For a small charity lacking the capacity to run a full tender process, outsourcing can be a daunting prospect. Yet, as has been the case for a number of years, a shortage of skills in the sector remains one of the biggest obstacles to a small charity achieving meaningful growth.
By definition, small charities don’t have a lot of income though, so how can they obtain the skills needed to grow when recruiting a member of staff is beyond them?
Outsourcing is the obvious answer, especially when it comes to external communications and fundraising, although it’s also not always the right option for a small charity. Donors and supporters often form a loyalty to small organisations because they are small, and while not overly professional or polished, there is a belief they are impacting those most in need at a grass roots level. In handing over control of your external communications, for instance, there is a risk that existing supporters might interpret it as a move away from your identity, not to mention the chance they might disagree with the use of charitable funds for promotional purposes.
Working for a small organisation means every penny counts, but outsourcing is not just about the money – it’s a real leap of faith that takes a lot of trust. Often external agencies require agreements over a duration of time that simply isn’t feasible for a not for profit organisation with limited budget and no guaranteed - or even predictable - sources of income for the next quarter, let alone a year.
However, there are situations when outsourcing makes perfect sense as long as it’s done the right way.
While many agencies require long-term commitments, it’s not always the case. There are some who will offer short-term support for a particular activity, such as an appeal run over a defined limited period of time. Take for example the BBC’s Radio 4 and Lifeline appeals. While there is a fairly rigorous application process in order for a charity to be awarded an appeal, applications are open to all – regardless of size. It means they are a great way for small organisation to reach a wide audience without the associated marketing budgets.
Many might be content with the appeal in and of itself, but it also presents a fantastic opportunity to make that extra leap of faith and entrust the promotion of the appeal to the experts. Not only does the appeal then provide a platform to reach new audiences, but also to trial outsourcing as a way of working.
While it may be the first time a charity has looked beyond their organisation for this kind of support, a key factor to reducing risk in the decision-making process should be identifying a digital marketing agency with a solid track record of working with charities.
Although not a packed market space, there are a small but dedicated number of agencies (like us) who can help support small organisations with their external communications. Given they specialise in the third sector, you can expect them to know all-too-well the pressures on charities, so often offer affordable pricing, too.
Furthermore, they will often have a clearer understanding of what you are trying to achieve in a way specific to your cause. For small charities outsourcing these activities, it’s often the case that they are breaking new ground, so an experienced agency will be able to work with you to define your strategy and goals without compromising your message. A degree of hand-holding may be needed at first, but it won’t be new to any reputable agency who has worked in the third sector before.
More often than not in life, taking a first step can be a scary experience and a real leap of faith. But if you make the right steps, then one small step could turn out to be the giant leap your organisation needs.
We are living in an age where charities are under more scrutiny than arguably any other time in living memory. The sector has been rocked by high profile scandals from industry standard-bearers Oxfam and the WWF, seen acrimonious and very public shutdowns (Kids Company) and had to weather waves of bad publicity due to controversial approaches to data management and direct marketing tactics.
Public support has dipped, with fewer people giving to charity than previously. Furthermore, although overall levels of trust haven’t changed too much over the past few years, they remain at their lowest since way back in 2005, with a long-term increase in the number of people who are saying their trust has decreased. And those who feel they cannot trust charities as much as they once could are donating less as a result. The lesson? Trust is crucial for charities to fundraise – and even operate – effectively.
In the wake of this comes the new approach from the Fundraising Regulator, where the subject(s) and details of a complaint are made public. The decision was made by the Board of the Fundraising Regulator back in October 2018, and came into effect on 1 March 2019. The first set of 10 named investigation summaries was issued earlier this month, with the list including some industry big-hitters, with Macmillan Cancer Support, Alzheimer’s Society, The Salvation Army and the NSPCC all among those listed.
Transparency is becoming ever more important in the sector. Now that the Fundraising Regulator is bringing its approach more in line with that of the Charity Commission (which has publicly named organisations subject to investigations since June 2014), what could easily be a name-and-shame exercise at a time when charities need it least, has become an opportunity for the sector to start rebuilding public trust at a time when charities need it most.
A crucial element of the naming process is that it’s not just charities in the dock, but also the private companies they often enlist to undertake fundraising activities on their behalf. While not held in the same regard as charities, these fundraising companies nevertheless carry the reputation of charities in their hands whenever they interact with the public, be it in the street, on the doorstop or over the phone. So, to include them in a public naming complaints process will only help to draw a clearer line between the two types of organisation.
Why is this important? Put simply, in the event the fundraiser was in breach of the Code of Fundraising Practice, it reduces the reputational damage done to a charity with relatively little control over the behaviour of contracted fundraisers operating in their name. Of course, it is a charity’s responsibility to do its due diligence when selecting an agency, but that can only go so far – which is why the Regulator is needed.
In addition to the ability to separate the charity from blame, this new approach also clearly details the steps taken to date and what is expected next from the organisations involved. This will not only improve accountability, it also gives any interested members of the public rare insight into what is being done to improve the way funds are generated – especially at bigger charities. As a rule, the general public can reasonably accept mistakes will be made, as long as some learning and positive change comes out of the situation. Of course, it may mean there will be uncomfortable conversations to be had, and potential public relations issues to be managed, but if that is what it takes to get the public back on side, then in the long run it can only be a good thing.
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