More charity forum

Your colleagues in the charity sector have clear views on some of the key issues affecting charities. Do you agree with them? Click through on the headline links below to read their views.

Click on the headlines of your choice.

Managing sport to make a social impact

The Laureus Sport for Good Foundation was founded in 2000. Its patron is Nelson Mandela and it is led by the Laureus World Sports Academy, a unique association of 46 of the greatest living sporting legends, under the chairmanship of former Olympic athlete Edwin Moses.

The charity is underpinned by the proceeds of the Laureus World Sports Awards held each year in different cities around the world. In addition funding is derived from corporate supporters, fundraising events, voluntary donations and other institutional funds and foundations.

International brands Richemont and Daimler teamed up to get the project off the ground in 1998 and two years later the Laureus World Sports Awards, the Oscars of sport, were launched in Monaco.

To achieve the goals set by its founders, it was acknowledged that Laureus needed to be much more than a spectacular red carpet event. It had to be a year-round charity dedicated to effecting social change through sport.

Inspired by the vision of Nelson Mandela in a speech at the first Laureus World Sports Awards which began "Sport has the power to change the world", our charity uses sport as a vehicle to help young people overcome challenging social issues including poverty and social exclusion, homelessness, war, gun and gang violence, drug abuse, education, discrimination and health issues such as AIDS.

Global ambassadors

At the heart of the foundation is the Laureus World Sports Academy, mentioned at the beginning of this article. It is a dedicated team of 46 legendary sportsmen and sportswomen, who have all volunteered their services in this cause, acting as global ambassadors, visiting projects to encourage young people to participate in sport and to draw public attention to these problems.

Among the academy members are Lord Coe, Martina Navratilova, Michael Johnson, Boris Becker, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and Sir Bobby Charlton, who all volunteer their time to visit grassroots programmes and advocate sport as a development tool at the highest levels of government and business. These athletes are supported by 120 current sporting ambassadors.

Coordinating our work from our headquarters in London (Fulham), Laureus has eight affiliated national foundations and supports over 140 projects in 34 countries with probably the widest range of grantees within the sector. Acknowledging that poverty is apparent in all corners of the world, the foundation supports communities in both developing and developed parts of the world.

We support the use of all sports, recognising that skiing, skateboarding and surfing can have as much impact as football, rugby and cricket when it comes to reaching out to young people.

Let me now explain the management style and disciplines which are currently in use to run the charity and meet the challenges of operating such a network of activities. I hope the relevance of my own career before joining the foundation speaks for itself.

Sports development

After starting my career in sailing, I worked for UBS Warburg in London, to manage their emerging sailing sponsorship portfolio, including the Volvo Ocean Race yachts Nautor Challenge. After six years with UBS, finishing in Hong Kong as Head of Group Sponsorship in the Asia Pacific Region, I developed and implemented sport development strategies in line with the exploration of oil and gas exploration firm BG Group’s community relations policy linked to Global sponsorship.

I joined Laureus in 2007 and have focused not only on expanding the number of projects we support, but also investing in research, monitoring and evaluation of sport’s impact on young communities and promoting its role in international development. I was privileged to be appointed to the board of International Inspiration in 2009, the international sports legacy programme of the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

One of the key challenges that Laureus faces is keeping a grip on such a multinational charitable business. We are constantly striving to maintain a cohesive international team whilst always acknowledging the need for efficiency and good governance. We utilise a number of tools: face to face meetings, video conference, Skype, and internal audit to achieve this aim.

We have decentralised our teams, developing national operations where possible with autonomy within a territory, and placing regional management with responsibility for Africa and Latin America operations. We believe this serves best to ensure local relevance of our project approach under a global strategic framework.

Naturally it is an important part of our business to visit projects we support, so time in the air is inevitable to ensure a detailed understanding of the constantly changing risks, successes, and challenges across our supported portfolio.

Of course, having the headquarters in London has its challenges. The national foundations work closely with us and a combination of local stakeholder differences, donors' intent, as well as cultural and organisational differences mean that the priorities are not always aligned.

Recognising these differences means that we can start to address them in collaboration with our many partners. Frequent opportunities to meet, visiting one another’s offices and local projects have helped to bring a geographically dispersed charity team together.

Participatory workshops

Meetings have become more dynamic and theme-based rather than simply a debrief of "what has been happening", and participatory workshops led by external facilitators have helped to maintain common purpose and strategy. More access to the Global Office in London has also increased efficiency of delivery on the ground and supported the growth of national markets.

Obviously there is the challenge of stopping the misuse of funds and guarding against the possibility of weak local leadership. So we use a number of sophisticated monitoring systems and are very specific with our awarding of grants to ensure every possible safeguard is put in place.

Our programme team vets all proposed programmes and conducts regular field visits to verify the data received and assess the robustness of local organisational governance systems and procedures, and grantees have to regularly report in to us. Additionally we manage an ongoing risk register, which works to highlight potential problem areas and act as a basis for shared communication on how these challenges can be addressed in partnership with each grantee.

Within Laureus, we have responsibility to ensure strong leadership both internally and within the sector. It is impossible to entirely eliminate the risk of misused funds and weak leadership on the ground but these measures do help mitigate against it.

We are sensitive to the needs of our grantees to build strong systems in what are sometimes very chaotic environments. In addition to the sports activities themselves, we invest in governance, systems and processes as well as training of core management to develop sustainable platforms far beyond the initial grant period.

Our projects rely so much on local inspirational leadership so there is the challenge of inspiring the inspirers to keep going at maximum full power. Thus at a local level we engage and inspire the project leaders not simply through grant funding, but also through exchanges with other projects, the opportunity to share experiences at global and regional summits and through visits with academy members, which also help them with publicity for their work.

Sharing knowledge

It is about sharing the knowledge we gather on the impact our projects have on young people and best practice. We invest to ensure that each programme delivers activities which meet the needs of the communities they serve.

In 2012 we organised a global summit in partnership with Barcelona FC uniting project leaders from 32 countries for three days of interactive knowledge sharing and networking around "sport for good". The summit was ranked good or excellent by 100% of participants and received fantastic feedback from project leaders who were inspired by their peers, while at the same time providing inspiration for others worldwide.

We also arrange youth exchanges and project twinnings, where we fund projects to collaborate with one another and jointly deliver projects and programmes. For example in 2011 we funded a collaboration between the Peres Centre for Peace in Israel /Palestine and Kick Fair in Germany. We had project managers and young people working together to deliver a series of youth exchanges in both territories that provided new and inspiring leadership experiences for young people and managers alike.

But in truth, our project leaders and founders tend to have the tenacity, compassion and conviction that inspires us to keep working on their behalf and on behalf of the children they help on a daily basis.

Of course, we do have to employ special skills and resources. Focusing on using sport to help young people obviously requires more than just putting on a football match. Laureus uses a wide range of sports but our main priority is to embed sport into the DNA of a broader social programme.

"Sport for Development" is different from grassroots sport. It’s not about walking into a community with a football or basketball and hoping that something magical will happen. I think of it as injecting sport into a wider social intervention as an impact booster.

Other opportunities

For example, a Laureus project delivering a football league for youth would typically give players in that league access to a wide range of other opportunities. These may include vocational training, mentoring with social workers, internship or employment opportunities, international volunteering or exchanges and so on. Our coaches and mentors have to be great role models as well.

Sport is the glue that holds the project together (and often a key reason why people showed up in the first place) but it is one vital part of a broad and holistic programme.

Sport is an immensely powerful tool which provides inspiration, boosts health, breaks social barriers, and teaches life and leadership lessons and skills. But it works best when it’s combined with a broad and creative package of opportunities' and considers the overall pathway that a young person will take outside the project – into education and employment.

“We don’t fund sports activities”, donors will tell us. But when we tell them how sport is being used as a participation tool to engage disabled children and their families in discussions about sanitation and education in northern India, or to provide education and employment skills in Brazil, or to give children a voice in South Africa, these are tangible in terms of real and lasting social change.

Wouldn’t it be great if every development organisation sees sport as a key tool in its participatory approach to meeting its objectives? We are standing by, ready to train them in how to do it.

Monitoring activities and assessing performance are essential. We measure our success by the changes we see both individually and collectively in communities where our projects are taking place. For example, the number of young people who move into education, get jobs, quit gangs, widen social networks and so on. We have developed a package of support called "Infocus" to help the projects we support to collect, store and analyse this vital "life change" data.

Identifying changes

We work in so many places and situations that it is difficult to define a catch all assessment approach. However, the Infocus approach allows programmes to clearly identify the changes they want to make, and allows us to work together to establish and monitor indicators of these changes. In this way, we can assess on a local level whilst also aggregating similar indicators to assess global impact.

As part of the risk register process we also assess progress across various measures including financial independence, governance and child protection systems for example.

Additionally we conduct research which uses various programmes as case studies for testing the impact of sport in general on society.

For example in 2011 we commissioned a report entitled "Teenage Kicks" in collaboration with charity think tank and consultancy New Philanthropy Capital which was launched at Westminster. Similar studies have followed which test these results and compare impacts in other countries and regions.

We found that for every £1 invested, £7 of value were created by reducing costs to victims, police, prisons and courts. We also published six research articles in 2012 in partnership with universities and other centres of sport science excellence around the world.

The ultimate goal is that all our grantees, and other organisations, both donors and grantees in the sector, will be using compatible data collection tools which will enable us as a sector to compile social change results on a local and global level to assess and prove the impact of the sector.

Return to top of page | Close all

Building volunteering from the ground up

Milestones Trust is a Bristol-based health and social care charity set up in 1986 to support people with learning disabilities and mental health needs, including dementia, to lead fulfilling and empowered lives in the community. We support around 1,000 people in residential and nursing care homes, supported living and community-based day services.

Why we wanted volunteers

In the past, day centres provided a place for people with disabilities to socialise and participate in different activities. Funding cuts have meant the closure of many of these services in recent years, leaving people with less to do, and with the potential to become more isolated.

Our trustees decided to invest in a specific post to encourage volunteering. In a nutshell, volunteers allow us to do more for the people we support. Service users are "befriended" by people with a wide range of perspectives and interests, and are supported to access their local communities and try new things.

Getting started

The first step was to understand the needs and perceptions of staff regarding the use of volunteers. This allowed me to start building a picture of their experiences of volunteering (both negative and positive) so that I could address both in my plans. It was evident early on that it would be crucial to have home managers on board.

The next step was to engage with the Volunteer Centres in the areas we serve, to get the benefit of their advice and hopefully referrals of potential volunteers. They introduced me to local volunteer recruitment fairs which proved very valuable for speaking to people interested in volunteering.

Working with Jenny Idle from Volunteer Bristol, we also designed a half day "Volunteer Awareness Workshop" which we delivered to home managers. The aim of this was to promote awareness on how to create roles for volunteers, how to get the best from them and how to retain their services. We ran three workshops in the first year and gradually reaped the benefits as managers started to identify opportunities for volunteers within their homes. Then with each success, word began to spread amongst managers that this was worth doing and more came forward with new possibilities.

Finding the right volunteers

As well as finding people through the volunteer centres and recruitment fairs, we have had a number of referrals from existing volunteers who promote the idea to friends and family.

We try to speak to volunteers before sending out application forms as it allows us to explain more about our service users, to get an idea of what the volunteer hopes to get from the experience and to gently suggest that we are seeking people who can volunteer for months rather than weeks. This helps to set expectations at an early stage and improves retention.

Keeping the right volunteers

It is essential for people with learning disabilities and mental health needs to have continuity in their lives, so wherever possible we try to develop longer term relationships with volunteers. We currently have over 50 regular volunteers of which half have been with us for over six months and a dozen for over a year.

Our approach to placing people is to match the potential volunteer’s interests with those of an individual, or a group, within one of our homes. An interview with the home manager is an opportunity for the volunteer to meet service users and staff, and to see what kind of environment they’ll be working in. Some people feel daunted meeting individuals with learning disabilities or mental health needs for the first time, so we do everything we can to make them feel comfortable and prepared.

Integrating the volunteers

Following DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) checks, volunteers are given a start date and assigned to a staff member who will be their supervisor/coach. The supervisor will ensure that over their first six visits they complete an induction programme, and will supervise their initial visits. This helps the volunteer to integrate gradually into the wider staff team.

The induction period allows the volunteer to gain confidence with service users and to develop at their own pace rather than being "thrown in at the deep end". Feedback indicates that volunteers appreciate this. It also grows the confidence they need to be able to take the service user out to shops, parks, local cafes or pubs, depending on their interests.

Home managers or supervisors are encouraged to meet regularly with their volunteers to ask if they are happy with what they are doing and find out if they have ideas they would like to develop. Every three months or so we get in touch to check everyone is still happy with the arrangement.

Perhaps the most important element of retaining volunteers is to show them they are valued. We ran a "Celebration of Volunteering" event in May last year as a forerunner to Volunteer Week when we invited past, present and potential future volunteers to meet each other as well as service users and managers. Our CEO, John Hoskinson, presented Certificates of Appreciation and added his personal thanks for the valuable contributions they make to the trust.

The extra volunteers give

Volunteers come from very diverse and varied backgrounds, and it is great for our service users to have access to their experiences and skills. It might be sharing an interest in baking, music, theatre, gardening, day trips, or anything that could be a new experience for the service user. Our younger volunteers have proved invaluable in getting residents onto the internet, downloading music for them or finding photographs of wildlife or aeroplanes or trains.

Benefits to the charity

Some of the benefits that the volunteering programme has brought are:

• Partnerships with volunteer centres, universities, companies and organisations which have been receptive and supportive of joint working ventures that we hope will continue to develop.

• Relationships with a number of high profile companies who have provided teams for a community "Day to Make a Difference".

• An increased awareness within our own workforce of the benefits volunteers bring.

• A bank of individuals who are comfortable with our service users and who act as informal ambassadors for the trust, but more importantly for people with disabilities, having seen what they can do and have to offer.

In the last year we have engaged a rolling average of 50 volunteers. Corporate partners have also sent teams to homes to undertake projects such gardening, decorating or similar practical tasks that can be completed in a day. This has proved a real asset to community relations as well as financial savings.

Future plans

We have recently signed a Community Partnership Agreement with the University of the West of England and look forward to planning student-led projects that will benefit service users in the coming year.

As well as continuing to develop corporate volunteering with new organisations, we will actively seek out new opportunities for joint working with other organisations.

Providing a fulfilling life

Volunteering is at the heart of what makes Milestones Trust a charity. Our aim is not just to provide care, but to provide a fulfilling life in the community for service users, many of whom have lived in institutions their whole lives. Volunteers provide an essential buffer against ever-tightening council budgets for care, enabling us to keep people’s quality of life high even in times of austerity. The reality is that no price can be put on the value they provide for people in our services, nor can the trust really express how grateful we are for their time and dedication.

Return to top of page | Close all

Milestones Trust's Brenda Stanton
Milestones Trust's Brenda Stanton - volunteers provide an essential buffer against ever-tightening council budgets for care, enabling us to keep people's quality of life high even in times of austerity.
"It was evident early on that it would be crucial to have home managers on board."
Dawn Howton, a volunteer at the Milestone Trust
Volunteers come from very diverse and varied backgrounds, and it is great for service users to have access to their experience and skills.
Rachel Colley, a volunteer at the Milestone Trust
Of course, there is a lot to be gained by volunteers too. Rachel Colley (above), a volunteer at one of Milestone Trust's homes for people with learning disabilities, says: "This role is so rewarding. I've been learning Jamie's Makaton (communication) signs. He kept doing a certain gesture...and I found out that it meant 'thank you'!"

Thinking strategically about how to use your volunteers

Volunteers are the lifeblood of most charities, but many charities aren’t capitalising on them, and so are not getting the most out of one of their most valuable resources.

With so many demands on their time, charities often focus predominantly on the day to day running of their organisation. Taking the time to step back and think strategically about how they are using volunteers seems like a luxury they can ill afford. Failing to take a more structured approach to the development of their volunteer programme, however, means charities are stunting their own growth by focusing on short term "fire-fighting" as opposed to longer term strategic volunteer planning.

Thinking about volunteer recruitment, training, and application in a business-like manner can help charities reach the next level of their development, expand their skillset, operate more efficiently and manage limited resources more effectively. So, how can you make sure your charity is making the most of the opportunities available?

Create some distance

The first step is to simply take some time out to distance yourself from the minutiae of the day to day running of your charity and think about your long term goals in a structured way.

CONSIDER YOUR OBJECTIVES AND LONG TERM GOALS. Most charities have an idea of how they would like to expand, whether it’s improving their internet presence, widening their reach, improving their marketing, relating more effectively to their community, broadening their impact, increasing their fundraising targets or growing as an organisation. The key is to think objectively about how to do this.

Which skills would really be of use to your charity at this stage? You may even find it beneficial to write a role description to help you focus on exactly what role or roles you’d like to see created and filled to help you move forward.

While it’s true that you won’t have the same freedom and influence as a commercial organisation in attracting candidates, volunteers come from all walks of life, many with vast specialist knowledge, experience, skills and talent and a desire to help a cause they believe in. This enables you to find a volunteer with the skills to suit the role you require if you’re prepared to approach volunteer recruitment with a strategy in mind.

As the adage goes, if you don’t ask, you certainly don’t get, so be clear on what you want and then go ahead and ask for it.

DECIDE WHO WOULD FIT WITH YOUR AIMS. Extending your skill base by getting volunteers involved more strategically can help your charity expand and thrive, as long as you have a clear idea of who would work well in which roles and are specific about the type of volunteer you’d like to recruit.

Focus on the required skills

Take time to think about the skills you need a particular volunteer to demonstrate – do they need specialist knowledge or talents, for example website building skills or knowledge of social media? Would you like them to have had prior experience in a particular area, such as working with young people or managing a team? Is it beneficial if they have a certain standing in the community, such as a network of professional contacts they can draw on?

The recruitment and management of volunteers should be approached in a structured way, but some charities still feel awkward about approaching their volunteers with this perspective – grateful that people are giving their time for free and uncomfortable about asking for specific skills. It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that most volunteers would rather be "matched" with a role that allowed them to utilise skills and knowledge which they wish to use.

Instead of being offended by your specificity, most will be reassured that you are taking the time to match them to roles which correspond with their skillset and will be happy to know the time they donate will be used effectively.

ADVERTISE TO YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE. Once you’ve identified which roles would help your CHARITY develop as you would like and which skills gaps require filling, you need to turn your attention to targeting the right volunteers.

Once you know which skills you are lacking you need to find ways to reach people who have those skills and may be interested in joining you, for example advertising on targeted websites with local colleges or professional associations. Make it known that you are looking to find volunteers to help you with a particular project or goal and you may spark the interest of individuals who hadn’t previously considered volunteering.

Also, be aware that people who want to volunteer tend to have a wide range of opportunities to choose from and, without the lure of a salary, you need to make sure you’re appealing to them in other ways. They will choose the one which seems to offer the best "fit" to their motivations and skills.

It can be useful to consider what drives a volunteer to sign up by becoming aware of the range of motivations people have and how you can meet them. Are you able to offer a volunteer the chance to practice a skill they haven’t used for a while, perhaps? Or are you able to help them meet new people or have new experiences?

Communicate your message

As money doesn’t enter the equation, be aware that you can supply other benefits – not least the chance to use their skills to help a cause they believe in. For this to be effective, you need to make sure you communicate your message and explain your work passionately and in a way that lets them envisage how their unique knowledge and experience could have an impact. Let them know how important their range of skills will be to your charity and share your vision of how they can help your charity move forward.

REFINE YOUR SELECTION PROCESS. While you won’t want to turn away a willing volunteer, a thorough selection process will help you match the right people with the right roles, which will benefit both the charity and the volunteer in the long run.

Have a clear idea about the information you want to gather from the selection process. Don’t feel embarrassed about asking for qualifications, track record, references or an in-depth CV. Some charities feel awkward about checking CVs and references, but if you are considering the individual for a strategically important role it would be remiss not to be thorough in your selection process. You’re not effectively managing risk if you don’t.

Often, a volunteer from a professional background will appreciate a business-like approach to the selection and role matching process. In the first instance, respond quickly to any potential volunteers to show your interest in their offer of help. Volunteers don’t want to waste their time in a role that doesn’t suit them or won’t benefit the charity so being upfront during the initial selection is beneficial for both parties and, if handled properly, isn’t likely to cause offence.

Use the interview

In any interview process make sure that you give volunteers time to ask questions, find out about your charity and how volunteers fit into its activities. You should give them a chance to explain their motivation for volunteering. This will give you the opportunity to assess the suitability of the volunteer and enable you to make sure they have the skills and qualities you need or match their abilities more to a suitable role.

Think carefully about the best people in your charity to conduct the interview and what information you would like to gather from the process. If your previous method has been a "one size fits all" volunteer recruitment approach this may be a departure from your usual modus operandi but will enable you to think more strategically, and ultimately more effectively, about how you want key volunteers to help take your charity forward.

STEP UP YOUR INDUCTION. Finally, once you have chosen the volunteers you feel can make a positive difference to the future of your charity, make sure you have everything in place to ensure you make the most of them. Make sure you have a good induction process especially if experts are going to be contributing at a high level.

This is important even if they are just helping on a short term assignment. Ensure they have spoken to the key people within your charity and have all the relevant information and documents they need. You’d be surprised how often this is neglected.

Factor in review times and make sure they have somebody to supervise and support them as they settle into their new role. To maximise their effectiveness and make sure their contribution to your charity is progressing as you had hoped, offer regular feedback sessions and have a structure in place for deadlines and targets.

TAKE TIME TO THINK. Adopting a more strategic approach to volunteer involvement is about taking the time to think through your future plans, establishing who can help you achieve them, targeting your key audience, carefully selecting and recruiting the right volunteers for the right roles and taking the time to support them as they help your charity reach the goals to which you aspire.

By simply taking the time to think more strategically about how you would like your charity to progress in the longer term you will not only enhance the positive contribution of volunteers within your charity but also enrich the quality of the experience for the volunteers themselves as well as encouraging new people to participate and share in the benefits of helping support a worthwhile cause.

Return to top of page | Close all

Joy Johns
Community Impact Bucks' Joy Johns – once you know which skills you are lacking you need to find ways to reach people who have those skills and may be interested in joining you.
"Don't feel embarrassed about asking for qualifications, track record, references or an in-depth CV."
University of Leeds advert
Small Charities Week advert

Providing leadership in times of financial pressure

As people continue to watch what they spend, it can be increasingly difficult to get funding or to achieve the same level of donations from people who used to freely contribute.

This can put pressure on charities on a number of levels. They can’t afford to pay the same number of staff as they used to. This in turn can leave the remaining staff trying to achieve more in an increasingly difficult market. Some smaller charities operate mostly with volunteers, which can place a bigger challenge on getting help.

Employees and volunteers may be under their own personal pressures and have less time for volunteering or indeed are not performing fully or for as much time, as they try to deal with everything in their own lives.

So how do charities deal with these circumstances and support their staff and volunteers to be continually motivated in pressured times?

When we as charity leaders are under pressure we can experience increased levels of stress. When we get stressed we can become more insular, more self-focused. Our thinking can become more black and white, we can become more irritable, and our conversation levels can drop as we try to deal with everything we are facing.

Here are some tips for senior managers in your charity on how to get the best out of people – whether staff or volunteers:

1. Be aware of your own pressure points and ensure that you are not taking out your feelings and irritation on others and your team.

2. Maximise your communication by listening to other people so you understand their perspective. If you don’t listen you can’t understand their point of view and you need to understand that in order to have a great conversation!

3. Understand their current issues and then you can offer appropriate support and guidance.

4. Agree and set specific goals with people so they have clarity on what it is they need to achieve. If we don’t know what is expected of us we can’t achieve top performance. Giving this kind of clarity motivates people to volunteer and participate in as much as they can.

5. If any member of your team is having difficulties, offer specific help. Know your own capabilities in this and if necessary refer them to an expert for help.

6. Keep people informed with what is going on and with the charity's latest achievements. We all like to see a vision of our future and how we can play our part in the charity’s success.

7. Thank people for their efforts and praise them when they have done well as well as supporting them when they need some help. We all like to be appreciated.

From an HR perspective, whether you are big enough to have an HR function or small enough for someone to be responsible for HR matters, ensure that you have a mechanism within your charity for communicating key messages on a regular basis. Have the policies and procedures in place to ensure staff are looked after and they know what is expected of them.

If you can, provide an employee assistance programme, so staff can have access to professional support on a confidential basis – it isn’t always possible in difficult financial circumstances, but a great support if feasible.

Make sure you have the right tools and processes in place to maximise the skills of your volunteers, staff, managers and supervisors. It is your management team that will be able to switch motivation on or off with people so make sure they switch it on!

We cannot demand people are motivated, it only comes when we are listened to, genuinely appreciated and treated with respect.

Return to top of page | Close all

Janice Haddon
Morgan Redwood's/Angels' Janice Haddon - ensure you have a mechanism within your charity for communicating key messages on a regular basis.
Sutton Winson advert

The lunacy of care financing

I have direct experience as a trustee of a care home where, after a four year period, the local authority, which funds many of our residents’ care, at last offered a 1¼% increase. During that four year period the home has had to contend with wage increases; the minimum wage on which our entire wage structure is based has increased year on year; and food and energy costs have risen by more than inflation.

Therefore to be offered 1¼% after four years can only be considered to be derisory and merely puts an increased burden on having to fund the difference by way of top-ups from relatives.

The lunacy of the situation was exemplified a couple a short while ago when with our care manager I met three commissioners from the area. For some time now we have contracted to provide 4/5 "hospital to home" or "step down beds" at our normal weekly rate which are used by social workers to free up hospital beds. The meeting was to discuss expanding this as recently the house next door to us had become available and we were considering whether it would be worth exploring a possible extension to the home.

The commissioners we met said that without any effort at all they could fill up to 40 beds tomorrow with people who were currently in hospital as part of the classic bed blocking problem. For this, they were prepared to offer the normal weekly rate including the top up which they thought was somewhat generous.

As treasurer, I went away, did some research on the likely building cost and put a forecast together. Needless to say, on the amount they were prepared to offer (circa £450 per week) the numbers simply did not add up. Therefore we resolved not to explore this any further as it would be irresponsible as trustees to risk the ongoing wellbeing of the home on a project such as this.

When one considers it is estimated that the cost of keeping someone in hospital is approximately £225 per day at its very lowest, making a minimum £1,575 per week the nonsense of this situation can clearly be seen.

If the commissioners had been able to offer us something in the region of £750-£800, which is still around half the cost of a basic bed in hospital, then the project would start to make sense.

People are being kept in hospital longer, the NHS is incurring costs which are more than twice necessary and presumably somebody somewhere is unable to have hospital treatment because of this.

Research published by Age UK found that patients now wait an average of 30.3 days before finding a place in a residential care home, a rise of three days per patient since 2010. It has estimated that the number of days lost to “delayed discharge” was more than one million and an estimated cost to the NHS of up to £260m, since the Coalition took power.

With a population which is ageing this is a real problem that needs a solution. Care providers could be facing bankruptcy if councils continue to reduce the amount of money they pay to them. It has been estimated that a total of £2.7 billion less is being spent on care for vulnerable, elderly and disabled people across England than before the current round of austerity cuts began – a drop of a fifth in just three years.

Maybe we should go back to the convalescent homes that used to fulfil this function so well, as an intermediary between hospital and home. Clearly there is no easy solution but care homes are in real danger and we will fail our elderly if something does not change soon.

Return to top of page | Close all

Joe Bates
Clement Keys' Joe Bates – care providers could be facing bankruptcy if councils continue to reduce the amount of money they pay to them.

Be very careful with voluntourism

A retired British teacher, I am currently working in Uganda at Mount Zion Orphanage, supporting some of the poorest children in Africa. My initial experience with a particular Ugandan-based volunteer organisation provides a cautionary tale about charity tourism.

I had worked in civil war torn Mozambique in the mid-80s, helping teach English to medical technicians, and working with boy soldiers to help reintroduce them to society. The issues faced by the people of Africa were something that became very personal to me – as did the reward of working hard to help. After taking early retirement from teaching, I wanted to find a relief project to get involved with, somewhere where I could use my skills as an educator.

An internet search led me to Mzungu Volunteers, a Uganda-based volunteer organisation which was set up to connect overseas visitors interested in volunteering with needy projects in Uganda. I applied for a position and, because of my experience, was immediately invited to help run an orphanage which is based near Kampala. I was told that the orphanage had 80 children and was going through a redevelopment programme and needed help and guidance as well as financial support.

Arriving in Uganda, I became ill with a bug and spent my first 24 hours in the country in hospital. It was a tough start to an adventure that was only going to go from difficult to worse.

A large donation

Once well enough, I went to the Mzungu Volunteers headquarters and handed the president a large donation that I had brought with me from the UK. I was given a receipt and told the money would be used for building materials. I was then taken by a Mzungu assistant to visit Kampala and immediately recognised that all was not as it should be. The staff were initially very unfriendly and non-communicative, the facility was a school of 150 kids, 32 of them were orphans, and the building they were in was rented rather than owned so they were not at liberty to do any building repairs.

I managed to persuade the staff that I was legitimately trying to help and found out that the school doesn't receive any money from Mzungu Volunteers but they were in desperate need of aid and support. My shock at the situation I was in has turned into suspicion about much of the volunteer tourism system as it became clear that mine was not an isolated story.

I did make an attempt to get the money back from the Mzungu Volunteers HQ without luck and began, instead, trying to make a difference in the school. It was clear straight away that rather than managing the programme the most urgent job was to plug a hole in a sinking ship.

After a couple of weeks working directly with the school to build a fundraising mechanism, establish a volunteer programme and fix the urgent needs of the children, another two volunteer tourists arrived. Two Spanish volunteers arrived to help teach and undertake some construction work, having purchased a volunteer vacation from Mzungu Volunteers.

The vacation promised had turned into the holiday from hell as they reported having had money stolen from belongings which they had left at Mzungu HQ and had international flights booked on their credit cards. A little investigation with help from a lawyer friend revealed that this was not the first occasion of this kind of treatment of paying visitors.

A fraudulent organisation

It was clear that the efforts of staff and supporters at the Mount Zion school and orphanage were being undermined by this fraudulent organisation and so I went to the police. It's worth noting that Ugandan police require any investigations to be done for them and to be provided with travel expenses if they need to speak to witnesses or apprehend suspects.

Following an investigation of my own, I worked with police to bring a charge against the leader of the Mzungu Volunteers. It's unlikely that many of the schools, orphanages and community projects associated with Mzungu Volunteers will ever see the money promised, or the volunteers who gave their time and money will ever get the sense that they've made the difference they wanted to. However, the need is still there and for one orphanage at least there's new hope.

A programme back on its feet

Mount Zion Orphanage now has its own volunteer programme – which is transparent about money, projects and challenges faced. A website has been set up which is being run by staff at the school and a Facebook page established with over 300 likes. Donations of clothing, mosquito nets and money are being sent to the programme. Small amounts of money make a huge difference – a teacher's monthly salary is equivalent to £50.

The website has already had a positive impact, with volunteers due to arrive in the coming months. The past month, the school has seen radical changes – from running water to a new dormitory and a laptop for staff to maintain the website. This has created a new optimistic, hopeful atmosphere.

I was determined to make something good come from the bad situation the school found itself in – and help those foreign visitors who are motivated to offer time and hard work to contribute directly to the school and not to any middle men who are syphoning off cash.

Have I learned any valuable lessons? Every day I've been here. Most importantly I'd say don't get down-heartened and change your mind about volunteering or donating. Those in need have been struggling for too long and swindled out of money that was earmarked for them. Take your time to do your research. Here are some pointers:

• Often the local charity or organisation which is at the point of delivery is connected to a supporting donor charity in the UK. If you're nervous about their legitimacy, check their credentials through the Charity Commission.

• Be wary of "middle men" agencies who recruit volunteers, often with an inducement of a safari package or rafting trip, and then farm them out to existing schools and orphanages without support . You may not be as welcome as you think.

• A sophisticated internet advertising campaign can lure you in but the reality may be very different. Take time to get references and testimonials.

• If you experience something that appears corrupt report it. Too many people are too embarrassed to tell friends and colleagues after they've originally made a noise about going to the other side of the world to help those in need.

• Donors are often more interested in new projects than in maintaining old ones. They like the "we did this" satisfaction of it. Consider supporting an existing programme which has a clear route in that others have already followed.

Leading to a bad reputation

The British generally have a bad reputation in Uganda and are not well trusted. Too many promises made and not delivered or money spent on what is seen as a "nice to have" while urgent life-threatening issues go unresolved. Trust is key – both with the Ugandans and the volunteers. A couple of examples of bad practice, local corruption or ineptitude lead to scores of donations and offers of help drying up. Trust develops best through mutual respect, friendship and familiarity, and can be demonstrated by processes and control.

A large amount of the donors' contributions is spent on the management systems that are needed to ensure the money gets to the right place. The larger the operation the more management, often white. The small scale operations can be effective in getting to know your colleagues and building trust but finding the legitimate ones from a distance is hard.

So is voluntourism worth the effort? If you can raise money to send, you should. If channelled through a proper source, it's the most effective way to help. If you want to offer your help then take the time to research the options, protect yourself and your donation, and make sure that your good intention becomes a great experience for everyone.

Return to top of page | Close all

Chris Applebey
Mount Zion's Chris Applebey – determined to make something good from a bad situation.
"It was clear that the efforts of staff and supporters at the Mount Zion school and orphanage were being undermined by this fraudulent organisation…"
Sarasin and Partners advert

Adapting to the changing landscape of giving

As we see many people facing continued economic difficulties and public sector cuts continuing, it is perhaps not surprising that charities will also suffer. Of course, most people don’t stop being philanthropic or charitable because times are hard, but they may have to change their giving plans due to their current circumstances. And the charity and voluntary sector has to adapt.

At Community Foundation for Merseyside we work with a wide range of community organisations across the region, from small grassroots groups to large, established charities, and have really noticed how those organisations in Merseyside have had to become more innovative than ever to deal with the changing landscape of giving.

Many of the donors we work with are also adapting the ways in which they give. One of the biggest changes has been the increasing switch to online giving, the benefits of which are several fold. It offers a constant presence through which charities and groups can connect with potential givers and offers greater audience reach for low cost.

Well planned, targeted social media engagement can be one of the most effective ways of forming relationships with possible volunteers and donors. It allows people who are interested in giving, no matter how big or small, to find organisations they would like to help. Social media is also a great tool for charities and groups to communicate their messages.

Last year, for example, we launched which gives small, grassroots charities and community groups an online portal through which they can attract and manage donations. has also developed a "Grow Your Tenner" match funding campaign which encourages people to give small amounts on a regular basis, supported by match funding and which enables the sum to be doubled. I think campaigns such as this are absolutely vital for boosting funds in the short term, whilst also promoting long term relationships with donors.

Whilst we all hope that charitable giving, in conjunction with the economy as a whole, picks up again in 2013, it’s important that the charity and voluntary sector continues to adapt, innovate and share learning in order to support a culture of giving, and continues to meet the needs of local communities.

Return to top of page | Close all

Cathy Elliott
Community Foundation for Merseyside and Lancashire's Cathy Elliott – one of the biggest changes has been the increasing switch to online giving.
the FSI advert

Developing your focus despite financial pressures

It was an exciting prospect, taking a successful charity through its next stage of development. Cats Protection is a world leader, focused on cats, but depending hugely on people. The challenge was the massive everyday pressure on everyone, which made strategic design and delivery seem like a luxury. I’ll let the figures speak for themselves, but they are mind-boggling. Last year we helped 235,000 cats!

The first task was to revise the strategy. We’d inherited a superb one-page vision, values and objectives statement. But hang on – where was mention of volunteers, or growth in our primary work? The trustees saw it immediately, and were really supportive. We consulted others and they saw it, but asked "How"?

The second task was to reshape the management to line up behind delivering the revised strategy. With 7,000 people, 95% being volunteers, operational leadership and support was crucial. Again, trustees were superb – questioning, challenging, and then fully behind the changes. At the same time we updated the governance model and new trustees were recruited to add further strengths. We believe wholeheartedly that there are always wonderful volunteers out there to act as trustees and in other roles. It’s up to us to have the skill to find them and help them support our work.

Rehoming and reuniting cats

We do three things. We rehome and reunite some 50,000 cats each year. Phew! That was the core work that mustn't be damaged by changes. We were neutering 98,000 cats a year, to prevent more unwanted kittens. We wanted to increase that, but it costs money – serious money. We were described as like a two-and-a-half legged stool as our third objective, education, was small compared to the huge numbers of cats helped.

We deleted over 25 paid posts, when possible by managing vacancies, and we recruited staff to deliver strategic priorities – cat work, education and advocacy, volunteering, learning and development. We put in place a new performance management system, and invested in leadership development and project management.

Initial loss of savings

There were things that weren’t initially successful. We had savings of £11m earmarked for capital developments which went down because the UK bank we used had been bought by an Icelandic bank before the 2008 banking crisis. We have now got most of it back, and so can boast a great new homing centre in Ferndown, Dorset, and a rebuilt adoption centre, in Belfast – double the original size. Both of these were strategic priorities.

We should see the remaining balance returned within a year or two now, but it was a sweat! Our supporters were wonderfully loyal through this. I personally wrote to every one of them as soon as this hit us and we have kept them updated.

So where are we now? Volunteers remain at the heart of the strategy and we will soon hit 10,000. Is that a 40% increase or are we better at counting now? We just do not know, but I have met so many new volunteers that I know for sure that people are still joining our charity because they want to support our work.

Our beneficiaries are cats, and while rehoming numbers stayed flat for some time, neutering grew to 191,000 each year, an increase of over 90%.

The impact of the recession

Then the recession hit, and cuts were affecting everyone. House prices, and hence legacies, went down. Donors saw their incomes hit. Yet at the same time demand went through the roof. We had always been full, with some 6,200 cats in care at any time. The phones started ringing continuously with people not wanting to give up their beloved cats, but having to do so. People in tears. Job losses. Homes lost. Family breakdown. And the cats suffering.

I take my hat off to our wonderful people who answer our phones, a small team at the centre and volunteers and staff all round the country. It can be a thankless task: “But you are Cats Protection. You’ve got to do something to help us!” It can be so hard explaining that, yes, we will, but 95% of our people are volunteers, not magicians who can create extra cat pen space every day. Yes we will help, but please, please be patient.

Multi-cat households

One of the amazing experiences of our work is the phone call which says that we are needed to handle a multi-cat household. That could mean a house or flat with anything from 10, 50 or even more cats living there. The one thing you can be certain of is that there will be more than expected.

Someone wanted to help, took in a few strays, and then others needed help. Soon it got out of hand, and neutering dropped off the urgent list. We often hear: “I don’t know how. They were brother and sister.” The answer is simple: one un-neutered cat can be responsible for 20,000 kittens over 5 years. Before that happens we have to intervene to help, and every day counts.

Often our people are accepted as helpers, when uniformed officers aren’t let in. We work alongside other charities, housing, social services, anyone who can contribute to a solution. We mobilise people to go in, trappers, drivers, local vets are on standby.

Thinking on the spot is crucial

Every case is different and planning can only take you part way. Thinking on the spot is crucial. But every pen is full! Fortunately we home 1,000 cats each week, so pens do come empty, waiting lists may need to be juggled. Although cats really like to live individual and solitary lives, like the African Wild Cats from whom they are descended, we can and do double up cats from the same family on occasions – only after they have been neutered, of course.

Another crisis hit recently. We operate a domestic violence project, called the Freedom Project. When the abused partner wants to leave home, sometimes fear for the safety of a cat or dog is the tie keeping the vulnerable person in that abusive environment. The children won’t go without being sure that their companion is being cared for.

So we look after the cats, and colleagues at the Dogs Trust take the dogs, since refuges rarely take pets. Sadly we have just heard that we have to find a further £15,000 to keep even our limited work going on this project.

Already staff are spending weekends as volunteers out raising funds for this vital work – yes vital, life-saving, potentially for both cats and humans. Every extra day spent in a violent relationship risks further violence or even death. Charities have to demonstrate public benefit, and this project is a different angle on what we do in terms of public benefit.

What cats can mean to people

People sometimes ask about the work saying, "but it’s only cats”. To understand the importance you need to see what cats mean to the people they live with. Our supporters are loyal, and often thank us for what we do on their behalf. Cats don’t cause recessions, but they suffer as a result. They are sentient beings, with feelings, positive and negative.

I like the quote, attributed to Gandhi and others: “A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” The importance of this is the focus on all members of society, animals and humans. People want us to do this work, they give their time as volunteers or give funds for it, and that is a measure of how important those people regard the work to be.

We have made a start at developing our education work. Our operating model uses volunteers, so we have a tiny team of education staff, recruiting, training and supporting volunteer speakers with the skills to go into schools and adult groups. We have recruited 22 in just one year. Our vets run professional development courses for vets in practice and support vet students with extra-mural study opportunities.

We also have a range of educational resources for schools to use, and these can be downloaded free. We know that they are used right across the world, and even translated by local groups abroad. Our education work is growing fast and in the first few months of this year we have spoken to audiences of over 3,000 people, adults and children across the UK. It’s an impressive start, and we are committed to growing this further.

Daily pressures can be enormous

So back to strategy. Daily pressures can be enormous in this charity. 95% of our people are volunteers with huge commitment. It is not uncommon for me, when visiting branches, to hear people talk of their paid job as an interruption to their real work of volunteering to help cats. Homing is still the core work, and yet this is trying to solve a problem for the cat after it has arisen. Neutering is preventative, from the point of view of the animal. Education is preventative from the human point of view.

Our charity is nearly 85 years old and in that time it has changed society in its attitude to cats. In time our education programme has to change society more, so that cat owners take responsibility for their animals, through neutering, right through to death. Then our homing work can reduce, as can the suffering that we try to prevent and deal with. Our vision is a world where every cat is treated with kindness and an understanding of its needs. We have a way to go, but with the people we have, and good leadership, we are heading that way.

Return to top of page | Close all

Peter Hepburn
Cats Protection's Peter Hepburn – daily pressures can be enormous in this charity.
"We put in place a new performance management system, and invested in leadership development and project management."
Cleaning cat pen
If it wasn't for the efforts of a workforce consisting of 95% volunteers, this cat wouldn't be receiving the necessary attention during its stay at one of Cat Protection's centres.
"One of the amazing experiences of our work is the phone call which says that we are needed to handle a multi-cat household."
the FSI advert

Still maintaining a cutting edge

By now, we're all too familiar with the "current economic climate", as it is euphemistically referred to. What we mean by this, of course, is a vicious recession, a stagnating economy, increasing unemployment, public expenditure cuts and, for our sector, a marked decline in donor confidence. The voluntary sector has certainly taken more than its fair share of the resulting hit, with estimates suggesting a 5% reduction in the national charity workforce over the past 12 months and the stark assessment that this year is likely to be the hardest for the sector in over a decade. What better time then, to start a new job?

I joined the Stroke Association in October 2011 to lead on a project to relaunch the organisation around the occasion of our 20th anniversary. This relaunch is being brought to life with a whole raft of events, including launching a new campaign at the start of the first ever Action on Stroke Month; an updated redesigned website; and encouraging people to celebrate the lives and achievements of stroke survivors while showcasing a dynamic and contemporary new brand.

Having worked in the voluntary sector for the past 12 years, I was always intrigued by the Stroke Association. This interest developed further as I started to see their work appear increasingly in the sector press and how frequently they were shortlisted for a myriad of third sector awards. I'm proud to be part of an innovative and progressive organisation which does remarkable things for people affected by stroke. Stroke is one of the greatest health challenges of our time. It is the third biggest killer in the UK, after cancer and heart disease; and the leading cause of severe disability in adults.

Joining any new organisation is a not the easiest process. Getting up to speed quickly with new ways of working, understanding new structures and delivering a new strategy can be somewhat challenging. But the challenge is increased when that organisation has come through a period of rapid growth, as the Stroke Association has experienced over the past five years.

Major successes achieved

We've achieved major successes – lobbying for an NHS stroke strategy in all four countries of the UK, increasing income from £13m to £30m and growing staff numbers from 350 to nearly 800 in order to reach directly to 35,000 stroke survivors every year across 350 services. However, it's even more of a challenge to come in at a time when things are starting to look less rosy.

Despite a prolonged period of growth, and despite resisting the seemingly endless onslaught of the "current economic climate", the Stroke Association is not recession proof. Earlier this year, announcements were made of 28 redundancies amongst the charity's 800 staff.

Though disappointing, it was perhaps inevitable that job losses would have to come in order for us to make around £1.8m of savings to ensure a balanced budget in 2012/13. We took this as an opportunity to start creating a more focused structure which better serves the needs of a much bigger and far-reaching organisation. Standing still was not an option. We seized the chance to adapt and evolve into an organisation which is able to be more focused and better heard in an already crowded voluntary sector market.

Savings through efficiency

The majority of these savings have been made through efficiency gains (another euphemism), reducing travel, cutting back on unnecessary expenditure and a freeze on non-income generating posts. But these cut backs can only go so far, and sooner or later, like any other organisation, we had to look at head count.

We made the decision to reshape in the most informed way possible: mining data on audience insight, support data and customer needs like never before. This represents a profound step change for us – looking outwards more than inwards. Constantly assessing decisions against our mantra of "what does this mean for stroke survivors?"

Relationship building

Charities should always be taking a long term approach to keeping costs under control, working smartly and ensuring that more of our donors' money is spent on doing what matters most for our beneficiaries. The Stroke Association has been doing just that and despite the recent cut backs, there is still much to be optimistic about as long-term plans are now in place to move the charity into a stronger, more successful future. We can afford to be optimistic because we have been developing plans and resourcing to meet our challenges for the past two years and the charity's 20th anniversary provides the backdrop for much of these plans to come to fruition.

Full fundraising team in place

So why the optimism? Well, firstly, for the first time in a number of years, the Stroke Association has entered a new financial year with a full fundraising team in place. The NHS Future Forum recently highlighted the charity's services and recent investments in IT infrastructure have removed many of the barriers to efficient working and getting the most from the data that we hold. But above all else, the thing we're most optimistic about, the thing we're most excited about and the thing that has the greatest potential to move our charity forward is our new brand. We've spent the past 18 months researching, developing and preparing for the launch of the brand, which now permeates through everything we do.

Staff engagement

Through this period of intense change, it has been vital to make sure that staff feel informed and able lead the changes. At the end of last year our Directors' team visited every region to deliver a series of road shows to all staff. The presentations and discussions at those events have informed the planning for our 20th anniversary activities and also helped us to make sure that we are delivering everything that our colleagues need to launch the brand and Action on Stroke Month in May this year.

This year we built on the messages and dialogue from those road shows in a series of staff conferences to develop concrete plans for involvement and engagement from every part of the charity. And across the charity the excitement about our new brand and new approach is palpable. The early brand research with staff, volunteers, beneficiaries and other stakeholders has really borne fruit. When people see the new logo and colours, when they hear about our new messaging framework it is clear that it speaks to them and speaks for them.

Also, this enthusiasm is spilling over into practical planning and implementation of a huge range of events and activities starting with Action on Stroke Month. Providing our people with the tools they need has unleashed their creativity and passion, which is why my optimism is not just based upon hope. My optimism is based upon the ideas and plans that are coming from across the Stroke Association which, I am sure, will help us to weather the "current economic climate" and to emerge from it stronger and ready to grow.

Bringing the organisation closer together

In conclusion, we're using our 20th anniversary as an opportunity to bring our brand to life, but this is more than just an external facing promotional push. This is about bringing the organisation closer together, adapting to the parts of the external environment that are here to stay and moving ahead as one unified community of people that are for life after stroke.

We've taken the short term measures to bring our costs in line with our expenditure but we've also taken the longer term view that you don't get a second chance to take advantage of the first signs of recovery. We've changed the way we look, what we say and how we say it. We're mobilising all parts of our organisation to be fundraisers and to be a Stroke Association champion to others so that we can grow our supporter numbers significantly. We're changing our approach to volunteering and how we support volunteers. We're putting more money into the lifesaving research we fund. And we're asking everyone to help increase awareness and understanding of who we are and the difference we make to the lives of stroke survivors and their families.

Return to top of page | Close all

Andrew Ball
The Stroke Association's Andrew Ball – we've taken the longer term view that you don't get a second chance to take advantage of the first signs of recovery.
"…the thing we're most excited about and the thing that has the greatest potential to move our charity forward is our new brand."
The Stroke Association 3
The Stroke Association – evolving into an organisation which is able to be more focused and better heard in an already crowded voluntary sector market.


Managing charities in this financial climate

FROM THE EDITOR: Right now everything appears doom and gloom in the charity sector, with a great wave of financial pressure bearing down on charities. The management of charities can be forgiven for shuddering at the approaching spectacle, with advance ripples already having a nasty impact. When trustees and senior executives have hitherto been pushing forward purposefully with their charities, what they are now being confronted with must be demotivating to say the least. Having to run hard just to stay where you are is a demanding task – having to run hard and then find yourself moving backwards is even more difficult to live with.

This discussion feature looks at whether it is still possible for charity managers to move their charities forward or whether they think charities will be reduced to operating defensively, just trying to plug gaps caused by money drying up. We have contributions from the Society for Chemical Industry, RoSPA, Rainbow Trust Children's Charity, the Cancer Recovery Foundation, North West Air Ambulance, Wimbledon Civic Theatre Trust, and Soham for Kids.

All these contributions, in their own different way, reveal a determination to press on with their particular cause, thinking afresh within a disciplined approach. These charities will do more than simply survive during the current financial crisis. They will emerge more effective and more successful, offering an example to the rest of the sector.

Return to top of page

Sutton Winson advert

Consideration of downsizing should be seen as positive

HAMZA ALI, director of finance and IT at SOCIETY OF CHEMICAL INDUSTRY (SCI), comments: The current financial situation means that there has at least to be consideration by charities of downsizing, but downsizing shouldn't necessarily be regarded as a negative development.

Yes, it is inevitable that downsizing will result in realignment of services with a reduced number of staff, and the charity will have to review its objectives in order to determine how and what to deliver to its beneficiaries. But it is also an opportunity to re-evaluate the reduced level of services and redefine the mission statement for maximum impact.

However, it will mean change; it would be futile to assume otherwise. Nevertheless, the sector with its enthusiasm and passion for making an impact should bear in mind that sometimes doing "less is more".

In all organisations it difficult to downsize in a downturn; in the charity sector it is particularly difficult due to the ethos of the sector. However, downsizing is a necessary exercise if the charity is to survive and rejuvenate in times of financial stress.

The recent evidence of the private sector cutbacks of 2008-09 shows that the rapid cutbacks early in 2008, while severe, in fact cushioned the eventual rise in unemployment. Although it was drastic and painful, it would probably have been worse if it was not done at the time. Economists and forecasters were pleasantly surprised the unemployment did not rise into double digits by end of 2009. It is a management practice adopted from the surgeon’s textbook, “cut clean, cut deep”.

Downsizing can create an opportunity for the charity to convert inertia into efficiency. The executive need to ask; why downsize? Is it a good idea? While it may be obvious to cut back on staff costs due to a major shortfall in funding in order to simply survive, there are other imperatives too;

i. What is the commercial reality? Whether good or bad depends on the underlying strategy and implementation.

ii. Reduce the major cost base – salaries are over a third of total costs in the charity sector.

iii. Revitalise struggling organisations by re-aligning processes and staff levels to customer needs.

iv. Creates opportunity for talented and committed staff.

v. Restate values – allows staff to "opt-in" or "opt-out".

vi. Signal a clear message to stakeholders about the determination of the charity to succeed.

Any major change comes attached with major risks; downsizing is no different. However, awareness of the risks and lead time would mitigate the impact, if not altogether eliminate risks. The main risk factors are;

• Regulatory – protracted disputes and tribunals. Settlement costs.

• Reputation – detrimental impact on customer service. Loss of brand value.

• Leakage – skills and activities "lost between the cracks".

• Decline in revenues – lost donations and supporters due to lack of follow-up and shortened outreach.

• Cash outflow – upfront redundancy payments; a long lead time for recovery.

• Key personnel – loss of knowledge, but replace with consultancy.

HAMZA ALI of SCI continues: It would be a pointless tactic to downsize without clear expectations of the desired outcomes. Someone said "even a crisis is an opportunity". The executive should have clearly defined outcomes following a significant change in direction after having invested a huge amount of time, effort and money in downsizing the organisation. The generally desired outcomes would be:

a. Drive efficiency – increase profitability with a lean structure.

b. Realignment – focus tasks towards customer needs. Less is more.

c. Value – reduce non-value added tasks; deliver high value customer benefits.

d. Effectiveness – reduce administration and streamline procedures.

The skills set for the future will require the charity sector to be nimble with lateral thinking change management and an innovative attitude. There is evidence of these skills in the emerging niche charities which are operating at the cutting edge of service delivery. Similarly, many of the established large charities are moving in this direction.

There is a paradigm shift visible in the sector – the numbers happen to be the outcome. It is the impact of the service which makes the difference. Succession planning and business continuity planning are essential in order to maintain organisational capability above individual players.

All a bit clinical and textbook management I am afraid, but that's what the charity sector needs at the moment.

Return to top of page

Hamza Ali
SCI's Hamza Ali – downsizing can create an opportunity for the charity to convert inertia into efficiency
SCM Private advert

A real chance now to show what we can do

TOM MULLARKEY, chief executive of the ROYAL SOCIETY FOR THE PREVENTION OF ACCIDENTS, comments: For some charities, the recession is a serious impediment to operation and many have already gone to the wall. Those which depend on a Government revenue stream that has now dried up may see limited alternatives and looming disaster.

At RoSPA, our approach has been entirely different and (touch wood) does seem to be working. Firstly, we have structured ourselves not to depend on Government funding, although when it has dried up in some areas (our turnover has fallen by 50% because of this), we have had to, unfortunately, terminate some project- dependent contracts. Equally, we are capable of expanding again when the opportunity arises, as it surely will. Building this thinking in from the start has been very important.

The recession and the dearth of public funding have spurred us on to look differently at the world. We have re-examined all our well established activities and found them to be in need of, and offering potential from, an overhaul. We have outsourced and de-risked one major function as a result of this examination; we have found much potential in others. Growth, where it was thought not likely to be found, has been found.

Energy and creativity within our excellent staff have uncovered these opportunities. More widely, notwithstanding the relative status of our UK activities in the key areas of training and consultancy, we are looking overseas much more actively and this too has proved to be productive.

Most importantly, within the uncertainty that is occurring in the UK public sector, there is opportunity. The reorganisation of public health services in England has given us a real chance to show what we can do to reduce accidents and, in turn, this can save the taxpayer a lot of money, ensuring that our safety interventions, we hope, will be more than ever in demand in the longer term. We are trying to shift thinking, aligning it to Government policy and campaigning for common sense, low cost/high value accident prevention. It seems to be working.

One thing for sure is that our political masters need creative solutions too and because we are keen to invent them, we are seen as an organisation with a lot to offer. Public health achievements are generally slow and expensive to deliver; accident prevention can produce measurable results, including savings to the NHS, within the lifetime of a Parliament. We like to think that we are innovative and flexible. So far, this recession is proving that we are.

Return to top of page

Tom Mullarkey
RoSPA's Tom Mullarkey – the reorganisation of public health services in England has given us a real chance to show what we can do to reduce accidents and, in turn, this can save the taxpayer a lot of money, ensuring that our safety interventions, we hope, will be more than ever in demand in the longer term.

The necessary focus for charities management

ROBERT DERI, director of finance and administration at RAINBOW TRUST CHILDREN'S CHARITY, comments: We are currently living through probably the worst global economic downturn since the 1930s and the charity sector is certainly not immune to the effects of low economic growth, unemployment, high taxes and general uncertainty. This volatile environment certainly sorts the "wheat from the chaff" in all business sectors and charities are no exception.

Previous recessions have been relatively short in duration and not as deep. And management tended to follow the typical tactics of "battening down the hatches", postponing investment and reducing staffing until the upswing comes. However, given that this recession is likely to continue for a considerable time, organisations which continue to downsize and refrain from investment will put their long term futures at risk: it is certainly true that they won't "shrink to greatness".

So what kind of management is needed in charities to win through? Different charities will face varying issues and priorities but management must be focused on:

PEOPLE – strategies to retain and develop good employees. Inevitably, financial issues and increased competition will put serious strains on human resources. The pressures on frontline workers are already intense with relatively low wages and benefits. However, management must recognise that people, including volunteers, are the most valuable asset in the organisation and are the key to success in difficult times. Employee engagement is crucial – involved people are motivated people and that makes a big difference

LOYALTY AND DIVERSIFICATION – strategies to strengthen donor loyalty and diversify income streams. The recession changes the dynamic of income and wealth creation in the economy and it is vital for management to be alert and develop new opportunities

EFFICIENCY IMPROVEMENT. Charities are generally at a competitive disadvantage when increases in demand or new technology require capital expenditure given the difficulties in raising investment finance for organisations whose aim is "not for profit".

A focus on the charity's impact and effectiveness with well defined key performance indicators and benchmarking will highlight where improvements should be made. Good management will build capital requirements and efficiency improvements into a well defined strategic plan rather than just continuing to fund inefficient operations through donor funds.

AN INTEGRATED BUSINESS PLAN – stretching out at least 3 years to ensure all parts of the organisation are working towards common goals.

ROBERT DERI of RAINBOW TRUST CHILDREN'S CHARITY continues: Alongside the challenges, however, good management teams will be looking to exploit opportunities. The world does not stand still and we are seeing social and demographic shifts with, for example, a growing elderly population.

There are new sources of funding arising with the growing willingness of businesses to forge partnerships with charities, wealth from increased levels of inheritance between the generations and new wealth created by the "internet world". We are also seeing encouragement of the not-for-profit sector by central government to forge partnerships and play a much bigger role alongside public sector services

Within the sector there are clearly many capable management teams who are building great organisations and shaping their charities to thrive in the current economic environment. The adoption of good business practices is increasingly evident across the sector – whether that be charities marketing their product, segmenting their markets, focusing on their core products or formulating business plans.

At Rainbow Trust we are very focused on delivering our core strategies; gaining 52nd place in the prestigious Sunday Times Top 100 Best Not-For-Profit Companies To Work For 2012 is testament to the employee engagement strategy, including some real innovations in the charity sector such as performance related pay.

Our Integrated Business Plan is well developed and we are incorporating return on investment profiles to a far greater degree. Through conversations with other colleagues in the sector it is clear we are not alone in developing our organisation. The charities sector is proving resilient and there is little evidence to suggest that management teams are being overwhelmed by the challenges they are facing.

Return to top of page

Robert Deri
Rainbow Trust's Robert Deri – a focus on the charity's impact and effectiveness with well defined key performance indicators and benchmarking will highlight where improvements should be made.

Acknowledging and celebrating success

HANNAH BELLAMY, executive director of the CANCER RECOVERY FOUNDATION, comments: Charity managers are now having to apply a sharp edge not despite current financial pressures, but because of them. The squeeze on finances is coming from all sides. As grants dry up, running costs are increasing and individual donors are becoming more difficult and expensive to entice and keep. Especially those all elusive regular major donors. Times are particularly difficult for small charities such as ours as the larger organisations are pushing extra hard to be heard, and the Government's emphasis on giving favours household names.

However, as difficult and challenging as it is, this is not the time to feel defeated or even overwhelmed. It is a time to motivate employees with, and because of, the importance of the cause. It is a time to collaborate with charities we may previously have seen as competition. It is a time to understand the need for our work and the impact of it. And it is a time to finally shake the incorrect assumption others have that our sector is lacking in entrepreneurial business skills.

This is not to say that the challenges we are facing are enjoyable or easy. They are not. Losing a member of staff from a small team to save costs is difficult for everyone. Similarly managing an increased demand on services as team sizes shrink confounds the issue. But if these challenges are faced and overcome, there are rewards.

In the past year, the Cancer Recovery Foundation has seen an increase in applications for our help rise by well over 200%, and this is not a trend that looks to reverse any time soon. At the same time, we have decreased our head count by over 20%. However, we have pulled together even more tightly as a team by focusing on the work we do, why we do it and how we can do it in the most efficient way possible.

Acknowledging and celebrating our wins is the best way to do this. So, learning, for the first time, that over 80% of the people we help feel more positive about their cancer diagnosis and will make changes to their lifestyle to aid their recovery, thanks to us, was something to celebrate. Some charities are reluctant to bow to the increased pressures to measure and evaluate their services, but learning nuggets such as these can offer valuable insight as we develop our services and let the funders who we do approach understand why it is that our services are so important.

HANNAH BELLAMY of the CANCER RECOVERY FOUNDATION continues: This is also a time to look at who charities are, and who we are talking to and why. It may seem counter-intuitive as we are cost saving, but in the past year we have implemented a re-brand and are continuing to increase our profile through marketing and PR efforts. It is important that charities do not repeal marketing spend. But, as with everything else, they revisit it. While targeting is important, too many charities approach donors and beneficiaries as entirely different audiences. Often, and especially when dealing with a disease like cancer that will affect 1 in 3 of us, this is not the case.

So, we have managed to reach more people despite cost savings, and we have let our donors know what they can do to tackle cancer. It doesn't involve pink ribbons or cake sales. It involves assessing lifestyles and understanding what choices can cause cancer. If we do this effectively, not only will these donors continue to support us, but they will benefit as we do. And we may just finally see a decrease in applications for our help as they put what we preach into practice.

Return to top of page

Hannah Bellamy
Cancer Recovery Foundation's Hannah Bellamy – it is a time to understand the need for our work and the impact of it.
Lee Bolton Monier-Williams advert

New markets and targets for fundraising

LYNDA BRISLIN, chief executive of the NORTH WEST AIR AMBULANCE, comments: According to the best estimate of the Charities Aid Foundation, charitable giving in the UK reached £11 billion in 2010/11. This was an increase of £0.4 billion on the previous year's figures – however, when inflation is taken into account, this figure is, at best, flat.

Dealing with budgets that are lower both for households and for businesses is a real issue for charities, and finding new ways to encourage donations is essential. It is not enough to sit back and hope for the best. Rather, we as management need to be proactive. It is still possible to drive our charity forward by adopting innovative approaches to ensure we can raise the funds we need.

For the North West Air Ambulance, diversification has been a major part of our strategy, identifying new markets and new targets for fundraising. The state of the economy has encouraged us to look at a variety of different industries and to become more commercial. For example, we are planning to launch a new energy referral scheme, which we hope will help to generate more income for the charity.

Our commercial focus has also seen us give something back to our donors. Our affinity accounts with building societies now offer a higher rate of interest, which not only encourages more people to take up the offer and brings in more funds for us, but also rewards existing account holders and demonstrates our appreciation to them.

Another focus for us has been on engaging with businesses and becoming their chosen charity of the year. We have focused on making ourselves known to corporates and, most importantly, on persuading them to take us on. At a time when businesses must justify every penny of expenditure, we have worked hard to convince them that CSR remains vitally important and that we can help them to fulfil their responsibilities. And for those which have chosen to work with us, we have not simply walked away once the papers have been signed. We have managed the project over the course of the 12-month contract, keeping communications open and strengthening our relationships.

Indeed, communication has been key across the board, keeping supporters up to date, listening to what they've got to say and making changes wherever necessary. We have made a conscious effort to promote the different ways people can raise money – whether it's recycling textiles, donating to or shopping at one of our charity shops, entering our lottery, fundraising as a volunteer at an event or shopping online. We have also tried to make more people aware of the fact that the air ambulance is, in fact, a charity, and that we need their funds.

This strategy has proved very successful for us in 2011, with donations increasing across every discipline. There is no doubt that fundraising will continue to be challenging in 2012 and beyond. But with continued communication, commercial thinking and diversification, there is reason for all charities to be optimistic for the future.

Return to top of page

Lynda Brislin
North West Air Ambulance's Lynda Brislin – we have focused on making ourselves known to corporates and, most importantly, on persuading them to take us on.

Being small scale and local

MIKE RAPPOLT, chairman of WIMBLEDON CIVIC THEATRE TRUST, comments: In the current economic climate, all charities are finding it harder to raise funds as people are increasingly becoming reluctant to donate their time or money. Being a small scale local charity has additional challenges as we have very little exposure to influential financiers and larger "giving" organisations.

Wimbledon Civic Theatre Trust helps young people in the Merton area to gain new skills and reaches some of the most disadvantaged in the area, including those with behavioural difficulties, physical problems and from low socio-economic backgrounds. We rely on the donations of individuals and organisations to fund our work. By having the right set of trustees on board who can contribute funding, skills and time, charities are able to keep overheads low.

By reducing administrative costs and recruiting volunteers who are passionate about their voluntary work, costs are kept down and more of the money raised can be channelled directly into helping the young people. We try to research high net worth individuals, organisations or trusts established in the local community and approach them with specific propositions.

Thanking and rewarding donors is very important to us, and can be invaluable in letting donors know how much they are appreciated, which will make them more likely to continue donating. We have two carefully targeted and planned high profile local fund and awareness raising events each year.

One issue we face is insufficient name recognition in the local area as for historical reasons our name doesn't reflect our goals accurately, but we are now working with a PR agency to rectify this with the dual aims of recruiting donors and attendees. One way we believe we can continue to grow is by embracing social media and using it to reach our participants, our audience and potential investors.

We find it important to plan 18 months ahead and outline three years in advance to get an idea of fundraising targets, to ensure resources aren't over committed and to accommodate lead times of schools. By planning thoroughly and quantifying objectives of our projects, our investors can see where we are spending their money, see the quantified outputs and outcomes, feel more involved in the process, and can track development. In the eight years since WCTT started, the trust has grown from helping 100 young people, to helping over 2,500 each year. We have also increased our regular donors from ten in the first year to over 200 now.

Return to top of page

Mike Rappolt
Wimbledon Civic Theatre Trust's Mike Rappolt – we try to research high net worth individuals, organisations or trusts established in the local community and approach them with specific propositions.

Having and meeting budget forecasts

FAIZA SETH, founder and director of SOHAM FOR KIDS, comments: Senior management of charities can be proactive in driving charities forward by having budget forecasts for the next five years on file, and corresponding fundraising plans/targets in place to meet these budgets. This is the first and most important forecast which needs to be calculated and adjusted to ensure that a charity has sufficient funds to continue functioning efficiently.

At Soham for Kids, we have a one year budget which is divided monthly and is compared to the actual money spent each month, so the future budget for years 2-5 can be adjusted appropriately to ensure we have sufficient funds to keep our school in Hyderabad, India running smoothly.

Also to ensure that funds are used for the charity only, I conduct quarterly audits of the financial and cross check expenses with receipts to make sure that the money is only allocated to the school. Many charities based in other countries such as India are difficult to monitor financially, however quarterly audits ensure that the funds are being allocated correctly.

Our fundraising is achieved through corporate donations, personal donations, friends/family donations, as well as through grants. I also use Google Adwords to increase awareness of the charity which both attracts potential donors as well as volunteers. Google Adwords supports charities and gives free Adwords to increase awareness of registered and approved charities. Having multiple strategies and sources for donations ensures that not all your eggs are in one basket and you have secured many donors to financially support the charity.

Last but not least, it's very important to have long term plans to make a charity self- sufficient. In our case there has been a demand from people to send their children to school and pay for this because of the high quality of education offered at the school. But, right now, it is a non-profit charity school that educates, provides nutrition, and healthcare for underprivileged and orphaned children only. However, establishing a for-profit sister school in the future that will fund the current Soham for Kids school will be a great way to make us self-sufficient and less dependent on fundraising from donors.

Return to top of page

Faiza Seth
Soham for Kids' Faiza Seth – having multiple strategies and sources for donations ensures that not all your eggs are in one basket and you have secured many donors to financially support the charity.