Foundations for a successful charity

By Nick Phillips, group chief executive, Community Impact Bucks

What is it that makes a successful organisation? It’s a question that I have been asked, in one form or another, by many people about to embark on the journey to start a charity or social enterprise or, in my past life, a business. It’s easy to trot out the tried and tested criteria we all know either from personal experience of the hundreds of books written about the subject of ‘good business’; vision, clear strategy, cashflow, knowing your customers…  and all that is as true of a charity as of a business.  However, there does seem to be a hierarchy of building blocks that are becoming increasingly apparent. We regularly see evidence of this “hierarchy” being absent in organisations that fail as we can see it clearly in the successes.

Debi, our brilliant projects leader, and her team recently carried out some research on successful community projects and it seems (early days in the research) that here too the same hierarchy holds true.

Firstly, it’s about leadership.  Without good leadership, however well-meaning the team and however great the idea, the organisation will not succeed long term. It sounds obvious, I know, but this is where the clarity of vision for the charity is so vital. It seems that where the chair, founder or CEO have that vision and passion, the organisation is more likely to succeed. Equally if that passion and vision are missing then the organisation can flounder.

The next layer in the hierarchy seems to be about the leadership having the right people around them. They can be volunteers or staff, but people who help carry the vison are filled with enthusiasm, energy and the right skills.

Next, it’s about the money and a plan to make money, not in quick bursts relying just on single grants but a long term sustainable plan. This can be from a structured service income or strategy for donations or a mix of all options.

The next level in the hierarchy is harder to define, but it seems that partnerships are vital. Sharing ideas, or even sharing resources, can be a game-changer to charities, particularly in the early stages of getting a charity off the ground.

The last identifiable feature seems to be going back to the ‘story’ I mentioned earlier, but this is the story of success – the impact. Being able to measure and articulate how the charity has changed lives or improved a situation is really important and the most successful organisations have got that down to a fine art.

I’ve identified these hierarchy priorities from anecdotal evidence, however it seems that research* backs up the findings. As most leadership in the community and charity sector starts with the trustees and chairs – who, let’s not forget, are volunteers – it is vital that we give trustees and chairs as much support as possible. That’s why CIB will be putting much of our resources behind helping charities find the right trustees with those leadership qualities. Later in the year I’ll run some events for chairs, trustees and CEO’s with speakers from different sectors and a chance to network and share ideas and support.

(By the way, I hope you’ve noticed that I’ve been talking about good leadership – no mention of “strong and stable” anywhere – we may have heard enough of that!)

*Third Sector online/Fidelity survey of charities


One thought on “Foundations for a successful charity”

  1. It is a very interesting article. I like the way you presented with good style and flow.
    ‘Later in the year I’ll run some events for chairs, trustees and CEO’s with speakers from different sectors and a chance to network and share ideas and support.’ – Sounds like a great opportunity to put WCA on your shortlist !!
    Indeed, you do offer “strong and stable” direction and leadership – however, the beauty is that you go about it in a very diplomatic approach. Why say it twice , when once is enough !!!
    I enjoyed it. Thanks


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s