Have your say as a charity leader about topics that concern you, about what you think is important for the charity sector. See what other charity sector leaders are saying by clicking on the headlines below.
Click on the headlines of your choice.
Legacies are an important income stream for many charities. A recent English decision serves as a reminder that charities should be mindful of the circumstances in which a legacy can be reduced by a successful claim from a disappointed beneficiary.
There has already been much ink spilt over the recent decision in the case of Ilott v Mitson, where a daughter sued her mother’s estate and successfully secured an award of over £163,000 despite having been disinherited in her late mother’s will. The result of the court decision is that three charities named in the will receive less than Mrs Ilott’s mother had intended.
Whilst the case was decided under English law it must be remembered that charity trustees in Scotland may well be left a legacy from an English donor whose estate is being administered under English law and vice versa. As such, the underlying principle in question – that there are legal limits on what testators are free to do with their estates – applies both north and south of the border.
In Scotland the principle arises through the operation of "legal rights". The concept of legal rights has been with us for centuries in one form or another - the current Scottish rules are a combination of common law and the Succession (Scotland) Act 1964. The English law, which is 40 years old this year, is governed by the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
Legal rights are claims which apply in two main situations. A surviving spouse or civil partner can make a claim for legal rights against the estate of their predeceasing partner; and a surviving child can make a claim for legal rights against the estate of a predeceasing parent. In each case, the amount which can be claimed is either one third or one half of the moveable estate (that is, everything except land and buildings), depending on the relatives left behind by the deceased.
The principle of testamentary freedom is therefore qualified in Scotland by a potential claim for legal rights where a person dies leaving behind a surviving spouse, civil partner or children.
The English position under the 1975 Act also provides for a qualified form of testamentary freedom. In the Ilott case, the relevant part of the 1975 Act is for a child to make a claim for “reasonable financial provision” to be made for him or her from a parent’s estate. The reasonable financial provision is limited to the amount which the claimant ought reasonably to receive for his or her maintenance.
What should charities make of all this? The practical effect of these rules is that a charity (or anyone else, for that matter) named as a residuary beneficiary in a will may not receive the amount they anticipate. Claims may be made which will redirect assets to otherwise disinherited family members of the deceased, reducing the amount of residue available at the end of the day.
The Ilott case is certainly a reminder that there are circumstances in which a will can be successfully challenged by surviving relatives. But a practical point also arises. In the Ilott case, much was made of the fact that Mrs Ilott had been estranged from her mother for 26 years and her mother had little connection with the three charities named in her will during her lifetime. Mrs Ilott knew that she would be disinherited, so there was no expectation of benefit on her part.
By the same token, the three charities named in the will equally had no expectation of inheritance, since they were not aware in advance of the contents of the will and had no note of Mrs Ilott’s mother within their databases of donors. Indeed, Arden LJ, commented in paragraph 51 (iii) of her judgement:
“ 51 (iii) Lack of expectation of benefit: Ms Stevenson-Hoare submits that the appellant should not be penalised for lack of expectation of benefit from her mother’s estate. It would be contrary to public policy if claimants had to prove expectation as this might encourage some undesirable conduct by prospective claimants. For my part, I do not think that this fact has much weight in this case. The only beneficiaries are the Charities, who can have had no expectation either: the deceased had no connection with the Charities. The appellant, on the other hand, was the only child of the deceased, and she was deprived of any expectation primarily because Mrs Jackson had acted in an unreasonable, capricious and harsh way towards her only child.”
Lady Justice Arden takes the view that for the charities, any inheritance from Mrs Ilott’s was an unexpected windfall. However, many charities invest significant sums in promoting legacy campaigns and have at the very least an expectation that they will receive some return on their investment. So is it really an “unexpected windfall”? Charities would find it difficult to justify the costs related to legacy campaigning if the starting point was that they had “no expectation of benefit”.
Would the case have been decided differently if there had been a relationship with the charities during the mother’s lifetime? Some commentators seem to think so. The advice which is being tendered to charities is to maintain regular contact with donors in order to build up an understanding of each donor’s family circumstances.
That must however be balanced against the outcome of the newly published reviews of the Institute of Fundraising Code, Fundraising Self Regulation, led by Sir Stuart Etherington, CEO of NCVO and the informal review carried out in parallel by the SCVO. No matter where operating, it is clear that charities will need to monitor the position and ensure that they strive to meet the highest standards in order to protect their reputation and maintain the confidence of not only existing donors but the public in general.
Where amongst all of this do the duties of charity trustees play a part? The duties of charity trustees in Scotland whether under the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005, company law or the common law reach far and wide and it can often be challenging for charity trustees to balance those duties and come to an informed decision.
For Scottish charity trustees, applying those duties to an “Ilott” scenario is not straightforward. There is an absolute duty on charity trustees under the common law to control, protect and maximise the assets of the charity.
The duty to control, protect and maximise the assets of the charity is augmented by the standard of care imposed on charity trustees under section 66 (1)(b) of the 2005 Act, namely that they must “act with the care and diligence that it is reasonable to expect of a person looking after the affairs of another person” which is seen as a higher standard than a person looking after his or her own affairs.
To what extent does it apply to the “expectation of benefit” in the form of legacies from donors? As mentioned previously, many charities make a significant investment in legacy campaigns and it is right that they should do so. Surely it follows that they must then take steps to monitor any return, and where it is known that a donor has left the charity a legacy in his or her will, protect that return by keeping in touch with the donor.
But will a dim view be taken of charities which write to donors regularly? The outcome of the review of fundraising should be considered with care to ensure that any contact cannot be construed in such a way as it might give rise to any adverse publicity and cause reputational damage to the charity.
Charity trustees in England and Wales can make "ex gratia payments" in certain circumstances. Generally, these are where the charity trustees believe that they are under a moral obligation to make the payment. But the charity trustees are not under any legal obligation to make the payment; and the charity trustees cannot justify the payment as being in the interests of the charity.
Charities should be mindful that there is no such provision under Scottish law which is unfortunate since there is often strong evidence to suggest that a payment might well be appropriate. However, in Scotland, in certain circumstances, it may be possible for charity trustees to make payments to claimants. That should not be done without first taking legal advice.
Finally, the Succession (Scotland) Bill will potentially have an effect on charities. It is a result of a Scottish Government consultation in Summer 2014 and covers matters such as, rectification of wills, the effect of divorce and dissolution of a civil partnership on a will, survivorship destination, the rights of cohabitants on death and gifts. Charities with Scottish donors should be aware that there are also proposals to extend legal rights claims to include land and buildings which may well significantly increase the amount of any legal rights claim.
Ultimately, charities must understand that claims can arise which may affect their entitlements under wills and that the situations in which those claims arise may be increasing. Their charity trustees should be mindful of the options available to them and exercise their duties with the required standard of care when following a course of action.
"A surviving spouse or civil partner can make a claim for legal rights against the estate of their predeceasing partner; and a surviving child can make a claim for legal rights against the estate of a predeceasing parent."
"Charities with Scottish donors should be aware that there are also proposals to extend legal rights claims to include land and buildings which may well significantly increase the amount of any legal rights claim."
The charity sector is under attack from a variety of sources: the press, politicians, commentators and other parties - including one brave lady who has put her head above the parapet to make some very blunt criticisms and has provoked howls of fury from the charity establishment. That lady is Gina Miller who runs campaigning organisation the True and Fair Foundation.
While some of the points she has made are to an extent vulnerable to reasoned argument and counter-analysis, she and the material produced by her foundation certainly do not merit being swept aside by a blizzard of self-denial.
This self-denial by the big charity leaders, not just in the face of Miller's criticisms but generally in the face of any criticisms, is resulting in them continuing with actions and practices which are totally at odds with public expectations of charities. Not just expectations of efficient and effective management, but also of practices in line with the charitable ethos - behaving in an acceptable manner.
The True and Fair Foundation has most recently come up with the following statistics: 50 of the UK’s largest charities, selected on the basis of public donations, spent on average 22% of their income on "income generation and governance" costs; the average for these 50 large charities (22%) is twice the average UK charity (11%) based on a sample of 5,089 UK charities; the average for these 50 large charities (22%) is also more than twice the average of 50 US large charities (10%) based on similar cost categories; 13 of the 50 large charities spent 30% or more on just income generation and governance costs.
Lifting the lid
So really these statistics and other findings the True and Fair Foundation's two reports (the earlier A Hornet's Nest - A Review of Charitable Spending by UK Charities, and now Lifting the Lid - A Review of Income Generation and Governance Costs, and Charity Shops) are critical of the big charities rather than the sector as a whole. Also, the two reports look at categories and amounts which are used as official reference points, for which they cannot be fairly criticised.
Certainly these reports do contain some eyebrow raising material. For instance, the criticism of charity shop profit margins involves a comparison with one of Britain's most profitable retailers, Next - somewhat unfair to say the least. But of course that is Next having to pay rates and rent levels which charity shops don't.
Also, while there is criticism of the extent of governance costs, it should be appreciated that it is the bigger charities which tend to take on outsourced contracts from central and local government and these have quite onerous governance-related requirements. Furthermore, necessary governance/risk management can require significant resources when carrying out certain work.
However, it is legitimate that questions should be asked; indeed more than that, cherished assumptions should be challenged. Gina Miller's basic theme is that the large charities are not spending a high enough proportion of their money at the front end of service delivery and that they are not sufficiently cost effective in their fundraising, with charity shops being an example. And overall, there should be a review of the justification of charities receiving tax breaks to the extent they do.
To see a more considered response to the foundation's analysis and conclusions, it is recommended one reads a paper by Pesh Framjee, head of not for profit at accountancy firm Crowe Clark Whitehill, entitled Neither true nor fair - A critique of the True and Fair Foundation's Review of Charitable Spending by UK Charities. Framjee writes that "financial statements alone just cannot be used to measure efficiency and effectiveness", and points to "the futility of using superficial benchmarks and cost ratios".
Further details of workings
The foundation has responded to this and other criticism by giving further details of its workings and making the statement: "All the data came from the UK charity regulator, the Charity Commission, which itself used the reports and accounts filed and signed off by each charity's board.
"The ratio of costs related to the generation of income and governance costs, as expressed as a percentage of total incoming resources used by TFF, is exactly the same ratio used by the Charity Commission on their Beta website and is labelled clearly as 'income generation and governance'."
Paradoxically, it is Pesh Framjee himself who, unintentionally, reinforces the reasonableness, indeed mainstream approach, of the foundation using the basis of the analysis it did, when he states: "Charities are also to blame, further perpetuating these unrealistic expectations and poor understanding by highlighting their financial ratios as a measure of effectiveness." Game, set and match to the True and Fair Foundation!
Framjee can be said to imply that there is some publicity seeking agenda behind the foundation's criticisms ("little more than a publicity exercise"). Well, the foundation is a campaigning organisation!
But what the charity establishment has to take on board is the fact that Gina Miller is a significant philanthropist in her own right, which gives her much credibility in relation to her motives, and that she is indeed a realist about the need for charities to pay for professional services, her separate company being a supplier of such services.
So what is all this about and what should the charity establishment be doing to remedy matters?
Refusal to acknowledge anything wrong
The critical conclusions by Gina Miller and the True and Fair Foundation, whatever their precise accuracy, reflect the great wave of criticism of charities from other quarters, and that the criticism is fuelled by a refusal of many charity leaders to acknowledge that anything is wrong at all. There is absolutely no bending, not the slightest blink of an eyelid that the critics may have a point. No awareness that falling donations may be caused by negative public perceptions, which should be addressed.
One of the main causes of bad public perceptions of charities are big salaries and benefit packages for senior executives, in practice in many of the big charities. Ordinary people simply cannot relate what they see as the charitable ethos to the payment of large salaries to senior charity executives. It doesn't matter how these charities and the chief executive of ACEVO defend it (on the lines of "if you want good people you have to pay the market rate"); ordinary donors don't like this.
It would also be very reasonable to ask whether the big charities and their donors are actually getting good value for money from these highly paid executives. Framjee says: "We need to stop talking about good and bad expenditure and focus instead on performance." On that basis how does one rate the senior management of a major charity for offering older people a fixed two year energy contract which proved not to be ultimately to their advantage, and which was only discontinued when there was a public storm, as opposed to the charity's senior management monitoring the situation from the very beginning and appreciating problems.
Mindset of big charity bosses
What is concerning is the mindset of many of these big charity bosses (not the chief executive of NCVO one hastens to add who has called for transparency on the subject) who won't take on board the unacceptability of this high pay and benefits policy.
So the future remains gloomy: self-denial and no change leading to angry press and political reactions and further reductions in donations. And a continued diverting of money meant by donors for use in front end delivery - which is Gina Miller's basic overall complaint and on which further focus is needed in the interests of the charity sector as a whole.
Before going any further, the point has to be emphatically made that the majority of charities are marvellous and those who run them are marvellous people and cannot be faulted in any way concerning how they operate in very challenging circumstances. Society owes a huge debt to the great majority of charity workers and managers and it is a great pity that they are at risk of being caught in the backlash against those causing bad problems with public perceptions.
Smaller charity leaders generally do not have the large salaries and benefit packages - and the lower down the size scale one goes the lower the salaries and packages, with rates no person with similar responsibilities in the commercial or public sector would accept. Indeed criticism of big remuneration understandably leaves most charity senior executives scratching their heads in some bewilderment.
It is really the leaders of some of the big charities who are mainly at fault, and the leaders of one or two of the charity associations who have much to answer for - again NCVO being an admirable exception. It is these leaders who are in complete self-denial, completely impervious to criticism. And unfortunately this is seeping down into the management culture of the charities they run.
Exempt from normal rules
Many charity leaders, managers and even workers feel that they can act in a certain way (which is unacceptable to the outside world) simply because they are working in charities. They feel they are outside the rules of acceptable behaviour.
A short while ago, I responded by telephone to an email from a charity which was offering a free booklet on a medical condition suffered by elderly people. I called to ask for the leaflet and my call was handled by someone who quickly wanted to take my bank details. When I demurred that I was only calling to obtain the free booklet, I was aggressively asked, "Don't you want to give money to charity?" Needless to say, I would now never contemplate giving a donation to that very large and well known charity.
An elderly pensioner was sadly driven to suicide by being subject, as so many people unfortunately are, to masses of begging letters from different charities. There was massive publicity and huge condemnation. Did this immediately result in a commitment by charities to stop the practice of passing on information about donors? No need to wait for a new regulatory body and new rules - did they make this clear cut and obviously necessary commitment?
Passing on donors' details
In January this year a representative of the Institute of Fundraising was interviewed by Piers Morgan on the Good Morning Britain show on ITV. He was repeatedly questioned on the fact that charities passing on donors' details to other charities was an undesirable practice and should be stopped. His answer was that donors didn't need to tick the box! But why leave the option there in the first place?
The representative wouldn't address the core fact that the interviewer and the general public found this practice unacceptable and instead kept on repeating in different ways that the practice was a good thing because it gave people the opportunity to donate to similar charities! This representative and the organisation he represented had lost the plot.
Certain charity leaders may believe that aggressive fundraising tactics and inflexible fundraising strategies are part and parcel of raising money for charities to carry out their vital activities, but again they have to get it into their heads that the public doesn't like what is going on. The public doesn't like being accosted in the street, so why keep on using chuggers? Why respond to this dislike by only regulating chuggers rather than getting rid of them altogether?
Occasional one-off donations
People frequently feel more comfortable making occasional one-off donations (often they can't afford to do more) so why ignore this and relentlessly keep presenting the sole opportunity of direct debit? Of course, direct debits are more helpful to charities, but why ignore donors' wishes like this as some charities do with their street fundraising activities?
Perhaps if the issues raised above were addressed there wouldn't be so much anger expressed by the press, politicians, commentators and campaigners like Gina Miller and her True and Fair Foundation. Remove the causes of the anger and the sector as a whole would benefit. Time for the big charity leaders to change their mindset.
"...it is legitimate that questions should be asked; indeed more than that, cherished assumptions should be challenged."
"One of the main causes of bad public perceptions of charities are big salaries and benefit packages for senior executives, in practice in the big charities."
"Many charity leaders, managers and even workers feel that they can act in a certain way (which is unacceptable to the outside world) simply because they are working in charities."
Established more than a century ago, the Caldecott Foundation provides residential care and education for children and young people in its residential homes, emergency and assessment centres and on site schools. It also offers vocational education, semi independent accommodation and a fostering service. It uses a holistic and integrated approach to caring for some of the UK’s most vulnerable young people, the majority of whom will have suffered severe neglect and trauma as well as multiple placement breakdowns. With its own professional therapy team and a very experienced work force, the charity is dedicated to providing the very best levels of care.
I have been a trustee since 2007 and deputy chair since 2009, and took over as chairman of the foundation at the beginning of 2015. As an incoming chairman of trustees I was faced with the task of taking the charity forward (bearing in mind I am the chairman and not the chief executive), and somehow freshening up everything. I was faced with the question of what discipline should a new chairman undertake to ascertain that everything is working to its optimum effect. So here is how I have proceeded.
I have taken the opportunity to revisit the board meeting structure, format and even the location of our meetings now that we have bases not only in Kent but also in Nottinghamshire. Historically we have been based in the South East but we recently opened a new emergency and assessment centre in Nottinghamshire so I really want to encourage our trustees and senior management team to meet in both locations. I believe this will help trustees to understand the challenges of operating in two different locations.
I am also taking the opportunity to revisit our sub-committee structure. I need to ensure that we are adequately covering the work done by our various committees; Finance, Audit and Risk, Care and Therapy, Education and Remuneration.
I am using our main board meetings to drive forward the operational strategy by focusing on issues regarding any new developments, rather than looking back over the past. I want us to be dynamic and forward thinking rather than focusing on past performance. This gives the trustees the opportunity to concentrate on the real issues at hand, especially as we only meet bi-monthly. Always at the top of our agenda are the outcomes for the young people in our care.
So far I have held individual meetings with all the trustees and with members of the senior management team to discuss any issues, concerns and views and opinions concerning any aspect of the foundation’s operations. I want people to realise that the chairman is not remote but is there as a sounding board for any issues or concerns. This will help me to develop a closer relationship with the senior management team. It will also allow people to open up in a confidential and non-confrontational manner and give me a better feel for the charity’s pulse.
As the new chairman I have the opportunity to review our governance structure and take a fresh look at how we operate. I see it as my role to be more questioning, more proactive and not relying on others. As chairman I have to make sure I know personally that the right things are being done. Ultimately it’s my responsibility and it’s my name above the door!
The children we care for will come from a variety of backgrounds, having been abused, abandoned, attacked, excluded and arrested. Having been deprived of the capacity to grow and thrive they will display challenging behaviour and raw emotions which are hard for other people to understand and withstand. This could include verbal and physical aggression, bullying, absconding, self-harm and other challenging behaviours. They are the young people no one wants to know - awkward, aggressive, hard to teach and always in trouble.
Well we want them! We want to offer a safe and secure environment in which they can look back on their traumatic experiences and deal with their feelings of anger, sadness and hurt. With support they are encouraged to move forward, to experience personal relationships, care and discipline, establish trust in adults and eventually take their place back in society with confidence and courage.
This is what we are about – providing a safe, caring environment, celebrating success and promoting self-worth. However, we need to do this on a national level, outside any political constraints forced upon us by operating exclusively in the South East.
Opening our first Caldecott facility in Fledborough, Nottinghamshire has been a tremendous success and well received by both local authorities and social workers. My vision as chairman is to have a "Caldecott" established at strategic points across the UK, so that no young person who needs our care, help and support is denied the opportunity through logistical and/or geographic limitations.
This is now more important than ever, when so much press coverage focusses on the increasing growth in child sexual exploitation (CSE). We have unique skills in this area and whilst the government, police and communities can all help in identifying and tackling the "problem", we are concerned with the victims! We want to provide the help, care and support they need – physical, emotional and psychological – to deal with the trauma they have endured.
My background is in risk management in financial organisations, which covers the financial aspects of running a charity and operational and market risks that are appropriate to any organisation. The fact that the Caldecott Foundation is a relatively small organisation doesn’t mean that we can’t develop processes and procedures to ensure we manage risks which are appropriate to any organisation - to ensure that we manage risks inherent in this business in a professional manner.
Consequently, as the previous chair of the Audit and Risk Committee I developed a risk management framework and risk register to highlight all disciplines and the top ten risks are reviewed on an ongoing basis and discussed by the board of trustees. We have initiated a three stage process; the governance of risk by the board of trustees, assurance of good risk management processes by the Audit and Risk committee and risk reporting and monitoring by the staff who have the opportunity to input into the risk register.
An analogy often used in describing the skills needed to develop an organisation is drawing upon the similarities of sailing a ship. You wouldn’t want to go to sea without a destination, chart, captain, navigator and experienced crew. Well here instead of sailing a ship, we will have a flotilla of smaller boats! Making sure they are all sailing the same direction will inevitably cause issues. However, if the crew of each boat is able and competent and has good communications with the rest of the flotilla, then problems are reduced.
We are fortunate at Caldecott that we have a senior management team and staff who are extremely capable, dedicated and exceptional in their respective roles. This gives an enormous underlying strength to the charity and confidence to the board of trustees. Of course the new demands all the time on the separate responsibilities of senior management and staff make the job of governance more difficult, but then the field in which Caldecott operates is not an easy one.
But we have an active board with diverse skills and experience who all play an active part, using the skills they have to ensure the charity stays on track, and that despite any financial, logistical or management concerns we never lose sight of the fact that our focus has to be, and must be, on improving outcomes for the children and young people in our care.
Every year the Wilderness Foundation provides opportunities for individuals and groups to directly experience the irreplaceable quality of wilderness, both as a positive force for social and environmental sustainability and as a forum for personal growth and change in England, Scotland and South Africa.
As CEO of the charity, I head up the work that the Wilderness Foundation does for a wide audience, particularly young people. Our aim is to educate people about the value of wild nature and natural landscapes which in turn creates stewardship, awareness and action regarding social and environmental issues. We focus attention on measuring and implementing improved health and wellbeing through spending time in wild places.
Using the positive power of nature to change lives, the Wilderness Foundation works with some of the hardest to reach young people in our communities in a variety of proven intervention programmes including TurnAround, our Out There Wilderness Academy and one to one work in the outdoors. All our work is independently monitored and evaluated and we share our results widely.
I grew up in South Africa and lived through very varied life experiences which have enabled me to see new opportunities and the bigger pictures in life which, I believe, has helped me move the Wilderness Foundation forwards over the past 16 years. For example, my work at Cape Town University and a post graduate degree in social anthropology was a lifetime gift.
My studies and work looked at poverty, disadvantage and peoples' adaptations to their life circumstances in towns and rural areas. This included work on health and wellbeing and the solutions people found when they were ill but could not afford help. The research was hands on - knocking on doors, talking to people from all walks of life and cultures, and finding common ground.
I believe that this enabled me to grow a culture and values system within the foundation that is based on respect, building rapport and understanding of other people's perspectives and realities, and how to conduct ourselves with warmth and kindness. This has become a unique part of our approach and works incredibly well with the vulnerable youth who come through our doors on a regular basis.
The practical side of the charity's work is based on certain premises. It is vital that the work carried out is relevant to societal trends and developments; for example, peace building and reconciliation. As another example, developing understanding of the issues related to the need to feed a growing population into the future.
Our work is underpinned by the thinking that in order to protect something, there needs to be an emotional connection to it. It is this connection that drives people to protect the nature surrounding us, whilst being mindful to also positively impact on people’s lives. We practice 'Leave no Trace' ethics in all we do as a means of reinforcing respect for the environment and other people.
Our belief is that we now live in a world that is increasingly distant from wild nature, and that in the future, rural areas may be seen as solely as repositories for food and energy. We will engage and embrace as many people as possible to see, feel and understand the value of nature in our lives - for our wellbeing on every level and also to ensure that our children have the chances to see wild creatures, plants and flowers as we have done.
My experiences whilst growing up, studying and working, convinced me that understanding the complex relationship between modern society and the natural world is essential for safeguarding the future for all life.
The international side of my experience has helped my work in both Africa and in Europe. My father was a Dane, my mother from a Welsh family. My son was born in England, my daughter was born in Luxembourg. As the Wilderness Foundation is growing, our expansion has taken great lessons from South Africa and new world approaches that deal with the gifts of nature and wilderness and social justice.
This has helped support leadership and those most disadvantaged to find new ways of coping and developing their lives more sustainably and positively. The use of wilderness as a therapeutic tool has grown out of my South African experience as well - alongside my other work in Australia and the USA.
After I settled in the UK I got married and worked in a range of temp jobs giving me a wide understanding of a range of businesses and people. It taught me what it is like to be on the bottom rung of the pecking order, how not to look after staff and what it feels like when it is done well.
Other work opportunities were voluntary. While living in Luxembourg I founded a charity called the Well Baby Clinic for British mothers who struggled with ante and post natal care when their language skills were limited. This was an amazing learning curve and gave me experience of running and establishing a charity in a different language and legal system.
Whilst in Luxembourg I headed up the Parent Teacher Association at the International School. This required a lot of patience around politics and also an understanding about how to motivate and engage a multi-cultural group of volunteers. Additionally I took on the task of teaching myself desktop publishing and produced a range of magazines over time, developing my creative and communications skills which were needed to reach out to the readers.
Due to these opportunities, I have built a reservoir of experience and empathy of a range of people's life circumstances, how to adapt and seek solutions and to always face forwards. My life philosophy is to keep learning and growing, to stay as humble as possible and always attempt to see what things look like from the other side. This is important for good management.
With regards to leadership, having a positive and creative mind has enabled me to work closely with our team to move into new territory and to seek new opportunities. We have founded eight new projects, all which have run with success and a knowledge that participants have benefited.
Finally, my love of nature, animals and their behaviour and the stillness, quiet and magic of wilderness came from my 25 years in Africa. I was so blessed to have this, and our work in the UK has given space for this to continue. My passion is to encourage as many people as possible an understanding of what the benefits of spending time in the wild places of Britain, Europe and Africa can bring.
We see the positive outcomes over and over again with all the youth we engage and each time it gives us all a boost to do it all over again. Part of the Wilderness Foundation's strategic growth is to become influential European wide. Some of the last remaining true wilderness is found in Europe - and particularly in those parts that lie behind the old Iron Curtain such as Romania, the Carpathian Mountains, and also in Scandinavia and Finland.
The changes I have implemented are centred around becoming a project focused organisation, priding ourselves on the ability to respond to what is going on in the world, finding solutions (some small but significant) and growing awareness or experience in our audience and participants around this.
Over the past 16 years the Wilderness Foundation has grown from servicing the South African partners and the wilderness trails, into a transformational tool for local society. This allows us to deliver our own bespoke projects that serve to address social and environmental need here within the UK. We also realised that we had to link British people with their own wild environments and to excite them about its protection.
To start with we drew wisdom from some key South African programmes which were working with vulnerable youth in the townships, and those who had become caught up in gang and other violence. With the death of Damilola Taylor in Peckham there were many threads that joined up in terms of what the reality for some inner city youth were experiencing here and in SA, and we sought out solutions that could work here.
After much research – several years' worth – we were then ready to launch TurnAround to work with the most vulnerable young people in Essex. We are now in phase six of that programme and have evidence that it has had a real and meaningful impact on their lives and futures.
We are hugely proud of the independent University of Essex monitoring and evaluation of our work, much driven by the experience I have had in conducting and writing up research.
Alongside this we developed programmes such as Wild Swans for young women which relates to leadership and the gap in women’s leadership in particular; the Chatham Green Project to understand the pressure of population growth on food and protection of wild spaces; and Imbewu Scotland to address the urbanisation trends of Scottish society and the need to ensure that the next generation are connected to wild nature and the rural sector.
I think it is my positive approach to life, with a (sometimes questionable) endless energy that keeps life in perspective, and development of a work ethic that believes in "what you put in is what you get out". I have also realised that not everyone wants to live like I do, or feel as super passionately as I do, and I understand that we each contribute in our own way. I relish the opportunity to see the skills and benefits of each member of staff I work with and how much they contribute to the whole.
I am deeply committed to create a work environment that fulfils each staff member as much as possible.
I also believe that in some ways, being foreign gave me an ability to be outside the class system - it was difficult to pigeon hole me and I could move up and down the social ladder with equal ease. I have a wide interest level so have immersed myself in British politics, wildlife, social issues and I read widely and diversely - I think that this has helped me merge in ... alongside having a British husband!
I don’t believe that my leadership as a South African has been an issue to date - or perhaps I have been oblivious to it if it had. Would it have made a difference? Probably not.
If I could impart some knowledge to other charities, I would say that I believe it is vital to keep a wide perspective - scan the horizon and understand your place and the place of your charity in context. Find your niche too.
This helps to make the organisation relevant and fresh, and to ensure that we are current and not stale. Everyone and everything needs a spring clean quite regularly, or a pruning of dead wood - of ideas, ways of doing things, values and ethics. Question oneself often and learn from mistakes and move on. The past is a place of reference, not a place of residence.
Always say thank you and be willing to say sorry. Leadership should absolutely not be above this. In fact, leadership needs to be empathetic, humble and brave to take difficult decisions and choose directions. We cannot do it alone - we have to be in a team, or herd, that is our make up as a human animal and with that comes giving way at times. It also means taking responsibility.
Listen to others and watch how they are responding - be willing to re-evaluate your own communication. If it is not working, it is not the recipient, it is us… what can we change to be more understandable?
Get a good strategy in place and align every single thing to it and to your values. It is the most liberating experience to do this well - see New Philanthropy Capital's Theory of Change. At the Wilderness Foundation we have done this for every single thing we do - and it gives us clarity, purpose and organisation.
Laugh and have fun as often as possible - it keeps work positive and happy and is good for our health.
Be flexible with everyone and give them space: trapped animals bite in defence - space lets them take a breather and come back on different terms.
Travel and expand your mind and vision. Look near and you see very little - look far and you see so much and there is a truly wonderful world around us.
"Our work is underpinned by the thinking that in order to protect something, there needs to be an emotional connection to it."
"...the Wilderness Foundation has grown from servicing the South African partners and the wilderness trails, into a transformational tool for local society."
"Everyone and everything needs a spring clean quite regularly, or a pruning of dead wood - of ideas, ways of doing things, values and ethics."
It’s startling to note that in 2011 over 3,000 charities went to the wall according to the Charities Commission. I constantly remind myself and my team of this figure as it acts as a stark reminder that we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. We must continue to move forward, and develop new and sustainable income streams to stay ahead of the curve, to allow us to consistently increase the level of meaningful engagement we have with our donors, volunteers and supporters.
Prior to joining Midlands Air Ambulance Charity, I was already heavily involved with the health sector since 1995, having founded my own business, Electronic Health Media (EHM). The company provided Department of Health and NHS-approved disease and health awareness messages directed at patients over a large network of screens in hospitals and GP surgeries across the UK, and the messages on the screens were in "real time". EHM was acquired by Amscreen in 2008 and I took over as managing director of Amscreen Healthcare.
But my passion for healthcare wasn’t the only reason that led me to apply for the then position of charity director of Midlands Air Ambulance Charity in 2009. My youngest son was in fact airlifted from a rugby pitch several years ago, so I know first hand the immensely important role air ambulances play in emergency pre-hospital care.
Let me provide a brief background from 2009 when I first took over as charity director at MAAC. While undoubtedly providing a vital service for many years to the communities of the Midlands – undertaking up to ten life saving air ambulance missions across the region each day – MAAC was adjusting to challenging times economically and needed strong leadership to ensure the charity achieved long term sustainability.
It was this challenge that initially caught my attention and with my entrepreneurial past, I immediately immersed myself in the role, reviewing and regenerating income streams to protect donations, whilst simultaneously recruiting a team of commercially astute senior managers to complement and drive forward my vision for the charity.
As well as initially refreshing the charity’s income streams, the overall governance and structure of the organisation also required my direct attention. MAAC had been a small part of the West Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (WMAS) for over 20 years. Being part of the public sector limited our freedom to develop commercially and we were unable to introduce the specialist business skills really needed as demand (and cost) for our air ambulance life saving service was increasing. These became priorities.
The organisation required transformational change, and the fundraising mechanisms and the administration functions required strategic refocus. In 2010, with support from the board of WMAS, I developed a business case for the charity to become an independent entity, which was subsequently approved in 2011 when a new board of trustees was appointed to MAAC and I took over the role of chief executive.
The demerger from WMAS and MAAC’s subsequent independence was a breakthrough, providing the best foundation for our organisation to develop – both operationally and commercially. We have come some way since 2009 when the charity’s turnover stood at £5.6 million, as we proudly raised over £10.5 million in 2014, which funds our three air ambulance helicopters, enables our aircrew to receive the best clinical training and equipment, and helps provide a security blanket in case we face further economic challenges.
Commercial acumen is vital
One of the fundamental elements of running a charity is to run it like a business, whilst never forgetting the charity’s objectives. MAAC is a multi-million pound organisation guided by a five year strategic plan, which is supported by an annual business plan that all staff sign up to. The plan is flexible enough to adapt to most digital, economic, staff or legal changes as and when required. This helps ensure that every £1 donation can be accounted for and is put to best purpose.
Merely relying on donors’ goodwill, a legacy of giving and a respected name isn’t acceptable enough to sustain future donations, and fails to capture the hearts and minds of potential new donors.
I consistently encourage the senior management team to have open and honest dialogue to share and review our activities, even if they’re already going well, as there’s always room for improvement. By challenging all aspects of the charity, including our fundraising income streams, our internal practices and our financial structure on a regular basis, we are moving forward.
For example, the Midlands Air Ambulance Life Saving Lottery, which now boasts almost 55,000 members, is a vitally important regular income stream. And while it raises 13% of our annual income, there is still more that can be done to market this fundraising avenue with a greater number of people across the Midlands. To this end, we are constantly exploring and adopting online marketing opportunities to capture a new and younger audience of supporters.
But it’s not enough to just review practices. It has to be done in a clear and concise way with support from across the organisation. Following the teachings of the eminent author on change management, John Kotter, the board and management team developed a new culture of support, trust and openness, working tirelessly and with huge motivation.
As chief executive I am passionate about team work and building talent pools to problem solve, improve communications and reduce risk to the organisation. I lead by example and cascade information throughout and adopting a solution-based approach, as I believe in supporting and empowering the team. I welcome ideas and chatting through opportunities or difficulties as a team to alleviate any negativity and the result is a driven, motivated and happy team who know their well being is important.
Striving for excellence
As part of our five year strategic plan, we endeavour to be "excellent" in everything we do. This attitude means we never stand still, and has led MAAC to become internationally recognised as one of the best providers of pre-hospital trauma care, bringing the hospital to the patient in their greatest hour of need.
This attitude has also led us to be recognised with various national awards, such as the Ambulance Service Institute’s Air Ambulance Service of the Year Award for our commitment to patient care, something I and the entire team are extremely proud of.
Embrace and empower employees
At part of our commitment to excellence at MAAC, we have a dedicated and focused training and development programme that all members of staff are actively encouraged to participate in. This training enables us to develop our talent pool, align our personal values and provide career development for our staff. In fact, during the past year, several of our staff have applied for promotion and indeed have been promoted in the charity – we can’t afford to loose home grown talent.
This commitment to training better prepares us to cope with change and sustain our position as leaders in our industry, ensuring our practices don’t become outdated.
Aside from the tangible ways to drive our charity forward, it’s worth addressing an intangible element too, as when faced with so many business challenges, it’s vital that to achieve our aims and ambitions, we have the support from all employees across all aspects of the charity. This is where emotional intelligence or EQ comes into play, and it is something I am particularly passionate about.
Emotional intelligence is pivotal to good management and enables me to lead my team effectively through change, ensuring they are on board every step of the way. There are four essential EQ skills that I have found to be extremely helpful.
Firstly, the ability to read and reduce stress. In dealing with highly stressful situations, such as the grounding of our aircraft fleet for a number of days following the police helicopter incident in Glasgow in 2013, it is vital to have immense self control, and remain calm as a leader as it encourages the same in others.
Secondly, leadership requires emotional awareness. Being aware of one’s own emotions and the emotions of others are crucial skills in being able to communicate effectively both internally and externally.
Thirdly, subtlety of non-verbal communication is also extremely important. Reading body language subtleties is key to understanding what makes colleagues tick, and therefore how best to manage them as individuals.
Fourthly and finally, a difficult, but equally essential, EQ skill is the ability to resolve conflict positively and swiftly. By diffusing issues before they escalate, those involved should be able to move forward and concentrate on the overall goal.
Supporting our supporters
In addition to our dedicated team of charity HQ staff, our number one priority is to never take for granted the terrific support we receive from the public, especially our fundraisers, donors and volunteers, who are very much part of the family at Midlands Air Ambulance Charity.
I am very much committed to improving volunteer and donor experiences, and believe that by engaging with our supporters and volunteers, providing them with the best equipment to support their fundraising activities, and effectively communicating MAAC information that allows them to better connect with the charity, and to genuinely feel appreciated.
As part of our empowerment plan, we regularly host volunteer meetings, keeping our supporters up to date on our direction of travel, and these forums are also an ideal platform for two way communication, as our volunteers’ opinions and ideas help us to continue to develop and grow.
In addition, we recently involved our volunteers in a marketing campaign, highlighting that alongside our flight paramedics and doctors, our volunteers help contribute to our live saving work, by raising awareness of and funds for the charity. This has not only boosted volunteer morale, but reinforced our credibility as a charity which cares about the communities it serves.
Challenge yourself, challenge others
As writer Stephen Hunt once said, "If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space", and this sentiment can, and should, be used in the management of charities. At MAAC, we always strive to be the very best, take educated risks and promote excellence in everything we do. Ultimately, don’t follow the trend, start one; don’t rely on the successes of others to carry you, create your own. By doing that you stand out from the crowd and consistently challenge yourself, preventing your charity, and its employees, from becoming stagnant.
"As well as initially refreshing the charity's income streams, the overall governance and structure of the organisation also required my direct attention."
"As chief executive I am passionate about team work and building talent pools to problem solve, improve communications and reduce risk to the organisation."
Social media – it is a simple phrase that provokes a strong emotional response in many people, quite often a negative one. It is a phenomenon that is changing the rules in so many different areas of our lives that it is difficult to keep up with. It has been responsible for the creation of entirely new industries and swiftly ended the viability of existing ones.
Charities are often accused of being behind the curve in terms of exploiting innovations like this, but many have embraced the opportunities created by social media and are reaping the benefits, while others either sit on the sidelines wondering or, possibly worse, half-heartedly or defensively dip their toes in the water before retreating to more comfortable ground.
Love it or loathe it, social media is showing no signs of going away any time soon, and inevitably as time passes, the number of people who are digital natives – living large parts of their lives through and sometimes on social media – is increasing exponentially while the digital tourists fall in number and influence. The time for charities sitting on the sidelines or not taking social media seriously as a route for engagement has passed. It is now all about how you can make the most of it while avoiding the pitfalls.
This is particularly important when it comes to both volunteer recruitment and retention, the twin priorities for projects and charities which involve volunteers in the delivery of their work.
While the conventional news media are often full of stories relating the horrors of cyber bullying and trolling, social media is far more than a place where people give vent to their darker feelings while hiding behind a keyboard. A recent survey conducted by Populus showed that 47% of respondents believe social media can be a force for good, rising to 64% among those who use social media every day.
The survey explored public attitudes to social media and how it is used to share passions and interests, and some of the results have real implications for charities which use volunteers:
- 57% of respondents use social media every day.
- 31% of respondents who used social media would share personal information on their networks. This increases to 41% for those who use social media every day, and goes up to 54% for 18-24 year olds.
- Women are more likely to share personal information on social media than men.
- 39% of all respondents would be more likely to volunteer if they knew a friend, colleague or family member had already done so.
- 14% of people who use social media every day have been prompted to volunteer having seen a post or tweet.
- 33% of respondents who use social media would share a good deed on their network, rising to 43% amongst those who use social media every day.
- 21% of respondents who use social media would share information on recent volunteering/charitable donations.
Those findings provide evidence for the characteristics of social media that can really be harnessed for volunteer recruitment and retention – its culture of sharing and its ability to reach out to broad, new and surprising audiences as a result of that sharing.
When an idea or comment or piece of content gets traction on social media it can really take off. The most recent, relevant example of something going viral in that way was the Ice Bucket Challenge. Such explosions of interest and involvement are difficult to engineer, and I’m sure the originators of the Ice Bucket Challenge would be the first to admit they were lucky, but charities can take practical steps to promote greater sharing and reach across social media.
For volunteer recruitment and retention, the principles that applied before the rise of social media remain just as paramount.
Good volunteer recruitment and retention means: removing the barriers and promoting the motivations for getting involved; effective targeting; making sure the reality of the volunteering role matches the reality; valuing and thanking volunteers for their contribution; inspiring volunteers to act as advocates for recruiting further volunteers.
Social media provides opportunities across all these different elements. In terms of barriers, the first practical one is getting your message out to potential volunteers. Previously you would have relied on direct communication through existing contact lists, advertising roles, marketing through posters and events, looking to get coverage in the media consumed by potential volunteers. All these remain of value and are important, but social media offers a more direct and cost effective route to potential volunteers.
People congregate in communities of interest online – if you are really into coffee then you will find and interact with coffee lovers, brands, influencers and media outlets via social media. Identify the community of interest that is close to your cause or issue and you can start the process of engaging people who are already warm to what you have to offer. And don’t forget to respond to offers of help quickly.
The nature of social media means that putting out a call for help can bring an instant response; if you wait for hours, let alone days – and trust me some charities do – to follow up, people will vote with their feet. You would not leave a donation of cash hanging around for days would you? If you don’t feel you have the capacity to respond quickly then leave it for a time when you do.
Social media can really help when it comes to overcoming people’s concerns about what volunteering might involve and help make sure your marketing of it is really authentic, reducing the risk of volunteers feeling let down by the reality. Existing volunteers can write blogs, capture pictures or videos of their volunteer experiences, all of which can be shared via social media, so potential volunteers can see what it is all about straight from the horse’s mouth.
Previously, you might have sent a letter or email of thanks to volunteers – now you can thank them much more publicly and easily via their social network and encourage a bit of humble-bragging on their part so they share that thanks more widely within their networks. Not just that, you can help them feel part of the wider picture, see how their contribution fits into the whole, by linking them up with other volunteers and team members, for example through LinkedIn groups or even through shared hashtags on Twitter.
That takes you down the road to what is perhaps the holy grail for volunteer engagement, word of mouth, with the volunteers themselves acting as advocates and champions as part of your promotional campaign. Again, there is nothing new in this, as volunteers have always spoken at events and in the media, but social media doesn’t require the same level of resource and logistical effort, it can come simply from asking them to share their experiences with their networks and encouraging others to pass it on.
All of this may sound too good to be true because it is. I’m evangelical about the opportunity for charities offered by more effective use of social media, but I am not blind to the pitfalls. Advocacy works both ways on social media and the barriers to people complaining about an organisation are lowered in just the same way. Volunteers who have had a bad experience can share it with their networks and a charity’s reputation can be sullied on the opinions of just one person if they have an extensive social media footprint.
But this can present opportunities too, as by engaging with negative feedback you can be seen as an organisation that is willing to listen and respond.
At the same time, social media demands quick responses and proper monitoring – questions, requests for information, opinions asked for, challenges made - generally social media users want and expect answers and interaction in minutes or hours not days or weeks.
As I stated earlier, social media needs to be embraced whole-heartedly or not at all, which means investing the resource needed to make it work. The excuses for not doing so, particularly if you want to recruit volunteers, become less and less compelling as time passes.
If it is not embraced, then social media has one more trick up its sleeve – it can really help people to self-organise their volunteering, cutting out the middle man completely. So, stop worrying and take the plunge, or you could find yourself permanently relegated to the sidelines.
We are the largest independent provider of health and social care services to the NHS and we have set up a charitable foundation to promote wellbeing. I want to explain how the company runs the foundation as a corporate commitment to charity, how the foundation works with the charitable commitment of individual company staff, and why the foundation funds arts charities to help people with special needs in the areas in which it operates.
I also want to explain our grants policy and how we liaise with charities which are not initially successful with their applications.
Care UK serves 19 million people, through our partnerships with the NHS and through social care contracts with local authorities, and our aim is to make a real difference to all their lives. From specialist care for children as young as nine, who are living with eating disorders, to residential palliative care, we are with people throughout their journey in life.
We decided to create the Wellbeing Foundation because we wanted to provide a corporate outlet for the generosity displayed to people and charities which seems to be in the DNA of the many thousands of my colleagues in Care UK. I think that when care is what our people do in their jobs, it is natural for that to affect their lives inside and outside work, and it feels right that this caring nature is reflected in our corporate life.
Thousands of pounds
Our employees raise thousands of pounds for great causes through various initiatives every year and we wanted to support them by matching their own fundraising. We also wanted them to have an active role in the creation of the Wellbeing Foundation and the choices it makes. However, we wanted to do more to harness their collective goodwill and the foundation also gives us, at company level, a platform through which we can give back to the community.
We have kick-started the foundation with a £100,000 a year pot in addition to the £25,000 worth of donations made via our match-funding scheme. In the inaugural year of the foundation, we are focusing on promoting wellbeing through the arts.
We chose the arts because, throughout our 114 care homes, our mental health hospitals, treatment centres and our young people’s eating disorder clinics, we have seen the powerful effect which arts, crafts and music have. Not only do they raise people’s spirits and build confidence but, even in those who have lost the ability to communicate, the arts offer a voice. They give people a way to tell us how they are feeling and what emotions they want to share with us.
Our teams considered the shortlist of charities to be the foundation's Charity of the Year at the company's annual management conference and chose Nordoff Robbins. We knew that we had found a partner which combines a national scope with a very individual approach, enabling us to make a real difference to each person involved.
Nordoff Robbins supports thousands of vulnerable children and adults through life-transforming music therapy sessions. Colleagues tell us they chose the charity to be Charity of the Year because, like them, it is committed to helping the widest range of people possible lead fulfilling lives.
Tirelessly and patiently
Its therapists work tirelessly and patiently to stimulate memories, draw on people’s creativity and encourage a new kind of communication, reaching out to those who find communication and interaction difficult and for whom music becomes a real liberation and a joy.
The real difference its work makes, along with the potential for our colleagues to link with the charity and join its fundraising, are key to their success, both in being chosen and in creating a great partnership in the foundation’s first year.
But our links with the arts are not limited to Nordoff Robbins – the potential for music to open up new lines of communication is already proving invaluable in our regular work with people living with dementia.
The growth in the number of people living with dementia is one of society’s major challenges - it is estimated that, by 2015, 850,000 people in the UK will be living with the condition. As we provide support to many of these people and their families, through our residential and domiciliary services as well as through our new generation of day clubs, we wanted to take a lead in responding to the effects of this debilitating condition through commissioning research showing the benefit music brings to people’s lives.
So I am really pleased that, through the foundation, we are also working with the Manchester Camerata and Manchester University, backing a project called Music in Mind. This involved musicians from the Camerata collaborating with professional music therapists to run sessions with residents who have dementia at our Station House care home in Crewe, Cheshire.
Thought provoking analysis
I have visited one of the sessions and the way music enables residents to communicate with their relatives and the team is truly moving. The research analysis is thought provoking and will provide a valuable springboard for the university’s ongoing involvement in this important work. .
As well as these larger initiatives, the foundation’s first set of Grass Roots grants of up to £2,000 is currently being awarded. Care UK has always had an employee match-funding scheme to support the fundraising work of our services and team members in their own communities. These new grants further strengthen that established commitment to supporting colleagues’ fundraising efforts.
Our basic criteria were simple - we wanted nominated charities to be geographically close to one of our services and involved in the arts – drama, music, art, crafts or dance - but they did not necessarily have to be nominated by a member of staff, although of course we welcomed the enthusiasm of colleagues in spreading the word.
We wanted evidence of what the charities had accomplished, as well as clear statements about how the money would be used. But most importantly the nominated groups or charities had to be small and local, so that the money would make a genuine difference to what they could achieve for individuals.
Working through the nominations was, for me, enjoyable, but also rewarding and humbling - humbling because of the level of commitment and personal time given by those involved in supporting people. We wanted to be inspired by the nominations and we wanted to inspire our own people by supporting projects close to them and their communities.
Clearly not everyone could be successful, but we wanted to be as supportive as possible. We have given feedback on why a bid wasn’t successful and, if appropriate, charities have been invited to resubmit if they can give strengthened details on how the project will help the community.
Alternatively, they could have the chance to recast a submission. For example, a theatre company submitted an application for a sum several times greater than we were able to offer in community grants, so we’ve gone back to them to explain and invite them to find a project that fits the scope.
Very tangible links
In the case of our Charity of the Year, we thanked those charities which applied but, because the charity is selected solely by our people, we have not given specific feedback. When applying, I think charities need to bear in mind that the vote goes to an audience, mainly of those in the health and social care profession, who will be looking for very tangible links between the work of the charity and the benefit to the people who use the charity’s services, the people they care for.
Those who didn’t make it through to the final stages this year failed for a variety of reasons. I would suggest that any groups looking to apply to be a Charity of the Year in the future find ways of making a strong link between our work and a specific outcome of one of their charity’s projects.
Values and determination
Any charity’s application to the foundation needs to reflect the fact that shared values and determination to make a difference to people’s lives will be key, along with the opportunities to work together with Care UK employees helping with fundraising events which help build team spirit and allow our people to put something back into the project. And we will also be looking to ensure that the grant is spent wisely, with evidence in terms of case studies and pictures which we can share among our colleagues
The projects we are supporting are diverse. For example, we were very impressed with a two-person project that visits rehab clinics using song, dance and stories to support those quitting drugs or alcohol. They combine tremendous commitment and energy, making 40 clinic visits a year.
In separate projects in Brighton and Salisbury we have committed more than £3,500 for new musical instruments to groups working with young people with learning disabilities. The projects, like our own service, are committed to changing perceptions of what people with learning disabilities can achieve. In Hampshire we have brought music therapy back to a special needs school after a three-year absence through lack of funding and the staff tell us the children are already benefiting from the sessions.
In total we have already awarded nearly £10,000 to local groups and the nominations keep coming in. I am delighted to be involved in the foundation myself – it is the perfect way to make a difference to people’s lives in a very direct way.
"...the potential for music to open up new lines of communication is already proving invaluable in our regular work with people living with dementia. "
"We wanted evidence of what the charities had accomplished, as well as clear statements about how the money would be used. "
" Any charity's application to the foundation needs to reflect the fact that shared values and determination to make a difference to people's lives will be key... "
When I was first asked to write this article my immediate reaction was “why me”! Relative to many others, I am a mere novice in the trustee role, having spent some 40 years primarily in the accounting and consulting profession with a most interesting assignment latterly at the Foreign Office.
During these years, I had seen others take on roles for their former school, a foundation or a charity, usually one with some relevance to their friends or family. But, maybe unfortunately, it was only in the latter years of my career that I started to spend time on the issue of “giving something back” other than in purely financial terms.
My first involvement as a trustee was in 2006 when I was asked to serve on a board that was restoring the Benjamin Franklin House near Trafalgar Square. I was involved with the building through the end of the capital project and its opening as a museum, and handed the finance aspect over to others once the museum was operationally up and running.
When retirement beckoned
But it was only when retirement beckoned in 2010 that I really gave proper thought to the future and what the new balance of my life should be. I decided on a “three thirds formula”: one third as a board member of a major PLC; one third doing pro bono work; and one third doing other things I had always wanted to do.
I decided that the “pro bono stuff” had to be in a “space” that really interested me. This was fundamentally the area of art and design and no sooner had I developed my “plan” than Nicky Goulder, my assistant some 20 years previously at KPMG, approached me to head the development council of Create, a charity she had formed in 2003 to bring the transformational benefit of the creative arts to the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people in our society. I later became a trustee.
I accepted the role not just because Nicky is very persuasive but because it fitted into my view of what was relevant to my plan – something of interest, something of value, somewhere I could make a difference. But what could I really contribute to an ambitious, award winning creative arts charity run by a team of ten, based on a previous career working in a multinational corporate with 140,000 professionals?
The first thing I found is that we, as individuals, underestimate what we have built over the years. For several years, I had brought people from my personal life and my business life (which have always overlapped) to Create’s annual fundraising gala dinner at Mosimann’s. Sure enough some of them too were hooked by the relevance and importance of Create’s work and became supporters. Indeed one of my guests in 2010 was Eddie Donaldson, a long time friend and colleague.
In 2012 Eddie agreed to become Create’s chairman, bringing his considerable knowledge of how charities work to Create’s board. Just as in business, it is through networks and events that such fortuitous things often come about.
Bringing energy to the task
As well as bringing networks, a trustee on a smaller charity needs to bring energy to the task. It’s not just a matter of turning up at board meetings. Smaller charities arguably need a much more active involvement of the trustees on a day to day basis in specific areas. The role extends from the macro strategy to the micro activity of preparing letters to potential funders; from financial oversight to meetings with supporters; from sponsorship to visits to the charitable projects themselves. I’m not saying it’s onerous but it is more than I originally expected - and that level of commitment is hugely enjoyable and rewarding.
As chair of the development council my main aim has been to develop a cadre of fellow council members who can bring their skills, creativity and energy to the table, and some of those skills developed in other fields are hugely relevant. For example, one of the new development council members gives her time to coach and mentor Nicky as chief executive. Another is bringing the expertise and talents of his organisation to our branding and public image. And as a group we are trying to be creative and innovative in finding different ways of enabling the charity to develop and grow.
So how have I found the journey so far? Well first it is important to say that, whatever the size or importance of your previous role, this stuff is not easy. It’s not easy to get a Development Council up and running from scratch. You can’t assume that your friends and contacts are doing nothing and just waiting for your call to arms for your own particular charity. It’s a surprisingly slow and challenging process getting the right team together but we are making progress.
Reaching out with tailored proposals
As raising funds is such a highly competitive process in what is a very saturated market, it has been important to reach out with carefully tailored proposals to key prospects who have the power and the will to make things happen. This can be those who run foundations which share Create’s goals, corporates for whom Create’s message and purpose match their own corporate responsibility objectives, and individuals whose interests align with Create’s passion for transforming lives.
Having selected some of these prospects (and this involves professional research by Create’s excellent executive team) it is then about follow-through which itself is a combination of the efforts of the charity’s executives, development council members and trustees. It’s essential for a small charity to be highly selective and we need to achieve a high conversion ratio. Just as in business, the leader cannot do this alone. He or she needs highly professional support and follow-through, in our case from the CEO and the development director and indeed from the other trustees, development council members and wider team.
In the past two years we have developed a series of important new relationships that we could hardly have dreamed of previously, from organisations as different as the Rank Foundation and the Queen’s Trust, KPMG and Brandpie to name but a few. Also our CEO was recognised as Clarins Most Dynamisante Woman of the Year in 2013, an award that brought with it a cheque of £30,000.
But it’s not all about planning and focus. It’s amazing how some of these opportunities have come from members of the team just being out there talking passionately about Create. Just through engaging in the right places, opportunities arise sometimes quite indirectly and not always from obvious potential sources. Our CEO, for example, met what is now one of Create’s new corporate partners at her godson’s bar mitzvah!
Working collaboratively with partners
The essential thing is to work collaboratively and creatively with these partners and to deliver to the highest standards the projects they are funding while at the same time building on them to develop an even broader base of sustainable support. The good news is that the word spreads and with appropriate leverage of our internal skills and external networks, each success builds towards further progress.
So what does good look like? First I believe that, for a relatively small charity, it is about high but realistic ambitions. Second, it is about understanding the art of the possible and not overpromising or getting distracted by fundraising projects with a low reward to effort ratio. Third, it’s about leveraging effectively the networks you have rather than having precisely the perfect networks. Fourth, it’s about evaluating rigorously. Fifth (or perhaps first?) it’s about making it fun and rewarding. If it’s not enjoyable and fulfilling for the Development Council, for the executive professionals and for you as a Trustee it’s not sustainable.
Now, as time goes on, there are ever greater demands on one’s diary. The “Three Thirds Model” is under pressure! The important thing is to do a little, often. To try to do something every week that “helps move the ball down the pitch”, and to share in the enthusiasm and commitment of the founder and her team, are what really make all this happen.
So what is making a success of being a trustee all about? Well it is often hugely rewarding. Seeing a project at first hand and how the charity’s efforts help people find their confidence again, communicate with others, suffer less from loneliness, rediscover their creativity and many other, sometimes unintended, benefits is a wonderful, moving experience. In ten years, Create has helped improve the lives of approaching 27,000 disadvantaged children and adults, and I feel privileged to have been able to play my part since I first got involved four years ago.
I also find that having more than one Trustee role helps to bring perspectives gained on one charity’s issues to another’s challenges, even if the charities are in quite different fields (in my case from a significant museum in London to home care nursing in a local community). And certainly some of the disciplines and values learned over many years in a professional or commercial career are relevant and seem to be valued in this world, such as the importance of clear management information, proper budgeting and financial rigour.
Helping overcome very difficult issues
Perhaps the overall thing a trustee can do, particularly for a smaller charity, is help resolve very difficult issues, to see the bigger and longer term picture and to help the charity “jump the curves” to use some consultant jargon (old habits still die hard!). Sometimes just getting the charity the introduction or a seat at top table gives it the opportunity to develop beyond its previous boundaries.
Recapping my introduction where I questioned “why me?”, the intrepid reader who has reached this far may now be wondering “why him”? I know many people, I hear you say, who have made much earlier and greater commitments as trustees. I agree. I see them each time we meet.
But that is part of the story too, continuing to meet with others who - by their expertise, creativity and commitment - make this all, as an American friend of mine says, “a continuing growth learning experience.” This at the end of the day is part of the reason a diehard career professional would choose to spend time as a trustee, giving something back while still growing further oneself. It’s “a win win” situation, if you’ll excuse one final piece of jargon.
"Smaller charities arguably need a much more active involvement of the trustees on a day to day basis in specific areas."
"...whatever the size or importance of your previous role, this stuff is not easy."
"...having more than one trustee role helps to bring perspectives gained on one charity's issues to another's challenges."
When I think of the charity sector, I often think of the "marginal gains" made famous by British Cycling’s performance director Dave Brailsford. Just like Brailsford seems obsessed with making the many small things count, in the charity sector it is very rare to find a charity not trying to squeeze every last drop of value and performance from the resources it has - whether that’s money, awareness, space, political capital, or people.
I want to focus on the last of those: people. I believe we can do more to make the most of the people working for us, and in particular, I think we can think more strategically about how we attract and develop the talented people capable of becoming charities' future managers and leaders.
Everyone who has worked in a number of teams will know the impact of both good and bad management on performance at work. I would suggest that nothing has more impact on the day to day operation of a charity than the quality of line management at all levels of the organisation. This is why I find the variance in quality and practice of line management I see in the sector so worrying, and why I am so passionate about doing something about it.
Producing brilliant managers
Fortunately it is completely within our gift to produce brilliant managers, and we should be excited at how much more impact we could achieve if we can improve the baseline level of line management which people are receiving in charities. I believe the key to this is to find people with the capability and attitude to be the agile, emotionally intelligent managers needed to underpin a brilliant workforce, and then give them the support and space to become the leaders of charities.
The concept of "talent" hasn’t been a feature of the conversation during my time in the non-profit sector. Inherently exclusive, it seems to clash so clearly with the values of accessibility and inclusion which run so deep in this sector, so maybe it is understandable that the sector has long shied away from tackling it head on. It is however hard to reconcile this caginess with the very real responsibility to provide the best possible service to the people one works with.
Last year I was involved in the Cabinet Office’s review into Skills and Leadership in the social sector, led by Dame Mary Marsh, which you can read online. It was a piece of work that looked at the sector with a wide-angle lens, and identified some of the most acute talent and leadership issues facing individual organisations, and the sector as a whole.
On the particular theme of "routes into and through the sector", we found that not only have we made it extremely difficult for people to find a way into
the sector, but also that if you do find your way in it is easy to get stuck, or to have your perspective confined to a particular role, department or
Thinking more strategically
My point here isn’t that the charity sector doesn’t attract and develop brilliant people already. Yes there are some high-performing charities with extremely talented people. But what I’m trying to articulate is the huge opportunity there is if we think more strategically about talent attraction and development at all levels. If we’ve achieved so much without any coherent approach, imagine what we could do if we had one!
The charity sector knows better than any other that talent comes in many different forms, and excellent managers and leaders can come from any number of sources. I think the sector needs a better approach to talent at all levels, from apprentice right up to senior management, but my particular focus at the moment is on graduate talent. This is because I think the sector’s offer to graduates is hugely underdeveloped, and until relatively recently charities just haven’t competed with other sectors in terms of speaking to this demographic.
Consider this, the perspective of a recent graduate: “ When I was at university, I was bombarded with opportunities to work in the private and public sectors. A career in the non-profit sector had always been a possibility, I had had an interest in charity from an early age and had always enjoyed my experiences of volunteering, but the graduate opportunities I found in the sector were extremely limited. There seemed to be very rigid requirements around experience, with little or no value put on potential.”
A Demos report has suggested we are currently seeing the emergence of "Generation Citizen", a generation of young people maturing into socially conscious and responsible adults interested in “bottom-up social action and enterprise over top-down politics”.
An exciting opportunity
This attitude and potential resource represent an exciting opportunity for organisations with a social mission, and the causes those organisations are working for. If we can translate those values into a generation of people willing and able to dedicate their careers to social change, it could be truly transformative.
This rise in social awareness among young people certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed by graduate recruiters in other sectors, many of whom will stress their values and social responsibility when starting a conversation with students and graduates. But how can they compete with organisations which so clearly put their values into practice day after day?
The charity sector has an offer to graduates that the private sector in particular would kill for: the opportunity to tackle the most complex and ingrained social challenges of their time. For the kind of talent charities really want to attract, that opportunity will stack up against anything else on offer, including high remuneration, on the condition that charities make it tangible and enable people to have the impact of which they are capable.
Making that opportunity tangible is often seen as the difficult bit, particularly for the smaller charities which make up the bulk of the sector, and it is true that individual charities rarely have the resources to run their own graduate programme year after year. But while the majority of charities individually might lack the brand awareness to attract students from campus, or the resources to commit to strategic graduate development, together as a sector charities have both of those things and should use them shrewdly.
A collective responsibility
I believe charities have a collective responsibility to develop a non-profit sector capable of solving increasingly complex social problems. In a recent piece of research carried out with leaders in the sector, it was found that almost 80% agreed with that statement.
The sector is by no means immune to the competition that defines the private sector, but charities do have a common interest in making sure that they develop a workforce full of people capable of contributing to multiple organisations with similar aims in the course of a career dedicated to social impact.
By capitalising on their collective power as employers, and by making the most of what they can offer to graduates among other types of talent, charities can make the "marginal gains" that when put together will allow them to compete with any other set of employers, and ultimately provide this sector with the managers and leaders capable of taking their organisations into the future.
"...the key...is to find people with the capability and attitude to be the agile, emotionally intelligent managers needed to underpin a brilliant workforce..."