Weeds and wildernesses

centranthus rubra at chelsea2

When we arrive at our clients’ gardens and ask what their priorities are for our visit, the most common response is “the weeds!” This is often accompanied by a wearied flinging-up of their hands in a gesture of defeat. Certainly, the weather this year has seen weeds thrive, often in circumstances where other plants are struggling to establish. I like to remind clients that the only official, botanical definition of a weed is “a plant growing out of place,” so if they like it, it’s not a problem.
The jury is often out on plants such as Centranthus Rubra, which many class as a weed, but has long been a Chelsea Flower Show stalwart. The majority of our clients, however, want it pulled up.


Others, however, are not as contentious, such as bindweed, ground elder and the ephemeral Senecio Vulgaris, found in many of our clients’ plots. In this recent clearance project, there was almost nothing but this pernicious culprit although, after our visit, it is now thankfully gone:

pearce weeds

pearce weeds after

A lot of our clients may not have a weed problem as such (or not one that they’re aware of), but feel that their gardens have got “out of control,” due to a lack of time or attention. Since the majority of our clients are elderly, disabled, or both, it is no surprise that their gardens have been left to their own devices. By the time we’re called in, there’s often a veritable jungle lapping at their doors and windows. Here is just one example of an initial clearance we carried out recently:

Garden clearance before

garden clearance after
Whether it’s fine-tuning and pruning, weeds or wilderness, our volunteers love nothing more than getting stuck in to a garden. Now, if only we could get our volunteer base to grow quite as quickly as those weeds!

If you’re interested in becoming a gardening volunteer, please contact leona@communityimpactbucks.org.uk


Why measuring Impact is good for the charity, vital for funding and a boost for the team.

According to our recent survey, 30% of organisations say measuring impact is a key priority. I can guarantee that next year it will be more.

So why do charities constantly look to measure impact and why is it so important?

Firstly, when seeking funding, most organisations need to prove that what they are doing is a good thing. If you are going to donate your hard earned cash to a charity, you want to know that it’s going towards something that is actually worthwhile. Ideally something tangible, in a nice bite-size package, like Oxfam Unwrapped.

If a conservation charity claims to protect 1000 acres of ancient woodland, we get it. The challenge comes when they have to prove the exact impact your donation has made.  How do we know that those 1000 acres wouldn’t be OK without your donation? That is the difference which needs to be articulated….and in order to do that, we always need to be asking ‘What would happen if we weren’t here?’

Secondly, measuring impact helps us prioritise and refocus when resources are short.  Is what we are doing really changing people’s lives? What could we do to add even more value to our beneficiaries?

And finally, culture. There’s nothing quite like the buzz of a team that knows that their work is making a difference, a real difference, that you can measure and quantify. It’s what gets people out of bed in the morning and it’s what attracts the greatest talent to your door.

So why is it so hard to do? Maybe it’s that we are used to thinking “outputs” when we need to think “outcomes” and impact. Planting 100 trees is a measurable output.  But the fact that children will have wooded places to walk, that the environment will be better and global warming will slow, can all seem too big and distant to measure so we don’t do it. Sometimes we don’t even think it!

But we have to because great charities will run out of money if they can’t persuade funders.  If we are going to persuade those that hold the purse strings that our charity is a good thing we need to show how we change lives, save trees, rescue lost people and preferably how many lives we change. We can’t wait until these doomsday scenarios are upon us to start shouting about the difference we made.  It will be too late.  As Stephen Covey famously said, ‘begin with the end in mind’. What is the greatest story you could tell and what questions need asking to prove your worth?

Charities Under Fire: 7 reasons why we should be cautious about draconian measures for charities:

Listened to the Today programme on Saturday and was astonished to hear of the suggestion of an OFSTED for charities being proposed in the light of Kids Company issues – long before anyone truly knows what the “issues” are.

Firstly let’s wait and see what the problems really are! Having read details in the papers and on the internet I am still not clear on what heinous act has been committed by the charity in question. The story is so muddy and unclear it is impossible to get to the bottom of the situation, but here is my view of the OFSTED solution…

  1. Shooting in the dark! Don’t react too soon. As yet the details are unclear so let’s not allow the media to drive change by reacting to one charity before we know the full story. The reality will certainly be different to the media rhetoric.
  2. Measuring the unmeasurable. An OFSTED style inspection on charities will do huge damage. OFSTED is a system of measuring. We all know that when the important is unmeasurable the measurable becomes important. The NHS and so many other organisations still bear the scars of incessant measuring of the unmeasurable. As an old Irish friend of mine used to say “Weighing a pig does not make it fatter!” And OFSTED, being masters of weights and measures, would not necessarily benefit the sector. There will be a natural drive to meet spurious targets – ignoring some “soft” but vital work. Some charities do great work simply by holding a hand or sitting with those in great despair.
  3. Charities vary dramatically – so in what way would it be possible to measure one organisation against another…?
  4. What will be the cost of inspecting the 1000’s of charities out there? More than £3m that is for sure!
  5. Who will suffer? Many people will simply not set up their charity for fear of bureaucracy, and valuable support for people will be lost.
  6. What do people really want to know about charities? Let’s assume that in any sane world not all things delivered by charities can be measured, so what would the Charity OFSTED want to know? It is likely to be primarily the accountability and transparency of funds. In most cases other people’s money. And in that case yes … it should be done. We need to know at a glance that our money is being reasonably well spent. Every charity should display accounts and in a clear way so people can see where the money has gone! Probably all charities should offer a single standard account of spending, as a simple dashboard if possible, and most already do in the Charity Commission data.
  7. Let’s accept that sometimes things go wrong! Charities run like businesses – balancing books and budgeting. Things sometimes go wrong, for a million reasons, so if there are lessons to learn from this one charity, let’s learn them. But to my mind the rather bigger question that we should be asking ourselves is why was Kids Company needed in the first place? And who will look after the needs of the most deprived children now?

So let’s take time to step back, see what went wrong with one charity and help charities not to make the same mistakes. The Government should have been very cautious with their, I mean our, £3m but to be fair the organisation claims to have helped thousands of children in desperate need and the Government spends a good deal more than £3m on less worthy projects – and we don’t hear a lot about that.

The Perfect Online Marketing Mix for Charity Growth

Elton Boocock
Elton Boocock

Guest Blog – from Elton Boocock

It seems that at every presentation I give, the same question albeit in different forms comes up. It’s the question of getting the right ‘mix’ of online marketing. Given that we are all under increasing time pressures, very few have the luxury of being able to carry out every method of online marketing to a suitable level, so we have to make choices. So, is there such a thing as the perfect online marketing mix and if so, what is it?

Ultimately, the answer has to be that there is a perfect mix, but before I give you the wrong impression, finding that perfection point is as difficult for an experienced marketing company as it is for you. Even if you did find it, how would you know and what would stop you from changing what you are doing in a search for ‘even better’? Let’s assume you found the perfect online marketing mix, knew that you had it so stuck to it. Well, the environment changes constantly, so even that wouldn’t work. The secret therefore is to continually search for better (more efficient, more effective) results from your online marketing, regardless of how well your campaigns are running now. This means continual testing and measuring.

With that in mind, are there any ‘obvious’ elements that always work or always don’t work? Sadly the answer to that isn’t straight forward either. It all depends on who you are trying to reach. This isn’t anything new. Ever since marketing begun, you have had to find a place where your potential audience are and reach out to them there.

So far, this hasn’t been very useful apart from reassuring you that if you haven’t found the perfect mix, then don’t get hung up on this ideal. It’s time to present something slightly different and that is the idea (and a good one) of having a joined up strategy for your online marketing. This is the closest indicator to the perfect mix you will find. When we talk about online marketing, we are referring to four key elements. Search engines (paid or natural listings), Social Media (paid or natural again), Email and of course your website.

Your website should be the cornerstone. For every person that visits your website and doesn’t take the action you would like them to take, you need to be asking ‘what could we have done differently, that would have caused them to take the right action?’ Too many charities avoid this area and wonder why they are not attracting donations, support etc. be really clear as to what people should do and tell them what they should do.

Search engines are where people will look for you. If they have gone this far then you are half way there. Most marketing (even social media) is interruption marketing. You interrupt what someone is doing to force your message down their throat. Sounds aggressive, but it illustrates the concept accurately. I don’t watch the TV to see starving children in Africa. They ‘interrupt’ my viewing to show me that. With search engines, you are responding to someone actively chasing you, or someone like you. Since Google Grants allows you to advertise on Google for free, this is a no brainer even if you needed a consultant to set things up for you.

With social media, your ‘fans’ or ambassadors often do the work for you. Your role is to provide interesting things to talk about. The key is in the word ‘social’. When everyone is rushing to share their ice bucket challenge video or the pictures of themselves wearing bright pink bra’s, they are doing so because it is social. By the way, ‘going viral’ is something that happens, not that is engineered. You can’t guarantee it and you don’t need it. Just do things that will genuinely be shared by the people that matter.

As you are more active on social media, being mentioned more by others on social media, then the search engines begin to notice too. So, the more social you are, the more your name will appear at the top of the search engines.

Then finally, email marketing. Often charities are either blind to the fact their mail may be spam or the complete opposite and they don’t send because they don’t want to be spammers. The truth is nobody likes a spammer, so make sure you don’t! However, to make sure you don’t, you need to know what spam is. It certainly isn’t the frequency. It is all to do with whether the mail is wanted. Don’t send out newsletters full of how you had coffee and cakes in the office for Doris’s birthday. Don’t send only requests for help. Think about why people are involved in helping your organisation. They want to see their time or money having a positive effect. On the flip side, don’t just send lots of lovely stories. Unless you are sat on a stock pile of cash or have plenty of volunteers twiddling their thumbs, at the end of every story, include a ‘we’d love to do more’ section that requests further help.

To summarise, there is no such ‘tangible’ thing as a perfect online marketing strategy. Technically, it exists, but finding it is nigh on impossible and if we did, it would soon change. All you can do is test, measure, improve and repeat. Use the social media sites that your target audience use. This helps your natural search positions, which should be backed up with Google’s free adverts. When people get to your website, don’t waste them. They have made the effort, turn them into your next biggest fan (that means volunteer or donor typically). Then, once you are already connected with someone, keep in touch by email and don’t be afraid to ask for help. You obviously did it in the past if they are already helping you.

[Elton Boocock is a speaker, author, columnist, BBC panelist, business owner and internet marketing coach/trouble-shooter. He began Urban Media (his internet marketing company) in 1997, some 2 years before anyone searched in the newly created ‘Google’. Since then he has seen many changes in the ‘digital’ arena but has remained focused on the need to ensure organisations make effective use of any new opportunity rather than simply join the bandwagon. He has a particular passion for helping not for profits and works with charities large and small, new and established. Elton is running a workshop (The Future of Marketing – Make the Digital Revolution Work for You) at Community Impact Bucks ‘Big Impact’ Not for Profit Conference on Tuesday 29th September – find out more here ]