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Donation or investment? Leveraging scarce funds for charity

In recent months the charity sector in the UK has been through a torrid time, coping with pandemic restrictions and reduced income while having to maintain front line services for the ill, the vulnerable and those in need.
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Understandably the priority for charity executives and trustees is protecting services and maintaining funding to, for example, clinical care. Every pound of income has a clear purpose but unfortunately there have been financial cutbacks, furloughing of staff and redundancies, particularly in support functions.

No different, you might say, to any other business. In tough times we have to make choices and those choices sometimes have difficult consequences. Does the additional sensitivity and associated vulnerability of charity support make this decision making any easier? Whilst in business many decisions don’t have life or death consequences, for some charities that is exactly the consequence and therefore doesn’t that make decision making and prioritisation that much more straightforward?

In our role of a business adviser we have the benefit of being able to stand back from a company and take a dispassionate view on a client’s choice of strategy and its execution. This sometimes allows us to see options and outcomes that aren’t apparent to the owners who are involved day-to-day. Or, if they can see the options, to help them change priorities, approach and investment to achieve the outcome they seek.

So it has been in recent months with Woking & Sam Beare Hospices, the charity we support in our local community. We had several fundraising ideas for this year, following a successful campaign raising money, support and awareness in 2019. However, the pandemic put paid to many of them as it did to many of the charity’s big fundraising events. The hospice needed money to maintain its clinical services, so the obvious response was to donate to support that objective. At the same time the charity was making difficult but necessary decisions on reducing costs in its support services and back office functions.

An area where the charity had to make cost savings was in its fundraising team. Given a pound to spend wouldn’t anyone put that pound to clinical care rather than support staff? But what if that pound could generate five pounds for clinical care? That thought triggered a conversation with Phil Wormley, the Director of Fundraising.

Taking an investment mindset rather than a donation mindset we set out a proposition whereby we would pay to bring one of the furloughed fundraising staff back to work. The money could only be used for this purpose, not to go directly to clinical care. It was a challenging proposition when the charity was desperate for front line funding. However given a productive fundraiser would produce several multiples of their cost in new donations wouldn’t this be a wise investment? Whilst there would be a small delay between paying to bring the fundraiser back and new donations being raised, and the ongoing pandemic made the ‘return on investment’ less predictable it has proven to be a successful initiative.

Director of Fundraising at Woking and Sam Beare Hospices, Phil Wormley, comments, “Having been in the fundraising sector for over 20 years, I have come across many creative and clever ideas to raise money for so many worthy causes. It’s not often anymore that I am genuinely confronted with a new and unique proposition, however the pandemic and subsequent lockdown has meant that we have all had to think differently. In fact, being agile and adapting to the circumstances is exactly what myself and my team as fundraisers have had to do as we navigate an ever-changing landscape particularly for our hospice-led and supported events. When Ian contacted me and put forward the idea of funding the return to work of a furloughed employee I was very pleasantly surprised by this offer as I could see the value to us and to him from what is a very entrepreneurial and philanthropic approach.

While most people are keen to fund direct care and to know exactly where their money is going the huge positive from this particular funding was that it enabled us to use the funds as an investment in staff resource, skills and expertise. We have been able to leverage a far greater return that has ultimately delivered even more care to the patients we serve that would have ordinarily been possible from a straight-forward donation, as valued and appreciated as that would have been.

I am very thankful to Ian for what I feel was a brave, considered and very generous approach and for the other ideas and suggestions that he has shared with me during lockdown that have also been of great value to us in our continued efforts to generate income within the fundraising team.”

When faced with a challenging business environment how might you as a business owner stand back and take an ‘investment’ mindset rather than deal with what is right in front of you? Sometimes it takes the extra creativity and encouragement from the outside – and that’s what we do at Henchards: help you see and implement value and wealth generating business growth ideas. Find out how we can help you.

(Love photo created by rawpixel.com – www.freepik.com)

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