Supporting Organisational Resilience in the Aftermath of Covid-19

29 July 2021 | By Naomi Chapman

In 2010, outgoing Arts Council England Executive Director Mark Robinson wrote a key paper entitled “Making Adaptive Resilience Real”, considering the features of a resilient arts organisation and how these could be fostered through organisational and sector leadership. More than 10 years later – and following a significant disruption to the sector due to Covid-19 – how can leaders ensure these features are in place?


What is adaptive resilience?

Robinson defines adaptive resilience as “the capacity to remain productive and true to core purpose and identity whilst absorbing disturbance and adapting with integrity in response to changing circumstances”.

The extent to which organisations can keep delivering work in line with their charitable objectives (or vision and mission), while things might be changing rapidly around them, defines how resilient they may be.

An organisation might have been delivering excellent work for years in “good times” but with the challenges of Covid-19, we have seen many struggle to carry on delivering work, or to remain true to their core purpose. Research conducted in October 2020 showed that 10% of charities believed they would have to close within a year.

Robinson sets out eight features that determine the extent to which an organisation is resilient, split into four resources, and four skill sets:

  • Resources
    • Team buy in to a shared purpose and values
    • Predictable income from a strong business model
    • Strong networks within and outside an organisation
    • Intellectual, human, and physical assets
  • Skills
    • Strong leadership, management, and governance
    • Built in staff capacity for reflection, innovation, and experimentation
    • Situational awareness of the external environment and organisational performance
    • Awareness and mitigation of weaknesses 

These features are wide ranging, touching on numerous core elements of organisational identity such as governance, fundraising, and strategy. Embedding these principles will help organisations to adapt and survive the challenging context of the next few years. Crucially, no one of these features is enough in isolation – the best leader in the world cannot make an organisation resilient without some or all of the remaining features. 

Follow on research from Robinson and Tony Nwachukwu found that adaptive resilience and diversity were intrinsically linked, with the same features above supporting diversity within an organisation.


How can organisations become more resilient?

Based on Robinson’s features above, there are several practical steps that leaders can take to increase the resilience of their organisation after Covid-19 and as we navigate the uncertainty of the coming months:


Practical Step

Shared purpose and values

Ensure your whole team can articulate the vision, mission, and values of your organisation


Conduct exercises to discuss how these statements inform work day-to-day

Predictable income from a strong business model

Develop a business model with diverse income sources, to mitigate against the risk of losing funding from a particular source


Use data to benchmark your financial portfolio against comparable organisations, such as Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy and MyCake’s benchmarking dashboard


Strong networks within and outside an organisation


Apply to join networks and access networking opportunities as they arise (if relevant, this could include Heritage Compass or the Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy Network initiative or sector wide bodies such as the Chartered Institute of Fundraising or ACEVO.) 


Encourage conversation and collaboration within an organisation, through regular meetings, socials, and chance to feed in ideas


Intellectual, human, and physical assets

Conduct a review of capital and expertise held by your organisation, identifying intellectual, human, and physical assets that could be used to generate income


Invest in developing new assets where the organisation has a weak spot, for example through capital investment in equipment, or training investment that will lead to intellectual assets


Leadership, management, and governance

Invest in training, mentoring and support for leadership figures in your organisation. For governance, this could include attending the Trustee Leadership Programme


Conduct a board audit to ensure you have the skills required for the next phase


Adaptive capacity: innovation and experimentation embedded in reflective practice

Budget a set percentage of time for reflection, innovation and experimentation in the capacity of every staff member – for example 5%


Schedule discussion and reflection sessions to consider where ways of working could be changed going forwards


Situation awareness of environment and performance

Make situational analysis a regular feature of the business planning process, using tools such as SWOT or PESTLE


Follow key sector publications to stay abreast of trends and news


Consult with local communities to understand need and design responsive programmes


Management of key vulnerabilities: planning and preparation for disruption


Make sure that risk management is an active part of your leadership and governance processes. This could include picking 1-2 risks to discuss per board meeting, to ensure your risk register is continuously reviewed


Organisational resilience has never been more important than it has been in the last 18 months, and than it will continue to be as the pandemic runs its course. 

Having clarity on your strengths and weaknesses against Robinson’s eight features, and a clear action plan for increasing resilience, will allow your organisation to continue to deliver work in line with its core purpose into the future.


This blog is part of a short series, as our Development Manager (Naomi Chapman) studies on the University of Leeds’ Postgraduate Certificate in Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy.

If you are interested in this topic, Mark Robinson has a new book out on many of these themes – Tactics for the Tightrope – published by Future Arts Centres.

How has your organisation increased its resilience over the last 18 months? Let us know on Twitter at @OfficialCause4


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