Charities Management | Current charity forum

Current charity forum

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Bouncing back after a Charity Commission inquiry

Human Appeal is a fully independent British development and relief charity based in Manchester, UK. It was established in 1991, and runs targeted poverty relief programmes in collaboration with global organisations like the United Nations. Our purpose is to save lives through emergency response and sustainable development programmes, across over 25 countries worldwide.

The Charity Commission is seeing a lot more media interest at the moment, having announced its investigation into the financial dealings of the Captain Tom Moore charity, among others. Indeed, in 2021, the body investigated well over 2,000 charities for their compliance, a number which is on the rise. We should know – we were one of them.

Being investigated by the Charity Commission is not something you would think that any charity would seek out. Except we did, self-reporting that a hijacking incident had occurred beyond our control while operating in a war zone, and a separate incident where a warehouse in Syria was raided by a proscribed group.

The work the Commission undertakes is vital for the wider charity sector to be able to operate effectively and continue to help as many people as possible, both domestically and overseas. Obviously, news of a compliance audit of this type may not be on many charities’ wish list. And yet, as one of the UK’s fastest growing charities, and with a new leadership team in place, we recognised that swift growth may have left certain operational areas in need of some review.

Maintaining stakeholder trust

Aside from the potential damage to the solid reputation of a respected 30 year old UK organisation which Charity Commission scrutiny brought, the other key challenge for us during this process was maintaining the trust of our stakeholders, some of whom were understandably surprised by the inquiry.

This was a primary focus for us during the three years of the review, and led to an ongoing campaign of transparency, intensively spotlighting the impact our humanitarian work was having on the lives of our beneficiaries as well as breakdowns of areas like how both our fundraising and admin fees work. We knew we had nothing to hide, but it needed repeating.

When people hear about any review or investigation, most will simply assume the worst without bothering to read the findings or wait for the final report. It is indeed rare to find individuals with the ability to refrain from judging until all the facts are ascertained. The fact the review took several years to conclude made it more challenging, as it gave space for rumours to spread, and misguided opinions both intentional and unintentional.

Naturally, we fully cooperated with the investigation, a fact that was recognised in the final announcement from the Charity Commission. We increased our reporting to donors and stakeholders, fostered a culture of zero tolerance for breaches of our policies and strive for continuous improvement in all areas of our work.

Focusing on the whole facts and nothing but the facts, we dug in as a Human Appeal family and worked harder to save more lives and reach more vulnerable people. Actions speak louder than words, and throughout the process we worked accordingly, continuing to be here for every human being without discrimination.

Investigation outcome

The positive results of this clarity became apparent by 2020, when our income reached £29 million. The previous year, our income had declined by 17.8%, due to the negative publicity. However, with the support of our campaign efforts, this decline was not only halted but actively reversed. This is all thanks to our dedicated supporters and stakeholders who ignored the rumours and speculation.

We continue to strive for year-on-year growth like any charity, and with this new focus we are confident we have the continued trust of our stakeholders to maintain expansion. This energised transparency continues to this day and has become part of the catalyst for the new era within the organisation and as a respected global British charity.

The findings of the report did not seek regulatory action be taken against Human Appeal nor call for any penalties to be imposed. Financially, not a single penny went unaccounted for. On the contrary, the report saluted the enhancements made by Human Appeal to its governance and recognised that the charity today was on a much firmer footing because of those enhancements. The report acknowledged the significant enhancements by our new leadership structure - of course tackling the changes which needed to be addressed required both considerable time and effort.

As a result, both our domestic and international processes and procedures have been strengthened. While chief among the process review was updating procedures around serious incident reporting (SIR), enhancing trustee understanding of the process, it allowed us to review internal structures in other areas too.

We hired permanent critical staff roles to lead changes to the charity’s culture, including finance director, legal counsel, international programmes director, communications director, community fundraising director, head of donor care, head of fund development Middle East, international head of programmes, programmes manager, monitoring and evaluation manager, monitoring and evaluation coordinator, and international financial controller.

We also seized the opportunity to establish a global reporting structure – including a primary reporting line for all country office staff to their country director, coupled with a second reporting line to a global technical lead based on Human Appeal HQ. In addition, all country offices now also report to their HQ counterparts.

Towards further expansion

Undertaking this rigorous process has motivated us to continue to strive for excellence within our organisation. By dint of our focus and mission, we are present in multiple locations worldwide. The charity has many moving parts, often working on numerous domestic and overseas projects and humanitarian crisis inflection points around the globe simultaneously.

This takes a high level of coordination which can embrace rapid response to moments of critical humanitarian need, balanced with maintaining a focus on long terms projects in multiple counties, such as a long-running initiative providing honeybees and livelihoods to people in Pakistan, at the same time as a team on the ground is seeking to desalinate water in the Gaza Strip. Such an intense and important process has helped us to think more critically when it comes to wider organisational impacts when expanding into new territories like the US.

Why approach one of the biggest countries in the world, one with an already thriving and well served charity landscape, during a global pandemic? Human Appeal’s vision and statement of intent are to become the global agent of change for a just, caring, and sustainable world. That means we are here for every human being who is vulnerable no matter where they are. The pandemic has sharpened many humanitarian needs, in developed countries as well as conflict zones.

As an international British charity with this intent, we are obliged to be present in as many markets as possible, especially those that can support our vision and mission. The USA was a natural next step in our plans as one of the largest economies in the world and will join our existing offices in the UK, Ireland, France and Spain.

The US market is large, highly diverse and intensely competitive. As our footprint in the country grows, we are seeking to remain open to collaboration with local partners in line with our compliance requirements. We will have two key yet distinct focus areas. One will be local programmes in the USA and the other will be outreach to international programmes from the USA.

The local humanitarian needs assessments for the USA are expected to be wide ranging, varied and differentiated. As a country, needs and structures can vary greatly from state to state, and even within the social layers of each state. To address these unique challenges, local support will be at the heart of US operations, as will outreach from the USA towards international projects.

Unified leadership base

In a short time we have completed the registration of the US office in California, and established a dedicated contact number and website which will go live shortly. Having one single CEO for both our UK and USA entities from April 2022 onwards maintains our single global vision while also reducing the potential issue of organisational complexity. When you are present in multiple countries simultaneously, transparency and clarity of the organisation as well as having clearly delineated leadership structures are essential.

The ambition and drive for our US expansion is to realise our role more fully as a global humanitarian organisation, developing our international structure with the aim of optimizing the alignment, efficiency and effectiveness of our office infrastructure around the world.

Having an official US presence means many things. It means wider reach, a bigger audience, creation of more opportunities to expand existing projects as well as developing new future projects. It also gives us access to new ideas and innovations relating to our projects covering water, sanitation, hygiene and medicine. I also believe it will open the door for further collaboration and bridge building with like-minded people and entities in the USA, which has always been a major hallmark of how we have operated from inception through to our current activities.

Collaboration with other NGOs and not for profit organisations is intrinsic to how Human Appeal operates. Existing partnerships with local US entities, such as our relationship with Globus Relief, will facilitate greater international reach. For example, provision of health and medical care in Iraq and Syria, where there are dire shortages of medical equipment and resource. The US operation also plans to lead in projects supporting the orphans and street children in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nigeria.

We will also be actively looking into domestic projects to assist vulnerable communities around the United States as well, where it is well documented that over 13.4%[2] of the population live below the poverty threshold, an issue only increased by the Covid pandemic.

New learning curve

This doesn’t mean that we haven’t encountered growing pains. Firstly, there are the usual challenges presented by entering a new territory, the new learning curve and the endeavour to establish the right human resources for the market. Although we will be the youngest NGO to set up in the USA, we certainly aim to be the fastest growing one. Then comes building relations with the community and charity sector as well as institutional and private donors.

We know we have a lot of work to do build our network of partners, but we don’t shy away from this challenge. Saving lives is no easy task and it has taught us to be bold and thoughtful in our approach. When you are in the field of dealing with humanitarian crises daily, it teaches you to be resilient, just like doctors and nurses who deal with human suffering everyday but keep on delivering on their oath. Entry into the US was certainly a planned decision that included much internal debate and study. It is a strategic decision by Human Appeal to increase our future capacity and growth.

Organisational resilience

In a way, the Charity Commission review prepared us to take on the greater challenge of expanding again beyond our existing borders, more effectively. The organisational resilience and clarity of purpose, as well as the fresh review of reporting lines and management structures, have set us up for an expansion into the demanding market of the USA with a clean bill of health. Many similar charities with ambitions to become more global will eventually look to establish a presence within large and unfamiliar markets like the United States.

Taking a detailed look at the charity’s reporting lines, procedures and yes, diving deeply into issues of compliance are all useful projects to undertake in advance – whether externally coordinated or not. The solid foundation we have established through the review has set us up to more capably to take on the fragmented state/country level challenges which the United States offers, and we look forward to the work we can undertake with our partners in that region.

Human Appeals’ Mohamed Ashmawey – the USA was a natural next step in the charity’s plans as one of the largest economies in the world and will be joining its existing offices in the UK, Ireland and Spain.
"We increased our reporting to donors and stakeholders, fostered a culture of zero tolerance for breaches of our policies and strive for continuous improvement in all areas of our work."
"The charity has many moving parts, often working on numerous domestic and overseas projects and humanitarian crisis inflection points around the globe simultaneously."
"Saving lives is no easy task and it has taught us to be bold and thoughtful in our approach."

Successfully running a charity in Africa with digital

In this article I want to explain how my UK registered charity operates to run a nursery school teacher education programme in countries across Sub-Saharan Africa. I will discuss the methods we use to achieve the otherwise daunting task of tackling a huge problem on a highly controlled basis incorporating effective performance and governance.

Let me first explain the scale of the challenge we have to meet so you can appreciate how adroitly we are doing so.

Problem of nursery education

Population numbers in many African countries are doubling every eight or so years. Indeed, the continent is forecast to account for over 40% of the global population by the end of the decade from 17% currently.

It’s not clear that this will come to pass given the implications of climate change, particularly on Sub-Saharan Africa. But, if it does, this magnitude of population growth is likely to impose a great strain on natural resources, food availability and employment opportunities in the area.

Statistics show that a girl in Africa who can read has two children, whereas a girl who can’t has five. It is clear that education must play a big part in addressing the increasing demographic burden; and, in particular, nursery school education.

Increasing demographic burden

UNESCO estimates that 42% of children will drop out of education before completing primary school. That number rises to almost 60% by the end of secondary education. Each year, over 10% of children are required to repeat a year and only 9% of school children in Namibia end up reaching university.

The challenge is that children appear to be poorly equipped for primary education on account of inadequate stimulation in their early years. For those who attend nursery school the lack of trained teachers and resources means that they get sub-optimal benefit from the experience.

Governments recognise the problem but, it being a fragmented and hard to reach sector, appear to struggle to come up with viable solutions against competing demands for their scarce financial resources.

As a result early childhood development (ECD) receives very little attention. In Namibia, for example, the authorities spend only USD 20 on ECD per child versus the USD 1,000 spent per child on primary and secondary education.

Affordable and scalable model

I founded the Perivoli Schools Trust in 2012 with the aim of finding an affordable and scalable model to address the problem. I came to understand that building schools and equipping them with materials and toys wouldn’t work. It was hard to find qualified teachers and the toys walked out of the door.

But after a while I hit on a model that focuses on training teachers rather than building buildings. A training model is very much more scalable as trained people can train others and it doesn’t matter if they move about. But given the scale of the challenge - there are an estimated 1.2 million nursery school teachers in the ten countries of sub-Saharan Africa we aim to address - it needs to be affordable.

Our approach is to show nursery school teachers the importance of play, which is not well understood in an African context where parents tend to outsource education to teachers who are invariably untrained - with many not having had a formal education themselves.

The simplest way to describe our training programme is that it’s a sort of “Blue Peter on steroids”. In essence, we show the teachers how to make educational activities out of recyclable materials, encourage them to be creative in this respect; and we show them how to organise their classrooms for the benefit of the children.

Just by using bottle tops, empty bottles, egg trays, empty cans, loo rolls, seed pods, spent yoghurt cartons, cardboard, old clothes, sheets of discarded paper and shop posters one can come up with a toy shop, matching puzzles, a reading corner, a dressing up box, a nature corner, a pretend kitchen, a music corner etc.

The materials cost nothing and the teachers take great pleasure and pride in equipping their classrooms which are otherwise invariably threadbare. They love to compare notes with ideas that they have come up with; and the toys do not walk out of the door as nobody wants to steal an empty Coke bottle or a used loo roll.

The children like to collect items to bring to school, make choices as to which activity to get involved in, learn to take turns and allow their imaginations to stretch.

How it works

We rely on trainers - we call them Perivoli Trainers - and now have almost 200 in our service. They are assigned to train groups of up to 25 nursery school teachers at a time, drawn from the locality where they live so they are already part of the community.

They deliver 16 training modules to the group over a two year period which shows the teachers the importance of play and how to stimulate various aspects of a child’s development. An individual trainer might be running two to three groups in parallel, i.e. interacting with as many as 75 nursery school teachers.

In between modules, the trainers run support groups where the teachers come together to exchange experiences and show to each other some of the items they have made for, and with, the children in their classes. These events engender a sense of community and shared experience, as being a nursery school teacher can be a lonely activity.

An essential part of the programme are the class visits. The trainers visit teachers in their classrooms once a month in the first year, and once every second month in the second year, to help with the implementation of the programme and to track how teachers are performing.

These visits are an opportunity for one-on-one attention and are invariably the only in-class support a teacher ever gets. Consequently, they are much valued and a strong relationship develops between trainer and teacher.

The aim is for each classroom to end up with twelve so-called Perivoli Corners - areas of play activities. We measure a teacher’s progress according to the rate at which they have established these corners.

Once a teacher has completed the two year training programme they are invited to attend a graduation ceremony where they are awarded a Perivoli Certificate. This is invariably a moving event with teachers turning up in gowns and singing songs. It is often the first time they have ever enjoyed formal recognition.

After graduation, we make sure to retain contact with teachers through so-called maintenance class visits, which take place on a termly basis. This allows us to continue to keep a watchful eye on the teachers, help them as needs be and offer further instruction. For example, recently we have introduced a programme whereby the trainers show cartoons to the children on their tablet computers.

Original model still going

We started in Namibia with the originl model in 2013, where we have now trained the vast majority of the country’s nursery school teachers, then began in Malawi in 2018, where we have reached about 15%, and Zambia in 2019; and will be launching in Uganda and Botswana in 2022 still with the same model.

We have Tanzania, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Angola and Mozambique all in our sights. In total, we have trained over 10,000 teachers already and target reaching 200,000 over the coming ten years.

Our only costs are the amounts we pay our trainers: USD 30 for a module delivered, USD 15 for running a support group, and USD 10 per class visit (plus travel costs). Our trainers make between USD 250 to 300 per month, a reasonably high number in a local context, which is why they have tended to stay with us over many years.

On the assumption that there are 25 children in a classroom (invariably there are many more) the programme costs only about USD 3 per child per annum.

Our management structure

Our trainers are organised in teams of four or five which report to a regional coordinator who keeps an eye on them, directs them and verifies their activities.

The regional coordinators report to three or four senior regional coordinators per country who report to the CEO team, a husband-wife combo, Maya Kufuwa and Titan Madomba, who happen to be based in Malawi but who oversee all countries from there.

Maya and Titan report to me as Programme Director. I visit the region frequently (about three or four times a year pre-Covid) to visit schools, assess progress, meet ministry officials and develop plans for launching in additional countries. Beyond me, everybody else involved is local from within Africa.

Strong digital backbone

One of the greatest assets we have is our strong digital backbone. This has been purposely designed by us for our requirements. It was built by a firm based in Malawi and has cost over £150,000 to customise and roll out.

Each trainer is equipped with a tablet computer with which they are required to record information about the teachers and children at each of their interactions. For example, at a class visit, the trainer would record which children attend and track how the teachers are progressing with establishing the Perivoli Corners.

The data is held in a central database made available to the regional coordinators. They use the information to direct trainers to provide more support to teachers making the least progress with implementing the Perivoli Corners. The tablets are fitted with geo-location capabilities. Any data entry that was not entered from the location of the school in question is flagged up which helps to ensure that class visits do actually take place as reported.

The database is also used to measure the regional coordinators’ effectiveness, with the possibility of six-monthly bonuses dependent on the overall performance of their T trainers.

Real time data helps me keep an eye on our progress in terms of the number of teachers in the programme, numbers of class visits and numbers of children addressed. For example, in 2021, and despite the disruption of Covid resulting in some schools not opening, the tablets allow me to see, at a glance, that we interacted with 5,883 nursery school teachers in 2,988 schools and undertook 23,177 class visits across three countries - Namibia, Malawi and Zambia.

The existence of the database ought to make it possible to scale to the 200,000 teachers that we target over time.

Governance and stakeholders

We take governance very seriously. We seek the consent of all stakeholders at all times. This means requesting the trainers, the nursery school teachers and the parents or guardians of the children to sign consent forms. This is not strictly speaking necessary under local laws but we set ourselves UK-level GDPR standards. We already have in our database photographs of over 32,000 consent forms.

We also interact with local government ministries. This means both the Ministries of Gender and Child Welfare, who have oversight over very young children, and the Ministries of Education, who overlook five-year-olds upwards. The fact that ECD falls under the auspices of two separate ministries explains, in part, why these countries tend to struggle with ECD.

Before commencing our work in a given country we always establish a local charity within which to house it. This can be an arduous and costly process but helps us to be taken seriously. We like to invite local government officials to hand out the Perivoli Certificates at the graduation ceremonies.

Funding and venture capital

The Perivoli Schools Trust has been funded hitherto by the Perivoli Trust which I established in 1999, following the gifting of my stake in an investment management firm that I had co-founded in 1996 called Arisaig Partners. My job as an emerging markets fund manager took me around the world including to Africa where I began to see at close quarters some of the challenges the continent faces.

In 2016, a new trust was established called Perivoli Innovations which invests in early stage, venture capital type opportunities in medical, life science, digital and climate change focused technologies. I advise the trustees in selecting investment candidates. Most are spin-outs from UK universities but some are located in Africa.

Profits from this trust will go towards funding the Perivoli Schools Trust in due course. Over 50 investments have been made to date with many showing strong early promise. Indeed two have already exited profitably. So I am hopeful that there will be ample resources to fund the programme over the foreseeable future without needing to resort to third party support.

I have no doubt from my visits to the region and many days spent visiting nursery schools - I must have visited well over one hundred - that the Perivoli Schools Trust has a very positive impact. It seems to be much appreciated by our trainers, the nursery school teachers and the parents of the children.

Impact assessment

That said, I wish for a more formal measure to assess its impact. As our database records which primary school each child goes onto from nursery school, we are able to track the children as they progress through their education. We have been given permission by Ministries of Education to do just that, although this process has been set back by Covid.

I’m keen also to see the programme’s impact assessed by a third party. So, we are in the process of commissioning a study by the University of Bristol in combination with the University of Namibia to assess its impact in that country. I’m hoping it will report its findings by early 2023.

Perivoli Schools Trust’s James Alexandroff – governments in Africa recognise the problem of nursery school education but, it being a fragmented and hard to reach sector, appear to struggle to come up with viable solutions against competing demands for their scarce financial resources.
"In essence, we show the teachers how to make educational activities out of recyclable materials, encourage them to be creative in this respect, and we show them how to organise their classrooms for the benefit of the children."
"Each trainer is equipped with a tablet computer with which they are required to record information about their teachers and children at each of their interactions."

Being successful when a small fish in a big pond

Operating a smaller charity can be daunting and does come with its own hurdles, but I find it so rewarding as our size allows us to make a global difference whilst still being able to offer support on a more individual and personal level. As CEO of a small charity, the Head & Neck Cancer Foundation, I find everything is easier, friendlier and kinder.

As a smaller organisation, we can only be envious of the greater reach and funds that a large charity can benefit from. However, I have never seen this as a limiting factor but simply a hurdle that encourages us to do things differently and I am so proud of what we are achieving. For such a small charity we are breaking ground through our research and development and have pioneered numerous new treatments that are becoming widely adopted among UK and global cancer units.

After many years of working with smaller charities and third sector organisations, here are my top tips to success when you are up against the big fish:

Building supporters with quality

Being a small charity means we do not get the volume of donations that more well known charities do. This means that we need to be at the top of our game, and it motivates me to never become sloppy or do things the easy way. We are constantly pushing to provide quality fundraisers and events that will engage our supporters and attract new ones.

In a situation where you may not have as many donors as larger charities, it is so important to connect and interact with your community to keep them engaged with your cause and to promote regular donations.

At HNCF everything is personal. If you contact us, I will respond personally. If you raise money for us, our trustee Sir Frederick Hervey-Bathurst sends you a handwritten letter of thanks. If you have a medical question, one of our expert trustees will respond. If you need support, our Facebook supporters and friends will contact you one-to-one. This is something that larger charities are not able to do.

Although we are making differences on a global scale, we pride ourselves on being small and perfectly formed. It is not a numbers game, and this means that we can offer closer and more valuable support to those within our reach. By taking this approach, we have created a group of wonderful, loyal supporters who believe in what we do.

Work to your strengths

Whilst we do encounter hurdles, there are many strengths in being a small charity and it is important that you harness these when the big fish cannot, to stay one step ahead. Being smaller means we can be fluid and quick to respond - Covid-19 showed us that. When making decisions there are fewer voices that need to be heard so we can take action quickly.

Having a compact but talented team means that we all know each other’s skills and expertise and are happy to let others lead and advise in specific areas. Larger charities may be saturated and have additional structures within their teams that can slow them down in this sense.

Work with other charities

Rather than looking at similar charities as competition, it is important to explore ways in which you can work together. Teaming up with other charities is a great way to benefit from each other’s reach and expertise.

In my view, smaller charities should focus on specific issues rather than generic ones. As a result of this, I find we are less competitive and can create strong informal collaborations with other experts and colleagues to achieve a shared mission. Sharing our knowledge with other likeminded organisations can only have a better outcome for our patients.

As a smaller charity looking specifically at head and neck cancers, we often find that we are just one branch of a larger tree. A really powerful collaboration idea is to lobby together with other charities working towards a larger, overarching goal.

HNCF did this as part of HPV Action, a group which campaigned for universal vaccination for over five years until the government’s vaccination advisory committee changed its mind and finally decided in 2019 that HPV vaccination should be extended to adolescent boys and not only girls.

More recently, we have collaborated with more than 46 other cancer charities, on behalf of people with cancer, to recommend solutions for some of the biggest issues that the next government will face post Covid 19.

Together we created the One Cancer Voice charity coalition and have highlighted the importance of governments across the UK quickly turning their ambitions of restoring and transforming cancer services into a reality. It is so wonderful to see such progress being achieved through collaboration and I hope that our work can act as an example and a catalyst to encourage you to do the same.

Make a difference

No matter the size, a successful charity is one that makes a difference. We play a vital role in society, and everyone benefits from that. I urge all charities to recognise the amazing things that they are achieving rather than comparing themselves to others. We all help in lots of different ways - giving information and direction, leading research and development or raising awareness of an issue. Like most charities we do a mix of these things.

All charities, big or small, bring together people who care about a cause so that they can make a difference. Forget about size. Even the smallest charities can create huge positive impact as long they are constantly evolving and doing things differently.

My final piece of advice to other smaller charities which feel they are competing with the larger charities is to stop. Stop feeling like you’re competing and stop trying to compete. Know your niche, focus on what you do and do it well.

Head & Neck Cancer Foundation’s Michelle Vickers – being smaller means we can be fluid and quick to respond.
"Teaming up with other charities is a great way to benefit from each other’s reach and expertise."