If you thought 2016 was a tough year, 2017 looks set to be just as challenging. Take LocalGiving’s second annual report on the sustainability of local charity and community groups, for example. It found that 78% of its respondents expect demand for their services to increase even more than they have already but that only a fifth of these organisations feel sufficiently resourced to meet this need.
Coupled with this is the finding that just over half of groups see income generation as the most pressing concern, with a 67% predicting stagnation or downturn in their financial position over the coming year. Although 79% of respondents are confident that their organisation can sustain itself over the coming 12 months, this positivity drops to less than half when extended to 5 years. This lack of sustainability is a huge concern for us all and more importantly for the vulnerable people the sector serves.
One way in which charities can protect themselves against a constantly changing environment is by equipping themselves with the right skills and knowledge. Business mentoring can play a key role here – not just for operational matters but for fundraising and financial issues too.
Having spent six years facilitating mentoring relationships between top business leaders and small charity CEOs I’ve seen how the business mentoring process can affect real change, particularly within financial sustainability. The charity leaders I work with often tell me how they feel stuck and hampered in thinking creatively about sustainable solutions for the future. Change requires leaders to look at their organisation in a new way but this is incredibly challenging especially if they try to go it alone.
How can mentoring help?
Of course there are differences between the corporate and charity sectors, but there are also many similarities between the challenges that both business and charity leaders face. Difficulties with income generation, people, change and governance are felt by both sectors and all leaders managing them.
So what value can business mentors offer fundraisers and fundraising?
Mentors can draw on their own experiences and share their knowledge and insight gleaned from years of working in the field, attending conferences and events, and participation in their own development programmes. Equally, having the perspective from someone outside of your usual network, who understands the pressures of your role but who is not bogged down by the same internal politics or grappling with the same issues, can help you see problems in a new light, encouraging a fresh perspective that sparks new solutions.
Ask the same question but differently
Take language for instance. During recent discussions between Henna Asian Women’s Group and their business mentor, the question ‘Why is your organisation needed?’ was rephrased to ‘Why should I invest in your organisation?’. The change is subtle but very powerful. As a sector, we ask funders, donors and volunteers to invest in us all the time, but we do not always articulate it in such a way. Investment implies that a return is provided, which encourages us to think more about what that individual or funder gets for their contribution. More often than not, if a charity can answer that question in a clear and concise way they will be more successful in gaining the investment they need.
Mentors can also be useful sounding boards. We all need time to reflect, offload and allow the ideas you’ve been formulating to be aired. A mentor can fulfil this function tremendously. You are not answerable to them and no judgement is applied so you can be yourself and air your concerns.
Being listened to is hugely empowering and in a mentoring relationship this is not one sided – you will both be listened to and reap the rewards in the process.
View from a different sector
And let us not forget that opening up your networks to beyond the charity sector can also help increase awareness of your cause. As we know, it is personal experience with a cause that leads someone to donate to, or fundraise on behalf, a charity. In seeking out a mentor from a different sector you have the opportunity to open their eyes to your cause in an impactful way. Past experience shows me that more often than not they will become an advocate for your cause and organisation, telling their colleagues, friends and family about the great work you do.
But don’t just take my word for it. David Robinson, is the chief executive of LD:NorthEast a charity that works with disabled people in the north east of England. He was able to benefit from business mentoring after his organisation was selected as one of the winners of the 2016 Weston Charity Awards, an initiative from the Garfield Weston Foundation that Pilotlight is involved with. He told me that the team of business mentors he has been able to access through the Awards is helping him to strengthen and grow his organisation.
“The mentors ask us questions to help unlock solutions to our challenges. It is all aimed at helping us to further sharpen our focus so that we will be able to secure funding for the future and develop some vital new services. Winning a Weston Charity Award means we are looking forward to 2017 with confidence.”
Weston Charity Awards
This year’s Weston Charity Awards are currently open for entries from charities across the north of England and the Midlands. In recognition that charities struggle to find the time to fill out complicated, arduous application forms, the Garfield Weston Foundation has worked hard to keep the process simple – all charities have to do is fill out a one page form. Up for grabs is a cash prize of £6,500 and access to a team of four business leaders, provided by Pilotlight. As many as 18 charities could be selected as winners.
But you need to get in quick. Applications close on 13 January 2017.
Charlie Medcalf is Head of Project Management at Pilotlight