A new report from Charity Think Tank and Consultancy New Philanthropy Capital Charities taking charge: Transforming to face a changing world finds that business as usual can no longer work for charities; a familiar focus on external factors like the fundraising climate and commissioning practices needs to be supplemented by a focus on what is within charities’ power now, it says. Here Lucy de Las Casas, Director of Think Tank and External Affairs, NPC, offers thoughts on what funders can do to support charities responding to a 'new normal'...
Charities face challenging times. Alongside the spate of high-profile collapses, crises and criticisms are social, demographic, funding, policy and technological trends, which all play a role.
In NPC's research with 400 charity leaders, Charities taking charge: transforming to face a changing world
, we explored ideas and approaches that offer charities a way forward (see City Philanthropy’s coverage here
). We found that whilst charity leaders have little control over these external factors, how to respond to the situation is within their control. We also found innovative leaders harnessing resources beyond funding including technology, new partnerships, and new ways of relating to communities, as well as rethinking the relationship with the state and the public. And enabling this a strategy focused on mission and impact, and strong governance and leadership that embraces risk and supports collaboration.
The message from our research is that charity leaders can take control and respond to these challenging times, so that they can continue to support those they serve. And while the direction of travel and momentum must lie with charities, funders will play an important role. At NPC we'd like to work with funders to explore what can be done to support these changes, and for starters here are three thoughts.
1. Understand the context in which charities you fund are operating and the pressures affecting them. Is the current operating model tenable, or does the future look uncertain? Are there opportunities for charities to do things differently, in a way that both delivers impact and is more sustainable long-term? In our research we found most charities were starting to feel the pressure and a need to respond.
2. Be supportive of change—whether a review of strategic direction and focus, exploring a new business model, or having tough conversations about a contracting relationship. Change is inherently risky, but continuing regardless is not the answer either. Think about how to fund in a way that enables charities to take positive risk—exploring and taking opportunities—not constantly guarding against the downside. Grants that are risk averse almost inevitably create risk averse behaviour in charities. Moral support is useful too—being bold can be scary.
3. Finally, think about what’s needed to help charities to operate in these new ways. Charities and leaders need access to expertise and support—particularly when considering and undertaking change. Many of our findings point to more collaborative working, but this needs facilitating and supporting. And a strong and coordinated voice is often needed too. Organisations such as local CVS’s, NAVCA and Small Charities Coalition, or issue specific bodies such as Clinks in criminal justice, have an important role to play, but are often undervalued to our collective detriment.
It’s a delicate balance to strike—supporting whilst enabling charities to take control—but it’s worth getting right because it’s an investment in the future.