Recently Peter Gotham (Gotham Consulting Ltd and specialist in support to the charity sector) gave a webinar for charities, particularly Councils for Voluntary Service and community accountants, on how to support organisations in financial distress. This blog is based on the presentation given and the discussion at the webinar.
Tackling fraud together
Just in case you are unaware, CFG is celebrating our 30th anniversary this year. While most anniversaries are a time to reflect and look back on what change has occurred, CFG has decided to use this opportunity as a way to look forward. While it is important to remember and reflex, looking at how the charity sector has changed to adapt to challenges and what challenges could be ahead is more important than when CFG started in 1987.
Becca Bunce, Policy and Engagement Manager, Small Charities Coalition
Small charities are being pulled in all directions. The checklist of challenges can be overwhelming; increasing pressures on funding, increased paperwork, increased demand for services – all compounded by an uncertain future. Becca Bunce from the Small Charities Coalition has a plan: stop and put the kettle on.
When speaking to people running small charities, conversation naturally drifts to burn-out. Waking with a jolt at 3am, remembering a task that needs to be done, working extra hours to meet the needs of beneficiaries and concerned that you may not even be around in a few months’ time. So in writing top tips for small charities, this seems the logical start point.
It is not losing sight of the fundamentals of charity: governance, fundraising strategies, collaboration and beneficiaries needs are all important. But, it is difficult to make strategic decisions and take action when you are exhausted by a hostile external environment; concerned about the future support for your beneficiaries and lacking resource to get to the bottom of what may feel like a never ending to-do list.
As a small charity ourselves, the Small Charities Coalition we are aware of how difficult it can be to follow this advice – and we have to remind ourselves to take this advice. We also are aware that not everyone reading this will be from a small charity, but for creating a supportive environment that allows small charities to thrive.
So where to start?
When challenges are this big and there is this much uncertainty it is worth going back to the basics. Rest, headspace, connection to others and finding a supportive community are all seen as extras or ‘nice-to-have’. But these are fundamental needs as humans. We need to reassess our thinking about these in terms of business planning and acknowledge that rest, self-care and community-support are all strategic priorities.
- Have a cup of tea
- Reach out to a friend
- Get support
“I don’t have the time to stop” is a familiar refrain for many in the sector. I think we have all said that at some point. Yet, keeping going runs the risk of developing both decision-fatigue and compassion-fatigue.
Small charities across the UK are made up of passionate, hard-working and driven individuals, determined to make a difference. This passion and drive when pushed too far can also be the undoing of both individuals and organisations.
Resilience and sustainability of all organisations depends on the people in the organisation and the support around it. If people don’t have sufficient headspace and feel isolated in their work then it is easy for people to become overwhelmed by the responsibilities they face and take on within a small charity.
Pausing is not stopping completely. It is recognising that we are human, and for our brains to function well, we need to take breaks.
Have a cup of tea
Whilst having a break, can we suggest a cup of tea? The answers to everything are unlikely to be in tea leaves.
But whether it is having a cup of tea or stepping away from your desk – it is important to make sure you are looking after yourself.
For many small charities I imagine being told to take time for yourself would get an eye-roll and retort, “Where is the time?”
It’s a cliché to remind people that on an airplane we are instructed to put our oxygen mask on first before helping others. But it’s a good one. Small charities are often so focussed on beneficiaries’ needs that it is easy to lose sight of your own. A small break and stepping back can help give some often much needed perspective.
This is not ignoring that many organisations are in crisis mode. The loss of funding for small charities over the last five years has been particularly painful, from the loss of grants and small contracts, to increasing competition for trusts and foundation funding, or social investment not being appropriate and lack of awareness or appropriate platforms to drive individual giving.
It feels hard to justify a break to yourself, and feels more so to funders. But, continuing without a break is a threat to the sustainability of an organisation.
Even though it is difficult to carve out the time, looking after yourself is important and will also enable you to support your organisation and beneficiaries.
When you have made time for headspace, it is a good opportunity to…
Reach out to a friend
Small charities often tell us that they feel isolated and unsure where to turn. Peer-to-peer support is often vital for keeping you in the loop, whether about changes to charity law or new commissioning practices, or simply to remind you that you are doing ok.
Isolating yourself can feel tempting when there is so much to do, and meeting with someone can feel like another task on a never-ending to do list. But again, stepping away, getting a different perspective can help you see a problem more clearly and feel more supported to do your work.
Whilst small charities are facing many challenges, the key thing is that you don’t have to do this alone. Knowing which problem to solve, and in which order can be daunting. And this is where getting support is important.
Attending an event or making time for mentoring can seem frivolous or unjustifiable, given the lack of time, headspace and support. But stepping away, making connections and exploring the challenges is necessary to help with steering through difficult times.
Sometimes you will clearly know the support you need, but at Small Charities Coalition – along with other infrastructure and connecting organisations –knows that often identifying the problem is half the issue. If you don’t know what the problem is – or have identified the wrong one – it is unlikely that you are able to find a solution.
Don’t be afraid to seek support – or to take time to look what is out there.
Being a small charity ourselves and supporting thousands of small charities each year, we know there is room for improvement across all charities and that taking this time is difficult.
If you are looking for a quick start for support, then you can join Small Charities Coalition for free to access a range of services, from 1:1 mentoring, low-cost or free training, events, our helpline and our resources.
We’d also recommend CFG Small Charities Programme which is helping small charities skill-up on key finance issues. Or contact NAVCA to find out about your local CVS.
“This is all a really nice idea, but…”
…it still won’t solve all the external issues.
Coming back to the external environment, whether steering through Brexit or navigating commissioning – there are still challenges. We know they are difficult to overcome.
Part of our role at Small Charities Coalition is championing the work of small charities and making sure the brilliant people who work in these diverse organisation are valued by the wider system we sit in – whether the third sector, government or for-profit.
And just as you and your small charity are dedicated to ensuring communities are supported, we are working with others such as CFG to make sure that as we move into an uncertain future, we as a community support you.
Sometimes, the only way to start is to (briefly) stop.
*If you would like to raise a small charity issue please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Conchita Garcia, Head of Projects and Fund Development at the FSI, has written a blog post for CFG outlining the exciting opportunities for during Small Charity
This year will be the seventh year of Small Charity Week, a brainchild of the Foundation for Social Improvement (FSI), which was launched as a way of profiling the amazing work of the UK’s small charity sector.
Rachel Cooper, Small Charities Programme trainer looks at the love-hate relationship many small charities have with Financial Controls.
As I’ve been delivering the Small Charities Programme Training, I’ve been very surprised at how much debate and discussion has been provoked the particular challenges posed by financial controls in small organisations. There have been great exchanges of ideas (and plenty of wry nods of recognition).
If you have reached this stage, hopefully you have checked whether you are actually eligible or required to have an Independent Examination. If in doubt, the Charity Commission guidance can explain all. So how do you go about finding and choosing an examiner?
Dr Neil Dickson (Associate, ACIE) looks at the value a good Independent Examiner can add to your charity.
Is your charity one of the many eligible for an independent examination? Do you feel confident that you know the difference between a good independent examiner and not-so-good one?
by Heather McLoughlin
On Tuesday I attended the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) Green Budget for 2017. This is an annual event where the IFS looks at economic issues facing the Chancellor before his first Spring Budget in on 8 March 2017 (CFG will be Live Blogging on the day).
Everyone benefits from a strong, resilient and sustainable small charity sector, and small charities often don’t know what they don’t know. So let’s get this message out as widely as possible says CFG’s Nicholas Faraday.
In its 30-year history, Charity Finance Group has built up great niche expertise and experience to offer relevant and impactful support in good financial management to large and medium charities across England and Wales. At CFG, we’re passionate about good financial practice that delivers impact across the charity, not just for those who work in finance.
CFG knows that a successful charity is one where everyone who has an invested interest in it knows something about its finances and is aware of basic principles in good financial management.
Up until now CFG has mainly worked with larger charities but is now widening its reach, thanks to a grant from Esmée Fairbairn Foundation to reach out to small charities (those with an annual income of £1m or less) in England and Wales, community accountants and infrastructure organisations.
The newly-launched Small Charities Programme offers robust foundation-level financial management training for small charities to strengthen their existing practice. It is widely recognised that when a charity has relevant and effective financial management in place, the activity and impact across the whole organisation can flourish.
The focal point of the Small Charities Programme is a dedicated website which provides a portal for small charities to browse and book training sessions and access the free-to-download resources and tools: http://smallcharityfinance.org.uk/
Each training session costs just £20. The programme will run from January – July 2017 in London, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Exeter, Yeovil, Frome, Bridgewater and across Wales. All money raised will fund a travel bursary scheme to ensure that all charities, however small, have access to the training.
There are five modules on offer:
- How to prepare your annual reports
- Budgets, management accounts and cash flow forecasting
- Introduction to paying people
- Bank accounts, record keeping, risk and outsourcing
- Gift Aid how to claim it
These modules were identified in consultation with experts with over 20 years of experience in the voluntary sector. The proposed outlines were tested with a user group, whose members currently work in finance in a small charity, then modified according to their feedback to ensure that the content, level of detail, approach and methodology is pitched appropriately. We’re now piloting the sessions with charities at different levels of income, to refine them even further.
Feedback has been incredibly positive:
‘Sitting down and getting out our calculators and doing a cash flow forecast really helped as I remember it and can apply it practically in my work now’
Tanya Cracknell, Spitz Charitable Trust
A second vital strand of this programme is to strengthen the invaluable work that community accountants and other infrastructure organisations are doing to support small charities in developing stronger financial management skills and in building confidence levels. CFG is working in partnership with NAVCA to reach out to these infrastructure organisations effectively. As well as promoting the programme at the Community Accountants’ annual conference, we are connecting with infrastructure bodies to better understand their needs and gaps in their services and identify where we can help with training and collaboration.
Many infrastructure organisations already offer vital, value-for-money financial services for local small charities. The Small Charities Programme is designed to complement existing services and to signpost small charities to their nearest providers.
Nowadays, we hear plenty about governance, fundraising, training and social media etc. and how we need to build capacity in these areas to ensure sustainability, resilience and impact for beneficiaries. Less is said about finance, but it is good financial management and leadership is critical. This core component is firmly on CFG’s agenda and the Small Charities Programme offers a platform to bring this to the fore. So please help to support this programme to reach those who don’t know that they need to know these things,by sharing about it and spreading the message as widely as possible.
Nicholas Faraday, Small Charities Programme Manager, Charity Finance Group