In light of the challenges many charities face and following on from the pro bono COVID-19 support we provided last year, Eastside Primetimers has started offering free monthly charity advice surgeries for not-for-profit organisations.
To date, 40 organisations of all different sizes and causes have taken up these thirty-minute sessions, covering fundraising & income generation, recruitment & flexible work, and digital transformation. Participants have ranged from a new international health charity that had raised £50k, to a well-established disability charity in the East of England with a turnover of more than £13m. Though some were organisations EP had existing relationships with, a majority were new to our team, offering us fresh insights into different corners of the sector and their experiences. I write today to tell you more about what we have discovered and what they might tell us about emerging needs across the sector.
The big themes revolved around how best to innovate with charity business models; the need to reconfigure workforce teams (again) as a hybrid model emerges, blending remote and office work; and seeking out digital solutions to sustain these new models.
Fundraising and income generation
Despite many organisations finding that (counterintuitively) their reserves had grown during the pandemic year, the future outlook seems very different and the majority of our advice sessions involved charities facing significant shortfalls going into 2021/22, with emergency funding now beginning to wind down.
We heard from charities who were losing community fundraising and seeking to move towards public sector grants and contracts, while others were seeking corporate partnerships or wanted to strengthen their reach to new customers and supporters through better digital fundraising.
Uniting many of these challenges was a need to review and consider the full range of income generation opportunities available to the charity. While management for fundraising was once packaged into the job of a Fundraising Director, it now requires a multi-dimensional approach, and is a many-tentacled beast. Good management points to an organisation having a coordinated strategy for income generation and probably – in time – a single role to oversee it.
Recruitment and flexible work
Our advisers found that a variety of organisations were seeking guidance on how to facilitate remote working, both on a practical level (e.g. the best systems like Microsoft Dynamics, recommendations for chat tools, and how to maintain data protection) and on a human one, such as how to ensure self-care and mutual support. One of our advisers suggested a charity speak to their staff and publish an internal top ten list of advice based on their own homeworking experiences, as every organisation is different and communication is central to managing it well.
What’s critical here, though, is that organisations remain very active in reviewing and defining the working practices which are going to make most sense for a more permanent model. This means considerations must be made about the legal and financial implications of a mixed office, and adaptations to staff contracts if needed. Leaders talked to us about needing to communicate more rather than less in this environment.
On the recruitment side, charities were interested in how to run remote processes, develop a structured recruitment plan for the post-lockdown period and draw upon behavioural assessment/psychometrics. Our consultants were also heartened to find interest in proper Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) practices, given the sector-wide responsibility charities must face up to on diversity and representation.
Running through all our charity advice surgeries was the hot topic of digital transformation, where COVID has prompted a long-awaited revolution in the sector. We spoke to a disability charity about how to raise revenue and manage digital rights around the online edition of a key handbook, for example. Other priorities charities had included discerning the best tools for managing their volunteers, marketing themselves on social media in lieu of a visible community presence, and how education and training charities in particular can create blended e-learning sessions, catering for both those in the room and at home.
Many were interested in how best to start on the digital journey, to which our advice is to start with a small feasible project and then build incrementally from here, as this popular ‘7 tips’ piece explained.
We also heard many common concerns about whether it is better to have a separate digital strategy, or incorporate digital within an organisational strategy. The answer is simple says digital specialist, Marc Goblott – “if you make good use of technology already, then integrate your digital strategy by figuring out what role technology can play in helping to meet each of your strategic objectives”. This means mapping out digital objectives against your strategic goals, then creating a plan to deliver those objectives – the most important things to consider are the direct alignment of digital to the main strategy and ensuring that digital is embedded across the whole organisation, not in a silo operation or a shadow strategy.
Join our upcoming surgeries
Our next round of charity advice surgeries will be held on Friday April 9th– sign up now if you would like to speak to our specialists about workforce planning, digital transformation or fundraising & income generation.
Richard Litchfield is chief executive of Eastside Primetimers