Mixing business with charity
At a training event last week on collaboration and consortia there was some disquiet among the participants about the use of ‘business speak’ and some participants got a little annoyed at words like market analysis, profit, competitors, etc.
We all know that as a voluntary and community sector organisation we are here for our beneficiaries. We are not ‘for profit’ businesses. However, it is without a doubt in the best interests of our beneficiaries that we are business-like and professional and most organisations in our sector are. We are increasingly delivering contracts and taking part in large scale procurement activities which we could not do without clear strategies, financial controls and processes. However, the sector is so diverse that there are organisations that are a little daunted by this sort of 'commercial' language and are afraid that we might lose what makes us different as a sector.
In this blog I am speaking to those people to say that being business-like is a good thing, as long as we never lose sight of our beneficiaries’ needs.
Next week I am going to look at how private sector can be more voluntary sector-like!
Why should we be business-like?
To answer this question it is best to define what we mean by business-like, as it is obviously quite subjective. In my mind, business-like charities:
- Are accountable
- Are transparent
- Track and measure results
- Have professional marketing and development
- Actively promote their brand
As a sector we are more than aware of the need to open up our organisations to public scrutiny regarding our finances, operational functions, decision-making processes, etc and we know the importance of being accountable for finances and impact. After all, we would not invest in something that we knew nothing about - neither would a funder – and why would they!
However, being accountable and open is not enough – we have to show very clearly why we are in existence. The sector provides so many fantastic services to some of the most marginalised and vulnerable people in society but it is not enough just to say ‘we make a difference’ – we need to show how we make a difference. Admittedly, it can be more difficult sometimes for us to demonstrate success than it is for the private sector. It is easy to track profit but much more difficult to track the difference an intervention makes in a person’s life. There are many ways to track outcomes, and this is not the place to discuss them (try Richard Piper’s blog!). The point is that it is so important that we can show clearly to funders, donors and commissioners the clear and measured outcomes of our work.
It is also important that trustees make sure that the organisation is measuring impact effectively. The trustees govern the charity in the interests of the beneficiaries and they need to have a good idea of what the charity is achieving and how this compares with any strategic or operational plans.
Knowing these outcomes is important, but so is communicating them. Do you know a private sector organisation that does not invest in marketing? It is so difficult to grow services and programmes if we do not promote our organisations and raise our profile. In its most basic form this promotion should include:
- Who you are
- What you do
- How you do it
- Why should someone support you (with time, resources, etc)?
A private sector organisation will sell their product or service and we need to sell the impact we have on our beneficiaries. How we do this will depend on the audience; a funder might need different information from a potential trustee for example.
You work hard – show it off! But never forget why we are here, check yourself for mission drift and consistently plot your progress towards your vision.
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Oonagh Smyth, Senior advisor, shares her advice on governance. Note: Oonagh no longer works for NCVO.