Select a news channel on your TV or radio, or access just about any current affairs website and much of the rhetoric describes a Britain recovering from the devastating blow dealt by the 2008 credit crunch. A stronger and more prosperous Britain. While this may bear some semblance of truth for pockets of society, it is palpably not true for all. Amongst the industries most affected by both recent and current socio-economic uncertainty has been the Charitable Sector. Here we explore five issues facing these organisations in 2016 and how they might be mitigated.
- Public Opinion: For the not-for-profit sector 2015 was not a vintage year. At a time when awareness and funding was needed as much as ever, various media outlets lashed out against it publishing stories that undermined public trust and questioned the integrity of leaders. The Kids Company fiasco epitomised an industry thrust under the microscope and for reasons that were not without justification. Media and thus public rancour stemmed from a belief that a lack of transparency with spending had facilitated only a small percentage of donations to actually be spent on the beneficiary whilst bosses pocketed lucrative salaries. Attempting to overturn public opinion Jenny Turner, managing director of charity specialist PR agency Turner PR advocates a policy of openness with regard to finance management to improve public understanding of how charities work, a move she believes if done tactfully, could even generate support and understanding. Furthermore, Sir Steven Bubb, Chief Executive of Acevo, a network for Charity and Social Enterprise Leaders, believes that charities must seek greater unification with each other to extol the positive impacts of charity work generally rather than each organisation seeking only to tell its own story. In short expert opinion encourages a policy of transparency and unity to overcome suspicion and mistrust.
- Raising Awareness: When it comes down to the brass tacks of actually getting people to notice charities, methods for many have changed little. There will always be the appetite for fund-raising events such as charity runs and family fun days and these are often effective sources of revenue, as are TV and radio advertisements and publications in print media. But the time is ripe for innovation. With a little research clever examples of ways charities have boosted their coffers can be found. Australian medical research charity Mater Prize Home recently partnered major AFL club Brisbane Lions and at a selected game handed out fortune cookies with instructions of how to donate via text. 2,000 of the 15,000 in attendance ended up donating. The initiative acted as proof that a big budget isn’t necessarily required for impressive results and that big names are often more than happy to participate with reputable charities.
- Professional Development: As with any organisation charities must continually look to train and develop leaders. However, government cuts in funding and a public expectation that the bulk of donations is to be spent on beneficiaries directly has left little room for investment in best practises. This vitally important aspect of organisation management need not though be neglected. Charitable Sector organisations must have the confidence to reach out to their corporate associates. Companies that already contribute financially may also be able to help more practically allowing leaders to join in with workshops and training they have outlaid for their own staff. Also, services such as Mentor, RBS’s advisory, support and consultancy body exist to offer not-for-profit organisations the legal advice, HR consultancy, employee training and environmental management advice and support they require.
- The Internet: The ceaseless expansion of the digital world provides a plethora of opportunity charitable sector organisations to assert their presence but with this comes the risk of being lost in the crowd. As particularly social media platforms become more interactive, a picture of a forlorn looking child or neglected animal juxtaposed with a phone number just won’t cut it anymore as an effective fundraising tool. As we discussed in the raising awareness section, innovation is key. And for maximum results innovation requires interaction. In keeping with the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid) US charity Human Rights Campaign adopted the colour red to highlight their cause and within 24 hours of launching their campaign 2.7 million Facebook profile pictures had been turned red in support. Likewise, in just three and a half years, The Humane Society of the United States has managed to raise $680,000 through a simple contest on their Facebook. In it, punters are asked to send in photos of their pets alongside a $5 donation. Every entrant gets a chance of a prize. Never underestimate the allure allowing people to show off an aspect of their life!
- Auto-Enrolment: The coupling of increased life expectancy with insufficient retirement saving has kick-started the government into passing legislation that is designed to mitigate what has become a UK pensions’ crisis. A key element of this legislation is auto-enrolment: all employers are obliged to auto-enrol their eligible employees into a workplace pension and contribute towards their retirement and charities are not exempt. The policy does have financial implications but charities can manage these with the correct preparation. The starting point must be asking the right questions, for example; What level of pension contributions do you currently offer to staff who join your pension? Can you afford to continue to make pension contributions at this rate for all staff who will be auto-enrolled? If not, what level of pension contributions is affordable? It may seem overwhelming but support is out there. The Charity Finance Group have put together helpful publications on their website (https://www.cfg.org.uk) which provide information on how to get started and tips on how to get ahead of the game.