Charity Performance Measures Worth Tracking for Improved Impact Measurement


Guest Blog – By Mark Kemp, Director, The Gallery Partnership

Impact measurement often strikes fear into charities, large or small. It is something that organisations are increasingly expected to do, yet it can be difficult to know where to begin. As impact began to gain traction in the social sector a decade or so ago, interest in and activity around tools and techniques to measure it also began to grow.

To demonstrate that your charity is really changing people’s lives, you need some way of assessing your work. Government and private funders are increasingly concerned with getting maximum value for their money, targeting their funding to the charities which achieve the most change. Charities who can show clearly what they are achieving are at a real advantage. Furthermore, charities who address a need for impact measurement by proactively opening up conversations are likely to impress funders. Proposing sensible ideas on good impact measurement show you take it seriously, and that you are doing it for the right reasons.

For some charities, performance measurement can serve as the answer to many of their prayers. In these cases, data can provide the critical component that will allow them to showcase their efforts and successes to their funders and other constituents while also helping them increase capacity and improve return on investments.

If you’re a charity CEO who is rolling your eyes while reading this, you’re probably not alone. This vision of non-profit utopia seems far removed from the actual reality of effective charity performance management and finding charity performance measures that are useful and attainable is not easy. However, it is possible to find performance management metrics that enable your organisation to both prove that you have effective management in place, are experiencing successful financial performance, and that the efforts your staff and volunteers are exerting are truly moving towards meeting your mission.

If finding performance measures has been keeping you up at night, keep reading to learn the secret to developing your own performance measures worth tracking.

The first metric charities need to consider, is how efficient they are at mobilising their resources. Because charities range drastically in size and scope, sometimes simple metrics like pounds raised or members served can be red herrings, drawing attention away from the actual issue at hand. These metrics could include fund-raising performance, membership growth, and market share. The current standard of categorising expenses into programs, fundraising and administrative/overhead speaks to this kind of metric, and the idea of a common outcome framework is already becoming more visible and solidified within the charity arena.

Staff Activity
The second kind of metric is probably the most straightforward; measure what your staff are doing with their time. Understanding the organisational inputs, not just in terms of money but also in terms of time, is critical for being able to draw the connection between efforts and outcomes later on. Thankfully, as management software has improved, collecting this kind of data has become substantially more straightforward. Employees can now track their output immediately, increasing effectiveness and accuracy. Tracking these kinds of charity performance measures is a no-brainer.

Mission-Based Measurement
Saving the best for last, we all know that tracking progress against a mission is an absolutely key component of effective management for charities. But that’s usually easier said than done. While it might make sense to narrow or reframe one’s scope to make it more quantifiable, this is often not practical or reasonable to expect of charities, especially those whose goals are around affecting significant social change.

Another possible tack here is to collect evidence, usually on a large scale, that demonstrates there is change in the world that is correlated with the mission of the charity and has some plausible connection to their efforts. This leaves much to be desired as a standard of measurement. Correlation is not as valuable as causation as a form of proof, and even this kind of research could come at a large cost, both in terms of time and money.

So what’s a charity to do? While some organisations suggest utilising micro-goals to help break down one’s mission into measurable pieces, there is another part to the puzzle that is often overlooked. Creating measurable, actionable micro-goals is important, but having the right tools and strategies for measuring these outcomes, connecting them directly to efforts, and being able to pivot the organisation in order to stay in alignment with the broader mission are all absolutely critical for success. Selecting key performance indicators is an important first step, but it’s the moment when these measurements are brought into alignment with the big picture that actually signifies change.

Hopefully by now it’s clear that no single metric is going to solve all of your organisation’s operational challenges. Finding the right performance measures can take some time and effort, and there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the challenge. However, with the right technologies, such as Apricot Software and an ability to keep an eye both on the end goal and on the smaller, more attainable steps along the way, your organisation can thrive in both improving efficiency and continuing to attract valuable funders to the cause.

A note about Apricot by Michelle Dawson, Living Life Service Manager at Middlesbrough & Stockton Mind

“Apricot software goes beyond case management needs and gives us the ability to clearly communicate the impact of our organisation. Apricot offers a variety of services giving us the ability to put a large focus on outcomes and community impact. We can better understand what goes into a successful outcome plan and how to increase our successes each year. By receiving these insights, we are able to make better-informed decisions about where we should allocate our resources for future programming. Apricot allow us to understand fully who we are working with. We can compare data across projects. We can mix and match outcome strands in line with our seven organisational outcomes. We are better able to identify strategic operational, technical, and outcome-based objectives, so that we can maximise our technology’s capabilities to meet our organisation’s outcomes, data collection, and reporting needs.  And finally all of this saves us money.”

Mark Kemp is Director of The Gallery Partnership, which has provides professional IT support services and reliable software solutions to charities across the UK.

Gallery’s Apricot is a cloud based database for charities, which allows you to monitor your outcomes and prove your impact.


Strive to be a Brand Champion and Protect your Reputation

Guest Blog – by Giles Robertson

The last few months have given those of us working with charities good food for thought as to why it is critically important to have a rock solid brand and a clear unique selling point (USP) in place.  I have experienced this media anti-charity maelstrom from three very different perspectives – as a Trustee for the Marine Conservation Society working to help protect our seas and sea shores, running my company Green Banana Marketing working solely with charities and public sector organisations and finally, as a consultant working within UK charities.

Anti-charity maelstrom

camilla newspaper

It’s certainly not happy reading. The negative media around how charities operate in getting their vital funds has definitely been provoked by a less than philanthropic side of the media – out for a good old fashioned kill. We’ve now seen just how easy it is for the charity sector to attract criticism, much like any other sector, from the debacle of the Kids Company closing (after 19 years of what looks like good work) to the charity ‘cold call sharks’. Having worked in the charity sector for the best part of two decades, it’s the worst I have seen.

And this has been reflected in the Edelman Trust barometer 2012-2015, which shows trust in charities ‘to do what is right ” went down from 67% in 2014 to 50% in 2015- this figure is actually now just 2% below trust in business!

Charities creating value

Most charities have limited budgets but many have also become more professionalised over the last few years. Fundraising is of course big business for charities and the ‘value’ of what members and supporters get from their relationship is key. Some charities have actually managed to maintain / increase the perceived value of their supporter relationships. And of course new partnerships are a good way to bolster income and profile, but these can also be a risk, and there are many examples of partnerships which have upset supporters, who may walk away from their chosen charity. With more government cuts to our essential services, the essence of big society still creeping through our organisations, the market is only going to get tougher for those involved in supporting communities, youth engagement, homelessness, the environment, education, health and well being.

Tensions between divisions

So it stands to reason that charities should make sure they have a rock solid basis upon which they operate. Divisions and tensions within the internal ‘family’ structure of charities are often all too apparent. Many commercial organisations and sectors have long-suffered such acute internal tensions, for instance in retail and fashion (between the design and sales teams – epitomised by Steve Jobs’ evangelical belief in all things Apple design-led. But also in the media, fisti-cuffs between editorial and sales teams over the soul of magazines are very common.

The equivalent in charities is the tension between fundraising and operations, who don’t always sing from the same hymn-sheet. Whilst the need to fundraise is inarguable, fundraising and the marketing efforts that support it, are often seen as merely support services to the actual business of doing charitable work.

The problem is – we all know, that fundraising creates a strong brand message, which can sometimes seem at odds with the charities core vision. And so when difficult questions are asked, it is perhaps not surprising that a joined-up response isn’t immediately forthcoming.

It’s not been great for those of us working in the sector to see the internal / external tensions grow.  But rather than respond in a constructive and strategic way, many charity brands have dug themselves even deeper holes.

Your brand should be your shield

I think attacks on charities over the next few years will continue to increase because there are so many charities and because they are now seen as being too powerful. Look at what Greenpeace can do with their  ‘Tell Lego to dump Shell’ campaign– they can mobilise millions globally to stop a partnership.  It was good to see Greenpeace in action (and succeeding in stopping the Lego Shell partnership!). Without Greenpeace, life would be much less interesting (and less organisations would be kept in check).


And not to mention the collective campaigning might of, 2Degrees and Kiva, and crowd funding sites like Indiegogo which raised 1.9m Euros from 108K people to help the Greek Deficit. OK, it is some way off the 1.6 billion target, but the sense of charity from the community is of great interest. There has also been a huge increase in charities and NGOs over recent years.

greek bailout

But I want to return to our central theme of having a robust and clear brand / USP, and acting as a shield for your reputation (and maintaining ‘trust’ in challenging times). I’d like to present a checklist of the things I think charitable organisations could do to be one step closer to dealing with challenging times (and the odd poorly selected partnership).  A clear brand / USP should:

  1. Protect you and keep people trusting in you during the bad times – when the going is not so good
  2. Get that bit more out of people who get out of bed for the cause, sometimes for no/low money, such as volunteers and Trustees. I think of the brilliant words of Barbara Cassani, who founded Go Fly under British Airways. She talked about inspring the cabin crew in the low cost airline by saying they were the in-flight ‘champagne’. Your brand vision and brand message should inspire and be the organisational in-flight champagne.
  3. Make delivery more efficient (and effective) when working with limited resource
  4. Appeal to new partners (staff, alumni and new staff and Trustees)
  5. Add a certain vibrancy and chutzpah

It’s important to have the right tools in place to enable people to be able to express / interpret the brand vision and USP in their own words. A well defined brand strategy should have the following elements:

Brand strategy

A. An outline of your purpose
– How it works
– What it does very well

B. The vision and values

C. Benefits
– What you do better than anyone else

D. Objectives for growth
– Benefits and opportunities

E. The main audience and stakeholder messaging (and the shift you may need with each)

Brand guide
A. An outine of what’s on and off brand, words, images, logo use, strapline

B. How the various sub brands work together
– The common thread which guides and unites key functions like fundraising, operations, programmes, advocacy, marketing, comms; commonalities and unique messages

C. How different comms channels should be used
– Guides for each type of comms material
– Guide for use on website and intranet

D. How the brand should be used on social media (including Twitter, Facebook, You Tube and Flickr as well as a guide for working on partner sites)

E. A written content guide is useful; the National Trust do this very well, see here (a written content guide is sufficient, but a film guide is very useful)

F. Great written case studies showing a slice of work, through one persons perspective, communicate the story well (how it works and what it does). Organisation and places can be complex for people to understand, people can only really take in a handful of messages at a time, so producing a handful of case study films would be a good asset. Mario’s personal battle with cancer and the support he got from Macmillan Cancer Support hit me hard in this film – Mario’s Story and I “get” exactly what he went through and what the charity did for him – even within this small focus of their work

G. Effective corporate partnerships; checklist for sectors and approach

H. A brand crisis team / crisis outline, with staff trained and prepared for “an aggressive and fast-moving” news cycle, should negative stories arise

These are just some of the ways you can help build your charity brand. People are a charity’s main asset and a few well-placed guides can make all the difference.  It’s important to have the right tools in place to enable people to be able to express / interpret the brand vision and USP in their own words. A well-defined brand strategy will not only serve you well when the media are in a less charitable mood, but also help you define value to all your supporters and ultimately help you grow. My advice to you would be to complete an audit of what your organisation has in place and strive to be a brand champion.

Giles Robertson is Managing Director of Green Banana Marketing Ltd and  independent Marketing Consultant, Marketing Society Fellow, Charity Group chairman, Trustee of Marine Conservation Society and proud member of Bucks Business First.

You can meet Giles at our Big Impact Not-for-Profit Conference on 29th Sept, where he’s delivering a Brand Building Essentials workshop.

Follow him on twitter @gogreenbanana and Linkedin or email at

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

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 ]

Work Experience

This week we have been participating in work experience at Community Impact Bucks. In the past week we have learnt about day to day life in a regular office job, but have also used it as an opportunity to learn about many other aspects of careers and related decision making. We have enhanced our understanding of social skills and their usage in the working environment, by working both with colleagues and with members of the public, improving our confidence and our ability to adapt to situations outside of our comfort zones.

We have also learnt about different areas of communication, especially in the modern, digital age, and have used our knowledge of social media to our advantage to achieve greater publicity for the organisation. We also used our knowledge to create higher news valued text to display on a more regular basis, which would reach a larger target market of the modern day. In addition, we were given a tutorial with the website Hootsuite, which, previously unbeknownst to us, allowed us to post to multiple websites at the same time, exponentially multiplying the publicity that a post could achieve.

We attended a few events over the week, including a community launch of Men in Sheds in Amersham, where we aided in the distribution of catering supplies, and engaged in photography. We also took a course about volunteering with vulnerable adults, where we learnt about risk assessment, listening skills and working alone. Finally, we also went out in the i-Van, a community vehicle where youth can try out music production and animation, along with other multimedia and practical crafts.

We designed flyers and leaflets using software to advertise new projects and websites, and also edited photos to include quotes from case studies and interviews in preparation for posting on social media in upcoming weeks. We also learnt basics about google analytics and website marketing strategy and design.

We have enjoyed our time at Community Impact Bucks so far and are looking forward to our final day tomorrow. We feel we have learnt many different skills and are now more confident in our lives as a result.

– Michael and Imogen


Charities should be more like businesses!


I was at a meeting the other day explaining the needs of the charity sector to a Government advisor and he was shocked to hear that only about 20% of charities have a business plan. Scary! There was mild panic in his eyes.

Surely charities should act more like businesses? That is a statement I hear often – I say it too – and on one level I think we can all agree with that – if that means that charities should be efficient, have a clear vision, act professionally with donors’ money and have a well thought out business plan – who could argue! (Actually there are plenty of businesses that should be more like businesses in that case!). And, incidentally, that principle of being business-like is what we support 100%. The team here at Community Impact Bucks are expert at helping charities to develop a sustainable strategy, to improve efficiency and governance. So that should be the end of the matter. No news.

But I do wonder about how fair this argument is. Are we really saying that if you, as charities, want to carry on doing the fulfilling things you “enjoy” doing you need to step up and properly earn your way in the world like… business?!

When I raise this issue with charities there is generally agreement round the table, but not always. Some charity founders say that … “making money is not our business”. Are they wrong? Today’s thinking would suggest that they are very behind the times, but others would argue that they are not in “business” to make money, they are in “business” to deliver things that are beneficial for the rest of us in general – so why should we burden them with a completely new role?

Furthermore, are we really being even handed? The traditional support services delivered by the Government (local and national) are increasingly being devolved to local charities, yet many of those services provided are still just as important to our way of life as they ever were. Some of us seem to be squeamish about other organisations such as the NHS getting involved in “business” of any sort. If we hear nurses complain of not enough resources we don’t suggest that he or she should put down the drip, the swab or the bed pan and roll up his or her sleeves and diversify – selling raffle tickets and offering a night in the ward as an inexpensive B&B to earn a few quid. We say thank goodness they are there when we need them and if we have to pay a bit of tax to make sure the nurses have the resources they need so be it. Money well spent… Yet if that nurse was working for a charitable organisation where money was short we would suggest just that.

If we have the misfortune to have to call on the services of a firefighter or police officer, do we really want them to be squeezing us in between running a fund raising event or charging hen parties for a ride in the fire engine? No, we want the firefighter or police officer to be thinking about delivering their excellent lifesaving service that they do so well – and leave the fund raising to us. We pay taxes.

So why do we feel so comfortable about advising charity to get out and earn its way? I assume it depends on the charity and the cause to an extent. But society is not made up of ‘businesses’ and ‘charities’, it is made up of people who, in general, want similar things for a better life. A good business finds ways to make a profit and offer a solution – but we never ask a business to “step up and take care of the elderly, the sick or homeless”. They may say it’s not their job. They do business and a charity does charity.

The reality, however, is that we do see many business owners who do just that. They say how can we help charities? It is also true that we have many charities that embrace business strategy and develop a sustainable income. I just think that when we wave the finger at charities and demand that they need to start acting like a proper business in order to survive, we should remember two things. Firstly, few businesses would ever survive offering a service for free or offering a service to customers who often could not pay, and secondly let’s remember if charities really can’t make that transition then we all could suffer.

Yes charities do need to be more like businesses – but the real magic happens when businesses and charities work together and we all win.

Two-Tier Rural Communities!

Turville, Buckinghamshire, England

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting the 5 MP’s for the county: Dominic Grieve, Steve Baker, Cheryl Gillan, David Lidington and John Bercow – courtesy of Bucks Business First. The meeting was to discuss the rural economy in Bucks. We were joined by some great farming and rural businesses that I have had the pleasure to work with in the past.

It was, as you would imagine, really enlightening to hear from the key MP’s about their views. Rupert Waters, Head of Economic Research, gave a brilliant assessment of the national economy and where Buckinghamshire fits into the wider national and world picture. In short it seems “Top of class” nationally but “could do better … see me!” internationally. It is clear that Buckinghamshire is a net contributor to the economy, second only to London, and the most affluent county second to Surrey.

Buckinghamshire is a rural county so it stands to reason that this great wealth is being made in the rural hinterland. Not only can we boast beautiful scenery, a great place to live (confirmed by The Telegraph – second only to Rutland – make up your own mind about that! Rutland named as Britain’s best rural place to live )

But I wonder how evenly spread this success is. Buckinghamshire seems to be the best place to start a new business and, outside London, has the highest number of new business start-ups in the country. Most businesses – over 80%- have fewer than 10 employees and half of the ‘micro businesses’ are in the rural areas. Good access to markets, great support for small businesses, good communications, M40, M4, M25, excellent rail. All sound good.

I sound a cautious note here. Not to spoil the party or deny the great success of local business, but to shed some light into the corners that the glitter ball does not reach. In the darker corners of the rural county two areas of rural infrastructure are critical and largely absent. This is creating a two-tier business world. I voice the concerns of many rural businesses if I say that we could still do better by evening out the rural/urban playing field.

Rural Broadband: I am sure you must be bored with hearing about it, but it is still an issue for many. A business without good broadband will struggle. Most of those Buckinghamshire businesses suffering without access to fast broadband are in rural areas (the LEP, Chris Rawson and his team have done a great job getting broadband out to many towns and larger villages but there are still many without!). These businesses cannot effectively market, take payments, interact, upload promotional videos, video conference etc. One example just a few miles from Princess Risborough and High Wycombe is Orchard View Farm – a great new developing business yet has to wait for a cloudless sky to take a credit card payment!

Rural Transport: With our towns bulging at the seams, very little low-cost housing and our rural villages becoming retirement and dormitory villages we must ask why? Access to good employment options is usually a matter of transport as much as anything else. Without good rural transport employment will be challenging for both businesses seeking good quality employees, and the employees themselves. If young people are to come back after education to Buckinghamshire then these issues must be sorted out.

In a county as successful as Buckinghamshire it is easy to forget that some rural communities and businesses are still struggling. Identifying the problem is the easy part. Changing things will be harder. At Community Impact Bucks we are Buckinghamshire’s representative on the Rural Community Council, member of the Bucks Rural Affairs Group and Wycombe Rural Forum – so I must shoulder some of the responsibility to raise these issues but also to see if we can be part of the solution!

Too many charities…?

Charity money collection boxes

Instead of setting up new charities, funders should think about “investing” in donor-advised funds or Community Support organisations instead, said the retiring Chief Executive of the Charity Commission, Sam Younger . He advocated supporting organisations that underpin and support charities, rather than funding some of the small charities themselves. He further advised that some people should think very carefully before setting up their own charity.

This, the parting shot of the retiring chief executive last year, was to outline why he believed a 16.1 per cent increase in the registration of new charities in one year was too many.

I read this statement with great interest. At Community Impact Bucks we see and support many charities – and I think we are the type of organisation that Sam Younger was suggesting donors should support. There are 2,500 registered charities in Bucks, and more unregistered “groups” doing charity work, hundreds of Community Interest Companies – and they come in all shapes and sizes. Most have a turnover of less than £25,000 and many do similar things or support similar areas to each other. In some sectors they are falling over themselves. And the number is growing, with at least a dozen setting up in Buckinghamshire since January.

So is it a good thing to have so many charities? Should they be culled? Forced to merge to improve efficiencies? Paul Palmer (Professor Paul Palmer is the Director of the Centre for Charity Effectiveness at the Cass Business School, City University London) writing the Civil Society Blog comments on this point. He argued that each charity has its own administration, and other costs, and shouldn’t they get together and merge in order to keep administration costs down? Paul even questions trustee expenses. Fewer charities; fewer trustees!

He really does have a point, when considering the situation dispassionately… However, if the charity sector is driven by anything it is passion! Napoleon or Adam Smith (take your pick it is attributed to both!) said that we are a nation of shop keepers, and he/they may be right, but it’s not about keeping shop. We are not a nation driven by retail, that’s not why we are a nation of shop keepers …. it’s about owning our own shop, championing our own shop, innovating our own shop. We are nation of people who think we can do it for ourselves, and we think we can do it better.

When people start a charity they usually do so because they feel frustrated that something is wrong in society and they have a way of putting it right, or that they simply must do something to make a bad situation better for others. They really believe that they are the only people who can! Arrogant… Impulsive… Courageous… Yes, all these attributes are true, but are these adventurers also collaborative? Not sure. Many people who run charities put their lives into making things work for their beneficiaries – the sick, poor, children, disaffected – as well as spreading passion in sport, music and the arts. The urge that drives individuals to set up their own “shop”, or charity, is the same passion that drives them to elicit support from volunteers, to persuade business to support their cause and to stand in the rain and collect coins. Would that passion still exist if they were forced to join the more successful organisation that had similar aims? Would they be as driven if they were not the owner, if they did not feel that sense of responsibility? I think not.

Like small businesses, charities can fail, go out of business or, simply, the driving forces get tired and lose the necessary drive to keep going. But while they are operating, often on a shoe string, they are, very often, doing great work. As for value for money the measures are complex but £’s given to most charities can create £100’s of impact through volunteer time that would not otherwise exist.

In short some charities can be a bit inefficient, amateur and make mistakes – but so can business and, believe it or not, so can Government. So I would say…. yes let’s encourage mergers, increased efficiency, business and marketing expertise and help these organisations where help can be given – in training, support with managing accounts, trading and governance – let’s help (at Community Impact Bucks that is what we do!). And where efficiencies can be made with charity leaders working together to solve problems then yes, let’s help them to do so – but let’s not kill the passion that drives these courageous champions by forcing them to donate their funds and efforts to another organisation that was there first or seems to be doing things better. If there are too many charities now then, given the level of funding cuts on the horizon, people will choose to support the most efficient and the others, however well meaning, will simply run out of funds or energy and close down. But until then Vive le shop keeper! Vive le small business owner! …. and Vive le small charity leader!