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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

  • Kate Harcus

    I have worked within the Third Sector for nearly 10 years, within a business advisory role. I definitely agree with your comment re: a clear strategy, and in actual fact we are well placed to be one step ahead, as we know how long with have the current batch of funding (or rather income!).
    Having worked with a variety of SMEs and much larger companies, I know that they would relish having the foresight that their market/trading conditions will be changing at a precise moment within the next 2/3/5/7 years. This time would give them the opportunity to design/develop/produce new products or services, and ultimately have some form of exit strategy, if they have to change their remit completely.
    The services and support that the Third Sector provide to the general public are so valuable, and often when the funding comes to an end, then those in most need are left high and dry, as there is always that hope that more funding will be secured at the 11th hour, but all too often it doesn’t materialise.
    So yes, we must plan for the future, and learn from the private sector. If your organisation has an opportunity to have a trading arm or set up a social enterprise, this would be a fantastic start to generating your own income that can be re-invested into your core activities, and ultimately make the whole thing more sustainable, for tomorrow’s world.