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IFC’s 2020 Vision Part 4. Can you optimize your charity?

IFC’s 2020 Vision Part 4. Can you optimize your charity?


In this final part of IFC’s 20th Anniversary 2020 Vision, I deviate from only looking at fundraising and consider what makes an organisation truly outstanding. As consultants, we often see organisations that are not performing optimally, but we also see some organisations that are exceptional. It is this experience that I have drawn on to put together the five characteristics of truly amazing organisations.

  1. The CEO is exceptional

No-one has greater influence on the organisation than the CEO. They can make or break a non-profit or simply confine it to the doldrums whilst they avoid the responsibilities they have to their beneficiaries. Creating and leading an incredible team is the hallmark of a truly great CEO. To paraphrase US General McCrystal, they effect change not only in how they behave, but in how their morality manifests in their organisation, such as how they treat staff, volunteers, trustees. A CEO is also defined in other ways, such as how they deal with stress and difficult decisions, how they lead, how well they stay true to their word. Their staff will follow suit.

A CEO also needs a vision for the future of the organisation. They need to understand not only how to evaluate the organisation’s work in order to improve its impact but also know how to deliver the best possible service for beneficiaries. A great CEO will scale up the service and develop it, expand it. Their vision will be dynamic, progressive, with clearly delineated milestones which staff can work towards.

The fundraising department delivers the goods

Without an efficient fundraising department, even organisations with a fantastic vision for their future can’t scale up the work to meet the needs of their beneficiaries, build external support, pay competitive wages and maintain reserves to ensure the sustainability of service during tough times.

In order to acheive this, the truly impressive organisations treat their fundraisers as part of the staff. They help their fundraisers and inspire them on a frequent basis, not as a once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence! Conversely, the fundraisers communicate clearly what they are doing across the entire organisation.

A good organisation also creates a sustainable fundraising programme, creating a range of income streams and seeking to build and maintain long-term relationships that will bring in significant funds over time.

Key to all of the above is that these organisations then invest in fundraising, which ensures that they are able to test and roll out those techniques that prove most successful. These organisations innovate in a turbulent environment and accept that the occasional failure can be viewed positively.

The organisation knows it fulfills its mission

Delivering what you say you will deliver is extremely satisfying and will fill an organisation with confidence in its abilities. The organisation needs to evaluate and monitor the work it is doing with its beneficiaries, as well as with its communications, fundraising functions and campaigns. It is highly motivating for every member of staff to know that their colleagues are all professional and producing high-quality work. This kind of atmosphere can lead to truly extraordinary results.

Of course, members of the organisation must be made aware that the organisation is fulfilling its mission. Otherwise, the best people might leave. Communication must be both external and internal, conveyed passionately and extensively. Questions should always be asked: have we got through to a wider audience? Whom can we still be reaching? Are we making a difference?

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the government is also subject to impact assessment. We are not alone in dealing with these kinds of issues.

  1. The organisation’s communications work wonders

Anita Roddick of Body Shop spent zero on advertising — yet was one of the UK’s most esteemed entrepreneurs. Roddick hired two exceptional young women to communicate her actions and her vision during a variety of campaigns. She soon became the go-to authority when journalists required a business reaction to news events – although she was usually way ahead of the game.

In the 1990s, Amnesty UK’s full-page advertisements achieved the impossible: they brought in tens of thousands of new members and brought human rights concerns to millions of people.

And no, these two examples weren’t initiated by a communications department(!). However, they do illustrate just how important the need for innovation and bravery is in making a breakthrough for an entire organisation.

  1. The organisation has earned our trust  

Paramount to effective fundraising is trust — in the whole organisation. Throughout my career, I have observed a series of scandals engulf some of my favourite charities, including Oxfam, British Heart Foundation and Kids Company. In my opinion, the decline in the number of those donating in 2018 is significantly related to the steadily decrease in return from direct mail, as well as to the loss of trust in charitable organisations on the whole. The collapse of several telemarketing companies will also inevitably have had a negative impact on many organisations’ incomes. Correlation is not causation, of course, but scandals being closely followed by falling incomes certainly appears significant.

We all know how just how easy it is for a scandal to erupt, sometimes from a completely unexpected direction: a little-known government quango seeking the limelight, a suicide, a staff member acting immorally. It does not pay dividends to feed the media’s love of stories about saints becoming sinners.

Scandals will always erupt, but the best organisations are braced to deal with them. They get their point across straight away, repeatedly and corroborated by facts, which can all be feed into 24-hour rolling news. In times of crisis, it is crucial to demonstrate the organisation’s sense, responsibility and trustworthiness. Good organisations never cover up wrongdoings. They always take swift and appropriate action to bring those responsible to justice. They will also take steps to prevent similar potential issues in the future.

Back at the ranch

Presently, the CAF 2019 Report contends that fewer people are donating to charity — even though the total amount received remains the same. This demonstrates that more income is being received in larger portions from the wealthier echelons of society. This would appear morally correct, given the substantial transfer of wealth to the rich in recent decades.

However, charities might become less egalitarian as individual memberships and the number of donors declines and the more demanding wealthy start exercising more control, or at least begin making suggestions which are then backed by these individuals’ potential to give on a large scale.

And finally

Over the past two decades, the IFC has grown from a start-up consultancy with mega ambition into a multinational with offices in no fewer than twelve countries. IFC’s clients are primarily medium-sized UK charities (mainly raising their funds here in the UK), with a handful of UN agencies, non-profits and very large international INGOs from around the globe. We are fulfilling our mission of changing the world – one client at a time.

John Baguley


International Fundraising Consultancy


John Baguley is the CEO of the International Fundraising Consultancy (IFC) and a Fellow of the Institute of Fundraising. IFC has a global reach with twelve country directors and runs the free Top Table business breakfasts for fundraising directors. John is a regular speaker at international fundraising conventions, and a writer and blogger on fundraising.

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