The charity and voluntary sector has been getting some bad press recently. The astounding story about Camilla Batmanghelidjh and Kids’ Company, who appear to have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds unwisely for years without being held to account. Age UK and their partnership with E.On, which did not give their target audience, the elderly, a fair deal on their energy costs. Not to mention, reports of vulnerable members of society being targeted remorselessly by unscrupulous telemarketing companies working on behalf of big national charities as well as continuous direct mail designed to make the recipient feel obliged to donate.
What’s been going wrong?
To me the answer is quite simple. The balance between fundraising and impact is out of alignment. Certainly, large national charities have become more like businesses with their planning focused on profit rather than the impact they were set up to achieve. They have not had their target audience at the heart of every campaign and asked themselves how those people will benefit from the activities of the charity in question. This is certainly the case with Age UK, who seem to have only considered the financial gain to themselves as an organisation rather than the advantage to the elderly people they are meant to serve. In the case of Kids’ Company, you could say that spending money on expensive trainers and trips to top spas was done with the right motives but the balance between funds and impact was out of kilter. There were probably more economic ways of showing love to vulnerable young people than giving them expensive “stuff”.
The scales have certainly swung in the favour of profit over people and planet.
Measuring impact is hard but it can be done
Of course, it is a lot easier to set targets and measure profit than social or environmental impact. Charities and voluntary organisations are under intense pressure, having been forced to raise increasing levels of funding due to government cuts and also the rising need for the type of social support offered by charities.
It is a lot harder to measure emotional benefits but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try. We live in a very data-driven world but, in my opinion, the key to success is combining emotion with facts and data. As humans, we are motivated by emotion and justify our actions with logic.
The important thing is that social and environmental objectives and KPI’s are set alongside financial and fundraising targets at the heart of any strategy. When I put together a business strategy and marketing plan for my clients, the social and environmental objectives are as important as the financial goals – otherwise, what’s the point?
Learning lessons from social enterprise
I believe strongly that it is possible to get back that balance between profit and impact. I think the voluntary sector could learn a lot from social enterprise, a business model which is growing and has higher success rates than conventional business start-ups. Social enterprises, like charities, are set up to meet a social or environmental need. Like charities, they have to make a profit to be able to continue the good work they set out to do. However, they are set up as businesses and tend to be run as such. The important thing though is that they must always serve the needs of their customer, like any business, whilst being mindful of the impact they are having on people and planet overall.
I do agree that charities should be run like businesses but that doesn’t mean that they should follow the traditional business model of being focused on making a profit above all else.
Get free expert support from New Futures Buckinghamshire
I am one of the approved providers for "New Futures Buckinghamshire", a programme which offers expert support to local charities as well as social enterprises . The programme offers experts like me to help in areas from marketing and communications (my field) to finance, HR and IT, all funded by Bucks County Council. Advice is provided by "Community Impact Bucks" to identify clearly the areas of support needed before appointing the relevant provider(s). Each package is tailor-made to the needs of the recipient. For more information and to express your interest, just fill in a simple form "here":http://grantscape.org.uk/fund/newfutures-buckinghamshire/