Being a good charity manager includes being a good people manager, as the articles below show.
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The media storm and intense public scrutiny of charities over the past year has seen new regulation and increased financial pressures on charities. It has also extended the governance burden on trustees.
Reflecting back on all the negative media stories about charities - from the collapse of Kids Company, to stories about fundraising practices and chief executive salaries – they have shared a common thread – they have pointed the finger of blame at trustees.
Trustees have been accused of everything, from the mismanagement of finances to negligence, through to not asking the right questions. Now trustees face a raft of new regulation.
In April 2017 new powers to disqualify trustees for up to 15 years come into force as part of the Charity Act 2016, which is helping to address gaps in the Charity Commission’s protective powers. The Act introduces more reasons that will prevent people from becoming trustees and once in force, trustees who are then disqualified will need to stop acting in those positions or apply for a waiver.
These is also CC20 - the Charity Commission's new guidance to trustees about fundraising which empowers trustees to engage with staff on issues to do with how fundraising methods can affect the reputation and long term success of the charity.
Trustees must also engage with revised finance guidance from the regulator and take full responsibility for all risks.
I believe that this combination of more public scrutiny and tighter regulation means that charities have "Crossed the Rubicon" – the point of no return.
Charities need to tackle their governance issues and ensure more robust governance in the future in order to survive and this cannot be done if they have weak or ineffectual boards.
Many charities will need to rethink their boards and ask some really tough questions about whether or not the trustees have the right skills and experience for the job in hand.
If not, they will probably need to take some risks, such as recruiting outside their traditional comfort zones and in many cases, outside the sector.
One big issue is that too many boards are still recruiting in their own image, with trustees often male and of a certain age, so it is little wonder they are often perceived as being too "pale, grey and stale".
Whilst some charities recognise the need to have trustees from different backgrounds with more diverse skills, they still tend to rely on word of mouth for recruitment or fail to promote vacancies outside their networks. Consequently, they are failing to attract different people.
Many are also missing out on younger talent too – people who could introduce new skills, different ways of working and perhaps bring more energy and enthusiasm to the role.
Bringing on board young people with digital skills can be invaluable in terms of helping with fundraising and marketing strategies and ensuring a charity stays current and relevant to donors and beneficiaries.
However, the Young Trustees Guide from Charities Aid Foundation found that fewer than 2% of UK charities have a trustee under the age of 24 and the average age of a board member is 57.
But successfully engaging young trustees or those outside the sector will take a complete mind set shift. Boards will need to be more open minded about whom they recruit, welcome people from more diverse backgrounds and be prepared to spend time training and mentoring them. They may also need to rethink their board meetings – when they hold them. Whilst a lunchtime meeting at a golf club might suit a retired trustee, it is unlikely to suit a young professional with work commitments.
More education is needed too about the true responsibilities and also the benefits of the role. Whilst you don’t want to deter people from volunteering their services, the liabilities and responsibilities must be fully understood.
This is why often people in the commercial sector with senior level or board experience can make good trustees. Many professionals will have sat on boards during the financial crisis. They will have experienced their own organisations coming under fire and increased public scrutiny and they have had to strengthen their governance in response. Surely, such individuals could be assets on a charity board now and in the future?
The growing demand for professional skills on charity boards is something that certain initiatives are addressing. These initiatives involve board-level volunteering programmes which train and place business professionals onto non-profit boards. Organisations involved include Barclays, Google, Credit Suisse and law firm Mishcon de Reya, amongst others.
One charity which has benefited from such a programme is the housing charity LHA London. As a charity dealing with housing for younger people, its goal was to recruit younger trustees to better connect with its beneficiaries. The Charity Commission’s guidelines also identify “the ability to give insight into your beneficiaries' needs and experience” as a core trustee skill and more charities should take note of this when recruiting.
LHA London recruited Alexandra Whiston-Dew, a young media lawyer from Mishcon de Reya who had completed the programme. The board was impressed with her legal credentials and understanding of social media when communicating with young people.
One of the benefits for LHA London was that Mishcon de Reya encourages its employees to volunteer a percentage of hours each year for charitable purposes. LHA had anticipated it would be difficult for a young professional to balance career demands with attending board meetings, subcommittee meetings and away days. They were relieved that Alexandra could commit fully to the role.
Describing her experience Alexandra said: “Many trustees on the board know the organisation inside and out but I have been welcomed and my views have been carefully considered and accepted. I am learning a great deal from the trustees and management. I am being taken out of my comfort zone and am making decisions that are important and impactful.
“This experience is helping my career development too. I can more easily understand what clients need from advisers. I would recommend trusteeship to anyone – but it must be approached professionally and with passion, it can’t be a tick box for the CV.”
With charity governance being increasingly important programmes like this are helping charities recruit skilled trustees who are used to working in a regulated environment and can not only bring essential and highly valuable skills but also a fresh perspective to the board.
This kind of partnership not only allows charities access to professional people, but for the companies involved it serves as an alternative leadership development programme and a way to contribute to society in a sustainable way. By recruiting more professionals from outside the sector, charities can improve diversity and recruit a board better equipped to deal with the demands of a modern charity.
For me, the best way of discussing how to turn a charity around by injecting new strategies and directions is to write about how this was achieved in the Royal Merchant Navy Education Foundation since 2007. This is our story and demonstrates the effectiveness of the charity's trustees despite considerable challenges.
The Royal Merchant Navy Education Foundation (RMNEF) offers support to the disadvantaged children, in full-time education or training, of current and former Merchant Navy seafarers, and of professional sea-going fishermen and RNLI crew members.
Abiding by the mantra “Education is the Foundation”, since 1827 the RMNEF has helped thousands of "Foundationers" achieve their educational and career-led goals. The RMNEF offers support including contributions towards school or university fees, living expenses while in full-time education, educational books, visits or equipment, school uniform costs and a great deal more.
Background before the strategic review
The foundation was started in 1827 as the Merchants’ Seamen’s Orphan Asylum in the London Docks area. Since then, the foundation changed its name a number of times. The original name was retained until 1902 when the Orphan Asylum became the Royal Merchant Seamen's Orphanage, before becoming the Royal Merchant Navy School in 1935. The charitable and educational activities were separated with the latter, in 1977, becoming Bearwood College and the former, in 1981, becoming unincorporated as the Royal Merchant Navy School Foundation.
Finally, in 2013 and after the sale of the school, the Royal Merchant Navy School Foundation became a CIO (Charitable Incorporated Organisation) called the Royal Merchant Navy Education Foundation.
Also since 1827, the asylum/orphanage/school moved from Bow Road (1827 – 1862) to a purpose-built orphanage in Snaresbrook (1862 – 1921) to the Bearwood Estate near Wokingham (1921 to date). The move to Snaresbrook was specifically intended to remove the orphans from the foul air of London into fresh, clean, country air but, as London overtook Snaresbrook, the then chairman of governors bought the Victorian, 500 acre, Bearwood Estate in 1919 and gave it to the foundation, again to enable the orphans to be educated in the country air.
The costs or overheads for the foundation of owning and managing this Grade II* listed estate arose from there being:
Also and very important to note is that the foundation has been in the Monarch’s patronage since 1836 and, currently, our patron is Her Majesty The Queen and our president is HRH The Duke of Edinburgh.
These rather complicated affairs are mentioned simply to demonstrate that the charity had a considerable amount of historical and cost baggage that had to be dealt with by the strategic review which had to be undertaken.
Key issues for strategic reviews
There are two crucial issues governing the potential success of any strategic review:
Specific issues according to the trustees
There were of course specific issues which had to be addressed in the review and key to identifying the foundation’s strategy were the trustees’ clear directions on these issues:
Nationally, the trustees concluded that two issues would affect their beneficiaries: first the economy and, second, youth unemployment. The foundation could do nothing about the former but could do something to reduce the latter which, conveniently, would allow the foundation to hark back to providing education for employment. And so the strategy evolved of assisting with the education of the foundation’s beneficiaries so as to give them the edge over their peers when seeking employment.
It was also essential that the charity’s patron, president and all other benefactors and interested parties such as the Charity Commission were kept informed of progress and decisions.
Implementation of the strategic review
Having agreed the strategy, implementation was next addressed and the key to this was to dispose of the Bearwood Estate.
Owning 500 acres in Berkshire and with very few cash resources made the Foundation “brick-rich and cash-poor”. Also, the trustees recognised that owning (a) a school that was becoming increasingly difficult to keep going and (b) an estate that was under-performing and had very high maintenance costs were considerable millstones around the foundation’s neck so they agreed to dispose of the Bearwood Estate.
So although the trustees knew what they wanted to do, they could not do it because, in 2007 when the review began, the foundation found itself embroiled in a legal battle which prevented the disposal of any part of the estate. This battle lasted for five years and was not resolved until 2012 when the sale of about 106 acres of land and buildings to Bearwood College was completed. This sale provided the foundation for the first time in its existence with substantial cash reserves and allowed the trustees to begin the process of increasing the number of their beneficiaries.
Three months after the resolution of this legal battle, the Bearwood Estate was placed on the open market for sale which resulted, in September 2015, in completion of the sale of 120 acres to Reading Football Club, and in December 2015 the trustees moved the foundation’s offices off the estate.
Results of implementing the review
Today, the foundation is a Charitable Incorporated Organisation with a modern constitution, a modern website and a simple but clear strapline: "Education is the Foundation".
Today, the foundation can now help its beneficiary class at almost any educational stage, from the start of "day care" until the beneficiary has obtained their professional, career-entry, qualification. The trustees do not expect to have to help any one person for all that time; rather they expect to help them on and off according to their need.
Today, the foundation still retains the freehold of some 265 acres of the Bearwood Estate; 60 acres comprise woodland and rather more than 200 acres are leased on a long term basis to one of the country’s top 30 golf courses and provide a sound income.
In brief then, the trustees have managed to dispose of those parts of their land assets that were the most expensive to maintain while still retaining substantial acreage.
Capital and income
The disposal of these two parcels of land and buildings and the closure of Bearwood College in September 2014 have generated substantial funds, and the trustees agreed that the consequential investment income, but not the capital, would be used to meet the needs of the beneficiaries. The longer term plan is to operate the foundation using the rental income from the golf course and to use all the investment income to help the beneficiaries.
Having settled in its new offices in Hungerford, the foundation is now a tenant, for the first time since 1830, and it’s a joy not to have to be concerned about the possibility of someone falling into the lake, or having to mend a leaking roof or freeing up a blocked sewer.
The downside has been the need to make about 86% of the staff, excluding those employed by Bearwood College, redundant, and this aspect has needed to be very carefully handled. The trustees are pleased to learn though that each of these former employees has obtained new employment
Just one example of reduced costs will suffice: this is where the foundation’s insurance premiums have reduced by around 98%.
Beneficiaries of the strategic change
Most importantly of all, the trustees have multiplied the number of their beneficiaries by a factor of three and we are well on our way towards our target which requires a multiplication factor of ten!
I must end by saying that this foundation has been extremely fortunate in having a board of very capable and dedicated trustees without whom I do not like to think where the foundation would otherwise be.
For many years "impact measurement" in the charity sector was an unknown quantity; talked about frequently, but not well understood. Whilst there is, and will always remain a need to improve the way the sector measures impact, the sector as a whole is moving to a place where it is looking to define how impact measurement can drive its core business areas including strategy, operating models, service improvement, performance management, and skills development.
However, in no area is this pressure more acute right now than in solving how impact measurement can establish, or re-establish a sustainable funding model for charities.
From acquaintances to friends
Impact measurement and income generation are often like two acquaintances on the periphery of a friendship group – they interact, they share some common ground, and they know they should get on – but they don't make the effort to get to know each other and to become close friends. They need to, and there are two main reasons why.
First is the ever growing interest from funders and partners in the difference that cash donations and gifts in kind are making to their intended. This is now a well-rehearsed narrative – high profile charity failures, a growing scepticism amongst the UK public of the effectiveness of the charities which they support, and a digital generation expecting more information more quickly. The rise of social investment models and the staying power of payment by results contracts are further drivers of this change.
These models inherently lock in funders and delivery agents to a transparent model driven through performance management and deemed to succeed or fail based on robust measurement of social and financial returns. Whilst public opinion and the profile of the issues mentioned can move in cycles the charity sector must always strive for greater transparency and efficiency when spending other people's money.
The second driver is delivering real social change; life changing social change. Financial pressures often dominate the discussion, however in my opinion this driver is and should always remain the key reason behind linking impact measurement with income generation. A charity's beneficiaries will be experiencing one or more significant challenges in their lives, and these challenges are likely to be faced to some degree by subsequent generations.
To create significant change in their lives now and in the future will require learning, adaptation, and sustainable funding. These three enablers can and should be driven by quantitative and qualitative evaluation and research methods to demonstrate change and the drivers of change to all of the funders and other stakeholders involved.
Tools and approaches are available
The good news is that the tools and approaches needed to capture, process, analyse, and report on data are available. It is how you apply them that matters. Here is a proven five-stage approach to embedding the relationship between impact measurement and income generation.
The first stage is strategic. Spend time segmenting your audience base including your major donors, corporate partners, individual givers, commissioners, trusts, foundations, and other key stakeholders such as delivery partners, staff, and volunteers. If your charity is significant in size or scope then it is likely that you will need to model your audiences by applying quantitative data segmentation methods.
Secondly, create a data matrix that maps your audiences, their messaging needs, the indicators that will demonstrate change, data sources, and finally collection and analysis methods. This data matrix will form the core of a data strategy that is audience-led.
Thirdly, turn that data strategy into a reality by implementing the required changes to staff skills, data collection systems, data collection processes, and, crucially, by setting aside enough time and expertise to analyse, synthesise, and understand what the data are telling you about performance and about social impact. At this stage many organisations fail to make the sufficient investment required in training and systems. It can be difficult to find the budget space for upfront investment but this is a prerequisite for sustainable growth.
Fourthly, create reporting products that appeal to your key audiences. It is human nature to respond to and process visual scenes more efficiently and effectively than written prose. Data visualisation is crucial to communicating your key messages and ensuring that they are heard and understood by the people who you are trying to convince.
Finally, create a feedback loop by gathering feedback from your key audiences on the messages that they are receiving. We live in an ever-changing, dynamic society, and the charity sector is no different. People's wants and needs will change and an ongoing programme of audience engagement is needed to stay on top of these changing trends.
Engagement won't bite
At the heart of this five-stage approach lies the principles of engagement, co-development, and innovation. Charities are often reluctant to engage with their funders outside a structured bidding or application process through fear of showing results that are less than perfect, or uncertainties surrounding the changing needs of beneficiaries and how charities operating models aim to address those uncertainties.
Whilst there are inevitably some funders and individual givers who will be turned off by less than perfect results, this is unlikely to represent a significant portion of your base that would put your business model at risk. And anyway are these the people that you ultimately want engaged with and funding your work?
By being brave and putting the longer term before the shorter term, charities can obtain significant benefits and build towards that sustainable financing model. In the social investment space there has been an explosion of advisers, investors, and intermediaries (often referred to as SIFIs, or social investment financial intermediaries).
These organisations exist to provide advice on elements of a funding model where charities can lack experience – complex contracting arrangements, legal structures, commercial arrangements, financial and business modelling – and can provide new and innovative ideas when brought into model development.
The wider funding market is no different. Individuals, trusts, foundations, and corporates on the whole give because they believe in the same social mission that the charity believes in. My experience is that funders are open to learning, to sharing experiences and skills, and to receiving real rather than "jazzed up" reports of progress and impact. And again if they aren't then are these the right funders for your charity in the longer term?
A sustainable funding model is built from strong relationships, a commitment to your social mission, and achieving genuine change for your beneficiaries. They are interdependent, not mutually exclusive, and this is why your impact measurement and your income generation need not only to align, but inherently drive each other as one package of information and insight.
Charities also need to align with partners and sub-contractors to ensure that where there are multiple contributors to ultimate impact of an intervention or advocacy initiative that the contributions and successes can be measured, attributed accordingly across the partnership or supply chain, and that funders can understand collective impact and shared measurement.
Laying foundations for closer working
Charity leaders are having to adapt to a rapidly changing funding environment, with a desire for greater transparency and proof of results being one of those fundamental changes. There is evidence that charity leaders are growing ever more reluctant to accept funding that does not drive their social mission or vision for their beneficiaries and society.
Whilst the desire for greater impact measurement alone is not a reason to adapt or rewrite a whole income generation strategy, it is a strong driver of change to the way that impact is defined, demonstrated, and reported, with co-development among stakeholders at the heart of that change. Impact measurement will not, for example, lead to an end in traditional forms of fundraising; in fact it should strengthen it. However, to achieve this all charities must match their income generation approach closely to donor asks, to how they operate, and to how they collect and report on results.
The charity leader will probably have individually signed off both an income generation or fundraising strategy and an operations or implementation strategy over the past 12 months. How many of those charity leaders sign off a combined impact and income strategy over the next 12 months will be a key indicator of a change of focus in the charity sector, and those who do, and who engage stakeholders in the creation of that combined strategy, are likely to be the charities which establish or re-establish that sustainable funding model for the next five years and beyond.
"By being brave and putting the longer term before the shorter term, charities can obtain significant benefits and build towards that sustainable financing model."
"A sustainable funding model is built from strong relationships, a commitment to your social mission, and achieving genuine change for your beneficiaries."
We have had no choice but to have effective, and indeed discerning, management in our charity. When you read this you will appreciate that the scale and challenges of what we do, including the need to evaluate the quality and performance of our partners and suppliers, require us to be very good at managing both ourselves and the situations where we work with others.
Apart from anything else, we invest very considerable sums in equipment and we simply can't afford to get this side of it wrong - plus we can't afford for there to be any waste of these assets through any failings on our part. But we are a team in our charity and we never forget it.
Hope for Tomorrow is a dedicated charity with a single aim: to bring cancer care closer to patients. Working in partnership with the NHS, our state of the art Mobile Chemotherapy Units travel to different locations around their area, helping reduce journeys, waiting times and the stresses and strains of busy hospitals for cancer patients.
We will have 11 units operational by the end of this year and aim to have at least one unit in every county by 2025. Hope for Tomorrow was awarded a Queen’s Award for Enterprise, in the Innovation category, this year.
I founded Hope for Tomorrow in 2003, following the sad loss of my husband David to cancer. During his treatment I had been struck by the difficulties we faced in travelling long distances for chemotherapy, including the terrible frustrations of hospital parking and long waiting times.
I wanted to help people undergoing chemotherapy in a practical way and I decided to approach Dr. Sean Elyan, consultant oncologist and medical director of Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, with my ideas.
To my delight I found we had a shared vision: to bring chemotherapy closer to patients. Together we developed a pilot scheme that resulted in the 2007 launch of the world’s first Mobile Chemotherapy Unit (MCU), in a unique partnership with the NHS. Launching the world’s first of anything is no easy task, and this was no exception.
I will always be grateful to Dr. Elyan for his constant support and dedication to Hope for Tomorrow and our vision. His guidance has been invaluable, particularly in relation to our dealings with the NHS.
Today we are the proud owners of ten well equipped, state of the art Mobile chemotherapy units around the country, and our fervent wish is to have at least one unit in every county by 2025.
Hope for Tomorrow builds, owns and maintains the units, which are operated by highly trained NHS staff, who travel through their areas of operation to places where the service is needed most, visiting local Community Hospitals and other easily accessed sites such as supermarket car parks or community centres.
The units allow cancer patients to receive treatment in a restful environment closer to home, saving stressful long distance travel and minimising waiting times. Up to 20 patients per day can be treated on board, and I’m delighted to say that patients report a more sociable, less stressful experience.
Travelling and parking are easier and less costly and patients can enjoy a cup of tea and a chat on board. We’ve worked hard to make sure that the experience of being treated on board is as pleasant as it can be, and we’ve responded to what patients have told us about what they need.
For instance, we have installed lifts for those unable to use the steps up into the units; there is a private area for nurses or patients needing a moment to themselves, and there are always biscuits on board. The nursing staff appreciate the calm atmosphere of the units and getting to know the patients.
Our first patient to be treated in Somerset said: “Today I felt a little low but after being treated on the bus I felt I could fly again.” Words like this are very special to me and my passionate team.
For our NHS partners, the benefits of increased capacity and flexibility of service are clear: Hope for Tomorrow’s MCUs provide the means for up to 15 per cent of an oncology department’s activity to be completed on board, with the capacity to administer up to 2,000 treatments per year, per unit, saving thousands of miles of travel per year and hours of time.
There were many challenges along the way to launching the first unit. My background, along with my husband, was in motor racing PR and management, not in running a charity, so I had to learn as I went along.
However, my contacts and friends in motor racing have supported me all the way - the late Jack Brabham, along with Sir Stirling Moss and Derek Bell, became the first patrons of the charity and it still enjoys the loyalty and support of many well known figures in the motoring industry.
At our recent "Legends of Le Mans" event at the Hurlingham Club in London, motor racing journalist Simon Taylor interviewed drivers including patrons David Richards, Ross Brawn, five-times race winner Derek Bell and Martin Brundle. We raised over £65,000 for our charity and another charity.
As a charity, we sell nothing; we provide the infrastructure for NHS partners to provide service delivery and our contracts with our NHS partners are renewed on a three-year basis.
Our customers fall into three categories – NHS partners, patients and funders/supporters:
NHS PARTNERS. Our practices are designed to ensure that we monitor the performance of our NHS partners, following the number and types of treatments administered on board the Mobile Chemotherapy Units.
The NHS Trusts submit regular reports on MCU activity, and our operational team has two formal review meetings per year per NHS partner in order to establish operational status and address any issues. We run an online forum to encourage information sharing and best practice.
PATIENTS. Our NHS partners share the information gathered in "friends and family" test data.
Medical staff also ask patients to complete patient case study forms which the charity provides. This information enables us to prove need and measure the impact our units make. It also helps provide reassurance to other patients about the service and any improvements that might be needed.
Research into the principle of administering cancer patient chemotherapy via mobile treatment units was conducted by the West of England University; the results were published in October 2011.
The research gave evidence of patients’ advantages and benefits when receiving treatment at Mobile Chemotherapy Units as defined from travelling to and from hospital. It was established that the maximum waiting time for patients on the MCU was 15 minutes.
- FUNDERS/SUPPORTERS. We respect our supporters’ privacy and do not share their data with any third party. We mail supporters who have requested it three times a year with our charity newsletter, and on occasion for local events. We do not use street fundraisers, telephone or door-to-door fundraising. We believe that if we treat our supporters with respect they will support the charity over the long term.
Our Mobile Chemotherapy Units cost £260,000 to build and are bespoke, state of the art units. We only start the build once we have the commitment of the NHS Trust partner which requires it and there are stringent criteria for the agreement to supply, including a pre-qualifying assessment, the partner’s need for the service, capability, capacity and commitment.
We require from them a board-approved business case as well as details of their background and objectives, their experience and suitability, their ability to deliver and their vision.
Our coach builder for our second generation units was appointed following a tender process which was designed to ensure that our units are fit for purpose for future developments in the field of chemotherapy and other cancer-related treatments. Each unit is maintained by the charity through a supplier which we have worked with for over nine years.
They provide 12 weekly services and ongoing maintenance and repairs. Feedback from existing NHS partners helps us to improve future designs; we see this as an opportunity for a cycle of continuous improvement.
None of this work would have been achieved without the commitment of the team at Hope for Tomorrow, including our core team operating from Gloucestershire, our trustees, our patrons and our ambassadors. When I started the charity I was on my own; now I have a passionate and dedicated group of people around me.
As founder and trustee I lead a very strong team headed by two senior managers who lead the operations, communications, fundraising and accounts teams. We are a small organisation; we all work together as a tightly knit team; and in my experience and as quoted in "The Little Blue Book", New Philanthropy Capital, February 2010, the biggest asset for any charity is its staff
We have a strong board of trustees with a wide range of business skills. The board of trustees has signed off a carefully structured national expansion for the charity and is committed to supporting the our targets for extending this very worthwhile project right across the country.
I believe charities are often created out of personal experience and have a desire to cut through obstacles in order to achieve change. At Hope for Tomorrow we have stayed true to the original need that I identified when I went through the experience of supporting my husband through his cancer treatment.
When I started the charity I found an inner strength, which helped me through adversity towards my dream. As the new book “Grit”, launched in May 2016 by award winning psychologist Angela Duckworth, says: people can achieve remarkable things not just by relying on innate natural talent but by practising “the Power of Passion and Perseverance”.
That has helped me enormously and I am proud that our team at Hope for Tomorrow also have these qualities and dedication to the charity.
With charities facing various challenges in maintaining membership levels and managing professionalisation throughout the industry, I like to think that the Royal Air Forces Association serves as an example of best practice. Our charity has managed to not only maintain but increase membership levels over the past year. Let me first put this in the overall context of a general requirement for professionalism across the charity sector.
The charity sector continues to play an important role as both a support system for and champion of important causes across the country, and also as an "employer" of approximately 800,000 workers across the UK. According to the Labour Force Survey, voluntary sector workers equated to around 2.7% of all UK employees in 2012. Additionally, in 2012/13 there were approximately 160,045 voluntary organisations operating in the UK.
The sheer size of the industry (an indeed it is an industry) and its rapid expansion in recent years have sparked some significant concern around issues such as accountability, transparency, programme sustainability and fundraising practices. Increasingly, professionalisation is seen as the best way to address these concerns and guarantee that charities can deliver reliably and responsibly.
While regulators such as the Charities Commission are important when enforcing standards across the industry, charities largely rely on a suite of "best practice" guidelines rather than a set of concrete rules. A number of high profile scandals over the past year have arguably tarnished the image of charities, leading to the overhaul of the self-regulation model.
Membership organisations such as the Royal Air Forces Association find themselves in an interesting position when public opinion changes so drastically. By their very nature they are not only accountable to their supporters and beneficiaries, but they also have an inherent responsibility to reflect the views of their members, the very people who keep the organisation going.
Receiving no government contributions, the work of the RAF Association is completely funded by our members and through donations. It therefore falls on all employees, led by senior management, to connect with the existing membership base, to maintain and also increase membership numbers.
Recognition of dedication
The RAF Association exists in the recognition that RAF personnel and their immediate families dedicate their lives to their country, and to ensure that such a sacrifice does not result in suffering, poverty or loneliness.
With a membership of approximately 62,000, which includes serving RAF personnel, veterans and non-service individuals, and a worldwide branch network of over 500 volunteer welfare caseworkers, the association is able to make over 102,000 welfare visits and calls annually. Support is available to members of the 1.5 million strong RAF family and ranges from providing conversation and friendship to preparing and submitting application forms for financial assistance.
Working closely with other charities, we help secure over £1.8 million in grants each year for those in financial hardship. As the "voice" of the RAF family, we speak out on vital issues such as the importance of the Armed Forces Covenant and the arrangements for widows’ war pensions. We also run year-round activities, such as our new Befriending Service and Storybook Wings, which keep families connected when parents serve overseas, capitalising on the experience, expertise and passion of our members and employees to deliver the best support network for our members.
Identifying and addressing challenges
Over the past year, we have been dedicated to identifying and addressing the challenges that face the association. Ultimately, two overarching issues were recognised as priorities in safeguarding our long term development:
RAISING EXISTING AND POTENTIAL MEMBERS' AWARENESS AND UNDERSTANDING OF THE ASSOCIATION. In 2015 we supported around 14,000 members of the RAF family through our various welfare initiatives. While the Association benefits from having a generous and active membership base, much of the general public are not aware that we are, in fact, a membership organisation, similar to the Royal British Legion.
Having members helps us to identify vulnerable and isolated individuals in our local communities, and through our branch network we are able to reach out to those who need us. While individual donations provide the vast majority of funding for our various initiatives, members sit at the heart of the organisation and everything we do. We simply would not exist without them.
PROVIDING EXTENSIVE TRAINING TO VOLUNTEERS AND MEMBERS. The increased pressure to deliver services to a professional standard is not going to lessen in the near future. The majority of our welfare work is delivered by volunteers, who are mostly members, so we must ensure that they are properly equipped to deal with what are often sensitive issues.
Our caseworkers share our desire to deliver the best service to those in need. When dealing with cases of severe loneliness, social isolation or financial hardship, it is important that we are able to provide the same level of support and advice across our network. This consistency is another benefit of a structured training system.
By implementing a two-pronged approach, we have successfully managed to meet these challenges head-on. Despite external pressures, we have managed to grow our membership by over 600 members over the past year alone. By the end of 2015, all of our volunteer welfare caseworkers had been trained to a nationally recognised standard.
Training volunteers enables delivery
We believe that by training our volunteers in this way we will be able to deliver on our promise to beneficiaries. This allows us to continue to benefit from our exceptional mix of volunteers and permanent employees without compromising on the quality of our programmes. Such a comprehensive and far-reaching training scheme is an important first for the Armed Forces charity sector and we hope to see the standard rolled out across the sector over the next few years.
While the professionalisation of our team is key, attracting members and inviting people to join and support the RAF Association is equally important. We found that approximately 3,000-5,000 people were letting their association membership lapse every year. Such significant lapse rates ultimately negate any progress we might make with membership recruitment and we had to take urgent action to stem this outflow.
Late last year we attempted to contact lapsed members to find out more about why they had let their membership lapse. While 40% of those we contacted renewed their membership immediately, a further 40% needed our help for issues ranging from financial hardship to loneliness and isolation. We have alerted our welfare team to those who need support and I’m pleased to say this is already making an impact.
Based on the success of this activity, we will be trying to contact the 2,000 lapsed members from 2015 to see if they have any welfare needs or, if appropriate, to encourage them to renew their membership. To date 26% of those contacted have now renewed their membership and where a welfare need was identified, we are helping. This approach requires a lot of investment from the association, while being a time and labour intensive exercise, it reflects the core values and goals of the charity to support members of the RAF family when they are in need.
Next five years
Over the next five years, we will continue to contact lapsed members, addressing welfare needs where we find them, as well as undertaking additional awareness raising activities to grow our membership back to 100,000.We are on a path of growth and expansion as we hope to connect with more members of the RAF family and provide them with the help some of them desperately need.
From an operational perspective, our future will mean more investment in our capacity to deliver services and time to reach out to as many members of the RAF family as we can to encourage them to join the association. We will be building on our work to alleviate loneliness and isolation through our befriending service, reaching out to local communities.
With a family of 1.5 million we have our work cut out for us, but a large part of my role is identifying and contacting the entire RAF family. Through initiatives like befriending and our wider welfare work we are well on our way to achieving this.
Balancing different needs
As a membership organisation which provides welfare support, we have to carefully balance the needs of both groups, especially as some members may also be beneficiaries. To do my job effectively and for the association to deliver personalised solutions to pressing problems, we all, every employee and volunteer, must appreciate that we have a responsibility to continually listen to members and beneficiaries, and this must act as the driving force behind our activity.
"Membership organisations such as the Royal Air Forces Association find themselves in an interesting situation when public opinion changes so drastically. "
"While individual donations provide the vast majority of funding for our various initiatives, members sit at the heart of the organisation and everything we do."
"From an operational perspective, our future will mean more investment in our capacity to deliver services and time to reach out to as many members of the RAF family as we can encourage to join the association."