Business isn’t a swear word

As a newly appointed chief executive in the third sector, I am struck by the frequency with which I am having the discussion about the reluctance of charities to identify themselves as businesses and adopt more businesslike attitudes to service delivery. In some areas the very mention of the word ‘business’ is tantamount to swearing.

Do charities really believe that their – in many cases long – history of doing good works will protect them from funding cuts, shifts in commissioning intentions, and the competitive market place? Will some charities really continue to hide behind a lack of data and inefficient resource management, shored up by good intentions and a mountain of thank-you cards in the hope that commissioners will continue to fund them? I’m pleased to say I have also spoken to many who aren’t. Read More »

Tell us what you think of the sector

I was facilitating an away day last month when a participant said to me: ”The sector is really keen to do more public services”. I asked the woman how she knew this, and it turned out that a statement made by Sir Stephen Bubb, head of the sector chief executives body Acevo, was her source. Now Sir Stephen is many things – wise, intelligent, athletic; but representative of sector opinion he is not.

It is for people like my participant at the away day that the State of the Sector survey from nfpSynergy and Third Sector is designed. It’s a chance to gather the views of people from across the sector. It’s a chance to find out what people at the grassroots think and feel.

The survey covers a wide range of issues. For example, there has been no end of initiatives and ideas launched in the sector since the last election. The government has created its fair share, as have organisations like Nesta, the Big Lottery Fund, sector umbrella bodies and the like. Are any of them any good?

It’s easy for people like me – sector watchers, consultants, researchers – to have views about what works and what doesn’t. It’s even more tempting for us to feel we know what the sector thinks. But of course we don’t, in fact: and that’s why we really need as many people as possible to tell us about what they think is going on in the sector. We are a year away from the next general election, and we all need to know what people who work in the sector think about all the different things that are going on. For example:

- How are charities doing in the current climate?
- What resources and skills shortages are holding your organisation back?
- Is your charity able to be independent from funders, donors and politicians?
- Have any government initiatives made any difference to you?
- Which party might make the biggest difference, come the next election?

The results will be published in Third Sector and made available to everyone free of charge, so you will get to see the full details of what the sector really does think. And did I mention that there are 20 Amazon vouchers of £20 to be given away to people who complete the survey?

Take part in the survey here

Joe Saxton is the founder of nfpSynergy

Charities must ask taxing questions of companies they do business with

According to the Institute of Business Ethics, corporate tax avoidance is now public enemy number one. In its most recent annual survey (2013) on attitudes towards corporate responsibility, the IBE found the public now ranked corporate tax avoidance above human rights, ecological degradation and sweatshops as the issue in most need of addressing. Read More »

In praise of the sector’s unsung HR heroes


It’s great to see the interim results of this years’ Charity Pulse survey revealing that morale is on the up among charity workers. The last few years have been tough for the sector and this is the biggest uplift in morale we have seen since the annual staff satisfaction survey began in 2007.

The fact that the economy is picking up must surely be part of the reason for this, but I think it would be unfair on some unsung heroes if we didn’t look a little closer to home as well. Read More »

Times are tough now, but charities must plan for the long term

Many of us have talked a lot about how difficult it has been for our beneficiaries in the current financial climate, but the reality is that it’s been a tough time for charities too.

And in these tough times, what should we do? Batten down the hatches, consolidate and suspend new projects and services until things improve? Or should we take a long hard look at what we are offering our beneficiaries and consider whether we can make it more cost effective or diversify and extend in areas where new funding is available?

As government policy, the economic climate and other factors change, so too do the needs of our beneficiaries. And in order to keep meeting their needs, charities must adapt and innovate. If our core offer remains the same, we aren’t being the best that we can be, and as a result our beneficiaries will suffer.  This means that even in difficult times, we must keep looking for new ways to reach the people we support and meet their needs.

I work for Sense, the national deafblind charity, and we were started by two parents of deafblind children in 1955. Since then, a lot has changed. Some support that simply wasn’t available for deafblind and disabled people in the 1950s is now automatic; but in other ways life has become even more challenging. And of course, during our earliest years and now, we still rely on the resources and support of our members – deafblind people and their families.

But staying one step ahead of the game, and working out how we can meet the needs of deafblind people in 10 years time as well as today is a constant challenge. It is also key to show funders and government, both local and central, why our services are vital and naturally, the outcomes we deliver.

Charities must invest in the future and to do this, you need a clear strategy.  If you don’t know what you want to achieve in the long term it will be difficult to secure substantial funding. Moving from one individual project to another isn’t a sustainable way to run a charity.  If you want funders to invest in you, you must show that as an organisation you have invested in your own future and have given it some thought.

However, a challenge we all face is walking the tightrope between the long term and the present.  It is very easy to fall into the trap of looking at year-to-year performance both in terms of finances and services delivery. Necessary, yes, but more long-term evaluation and performance needs to be considered.

I’m really proud to say that I work in the third sector and over the last twenty-plus years have worked for some fantastic charities, including Turning Point and Mencap. They have all provided outstanding services and made a huge difference to the lives of the people they support. But the tricky part for anyone in the sector is balancing what we do now with what we will need to do in the future; and investing in tomorrow is key.

Richard Kramer is deputy chief executive at Sense

Rise to the Budget challenges, but don’t forget why we’re here

As the Budget confirms, the age of austerity is well and truly here to stay, with the Chancellor promising £1 billion of cuts in public sector pay and pensions. The question facing charities is how to survive in such a stark climate – and how to continue to deliver their good work at a fraction of the cost. Read More »

Street fundraisers deserve our professional respect

The past four or five years have seen the emergence of a new generation of charity fundraiser, as the alumni of various face-to-face fundraising agencies assume positions in charity fundraising departments as direct marketing, corporate, community and individual fundraisers.

While this infiltration by former street fundraisers has gone almost unnoticed, it has a number of implications for the way fundraising views itself as a profession. Read More »

Charities are missing out on brilliant staff

Since launching Charityworks in 2009, there are two conversations I’ve had so many times I feel like I could rehearse them in my sleep.

The first is with students and graduates: they tell me that we have made it incredibly hard to find a way into our sector, and that when they do get a foot in the door they often get stuck in entry level-roles, with little scope to make a real contribution.

The second is with leaders and managers in the sector about their haphazard and fortuitous career journeys. I’ve lost track of the number of great people I’ve met working and leading in this sector who ‘fell’ into it almost by accident, only to subsequently discover all that the sector has to offer. Read More »

Beware the social investment buzz

In the course of delivering workshops to voluntary organisations on various topics related to business development, the topic of social investment often comes up. When it does, I notice myself tightening a little, often wondering how the conversation will go, and preparing to feel a little apologetic about what I will go on to say. I expect some of this communicates itself to my audience. Read More »

What I learnt as a food bank volunteer


Terry Walker, 45, is a drugs counsellor. Reliable, decent and hard working. He is more a giver than a taker, often engaging in voluntary work and helping out worthy causes. Today I met Terry for the first time, his mood was low, he was tearful, indecisive and suicidal. This has resulted in him losing his job and, due to changing government policies, he finds himself unable to claim benefits. Feeling confused and not knowing where to turn next, Terry is one of many people that seek support from St Ann’s Advice Centre in Nottingham. Founded over 20 years ago with the mission to provide support to the local community, the centre has become a vital support network to individuals like Terry. 

Read More »

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