The charity had been in existence for over seven years but was still operating out of the back bedroom of its founder. It was decided by the Trustees that the charitable work could only move forward by setting up a small office in London and developing its systems, processes and strategic aims.
At the beginning of this work we applied for, and fortunately received, a grant that ran for three years and covered the majority of core costs. This provided a useful time frame for the development of this project.
Very early on, working with the Chairman and Trustees, we clarified the purpose and objectives of the charity. Over the three years these were adjusted slightly as the services were developed.
First, and foremost, we needed to be focused on ensuring that the local communities could support the rehabilitation of patients. This involved capacity building over the full range of a patient’s journey of recovery. Secondly, it was important to raise public awareness. Thirdly, it was necessary to ensure that there was a thriving and healthy network of sustainable local organisations. And lastly, that the charity remained healthy, effective and sustainable while there was still a need for its services.
Achievements by Charity Objectives
1. Capacity Building – The charity is now working to ensure that the necessary skills and knowledge are in place to provide the effective, sustainable support essential to helping patients rebuild their lives. This was done by helping to:
- Introduce outside volunteer expertise, through specialist teams, who work alongside local practitioners to share skills and knowledge.
- Coordinate the work of local practitioners to provide an integrated service that supports patient rehabilitation.
- Develop specialised international networks of practitioners (particularly south/south) who will share experiences and best practice for ongoing support.
2. Raising Awareness – It was essential to identify the charity’s key relationships / supporters and ensure that it was able to provide a consistent source of information to them. This helped to develop and maintain a committed network of supporters. The main areas of focus were:
- Website – The website was completely updated. This provided a more interesting site to visit with a particular emphasis on the stories and news updates. This produced a 10 fold increase in unique visitors per month.
- Social media / computing – the other key element to the increased website visits was social media. This proved to be an effective way to engage many of the charity’s supporters and develop new ones. The work included writing blogs and news updates, having a presence on Facebook and Twitter, and commenting on news items/blogs on key internet sites.
- Events – The charity also began participating in fund raising and awareness development events such as the different charity runs around the country. Not only did these provide much needed unrestricted funds but clearly engaged the charity’s supporters and increased the number of people hearing about the work.
- Broadcast media – We had some significant successes with articles and interviews in the UK – from the Independent and Telegraph to Sunrise Radio and the BBC. This also included interviews by media from around the world (eg. Asia News Network in Malaysia)
- Marketing materials – Over the years Annual Reviews, newsletters and brochures were introduced. These were very useful in terms of keeping supporters up-to-date.
- Research – This was very labour intensive work that Masters students were willing to carry out as work experience. The challenge was to ensure that the results were focused and of a high standard. We also began developing long term relationships with two universities that specialised in the area.
3. Healthy and Thriving Network of Local Organisations – The charity helped to set up local organisations in country, ensuring that there were competent staff and effective systems in place. Over time they are expected to be financially and organisationally independent:
- New organisations – Over the three years two overseas organisations were set up. It was absolutely essential that the local supporters involved were completely committed to the work and capable of driving the development forward. The impetus had to come from them – the charity can only help by sharing best practices, providing some seed money and supporting the management.
- Management support – Similar to the other specialist teams the intention of this work was to help the in-country management to help themselves. In each example above the volunteer’s terms of reference clearly state that they should work ‘alongside’ staff rather than doing the work for them. It was very important that all the support in this area was very pragmatic and practical. The local organisations do not have the time or inclination to indulge in anything else.
- Self-supporting network – There is often less resistance to north/south support compared to some south/south training sessions. South/south support must be seen as peer to peer – not expert to learner. While it is important to maintain the independence of each local organisation, and their ability to support themselves, there is a real opportunity to share learning and best practice with their peers. We worked to develop systems that supported the development of relationships. This included a resource centre and forum, workshops and conferences.
4. Charity Well Established and Sustainable
- Governance – It was essential that the charity’s charitable activities were in line with its objects. For example, in accounting terms any activity that falls outside the objects can not be viewed as charitable activity and can have a significant impact on the costing ratio between charitable and non-charitable activity. Over the three years we continued to monitor this and ended up submitting changes to the Charities Commission.
- Trustees – As the charity grew the demands on the staff increased dramatically. This put additional pressure on the volunteer trustees to provide support. The charity had been quite fortunate that many of the trustees had taken an active role in the charity. However, this was not sustainable. Our experience showed that the role of trustees should be focused on upholding the charity’s legal, funding and strategic processes – taking ultimate responsibility for directing the affairs of the charity, ensuring that it is solvent, well-run, and delivering the charitable outcomes for the benefit of the public for which it has been set up. Direct involvement by the trustees in the management of the charity can prove problematic. In the future to ensure sustainability, the plans and expectations of the charity must reflect the resources and capabilities of the management/staff.
- Accounts and budgets – Over the past years the accounts and budgets evolved significantly to keep pace with the requirements of the growing charity. There were two complete overhauls of the accounts and budgets in three years. The first was to meet more rigorous reporting requirements of the Charities Commission. The second change was made necessary by the increased number of restricted funds received and the complexity of monitoring them.
- Fund raising – It was essential to have a clear fund raising strategy for covering the charity’s core costs. This included effectively managing donor relations to ensure a sustainable network of supporters. And, it was essential that trustees were all fully supporting the charity’s objects and strategic plan. This was reflected in the support/funding that they brought to the charity. Other sources of funding included: trust fund applications, online donations, events, and large government agency applications. In the accounts we also began capturing the costs of an expert volunteer’s time contribution – to be used in our proposals when matching funding was required.
- Supporter management – it was an essential step in the charity’s development to incorporate a donor/supporter management (CRM) system into our processes. While it can be quite a time consuming exercise to keep it up-to-date, it was essential in the charity’s ability to manage its relationships with donors, partners, patrons, ambassadors and volunteers.
- Staff – It was an interesting challenge to maintain continuity with a small part time staff. There was a distinct trade-off between having a smaller number of full time staff versus a slightly larger number of part time staff. The smaller number provided better continuity across the week and more consistency in approach. The larger number of staff provided more backup, ‘more eggs in more baskets’, and a greater number of perspectives.
I believe that the charity made significant progress over the three years. It is now a well established small charity that is recognised in many areas of the world as a source for expertise. Most of the key administrative processes are now in place both for running the charity and the services provided. It has also taken big steps forward in its ability to work with expert volunteers and develop the capacity of local practitioners to support the rehabilitation of patients in-country.
The rapid growth also brought challenges – particularly the need to ensure that adequate resources (funding and staff/volunteers) were in place to sustain and develop the work. Given the current economic climate, and difficulty of raising funds, it became a real challenge to balance the need for funding against the need to deliver the charitable services.
However, it is very rewarding to see that the charity is now organisationally strong enough to attract significant grants. For example, it recently received a UN grant for over US$400k over two years.
The charity is now in an excellent position to make an even larger impact on developing local capacity and raising awareness. More and more people from around the world are coming to the charity for support and direction and it is getting increasing support from influential people and organisations.
‘You have worked extremely hard and built the systems and structure from virtually nothing. When you joined there was only the most rudimentary of systems. We now have systems in place that can support our activities no matter how large we grow or how complex our activities. We simply would not have got to the stage we are at without you.’ Chairman of the Charity
‘…congratulations on what you have achieved for (the charity) and warm good wishes for your future..’ Key Funder to the Charity