Finance are not part of the senior leadership team or involved in any key decision making. Alternatively, finance sees their role as transaction processing, not helping the charity respond.

Management Information: Management information is produced by finance alone and without input from budget holders and other staff

Value: Non-finance staff don’t see the value in finance

Giving Finance Teeth

Accountability: Finance are not given authority to hold budget and forecast holders to account for variances

Access All The Free Resources

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