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Should You Run a Charity Like a Business?

To remain financially stable in today’s competitive climate, a charity needs to run its operations with business-like standards.

Just like a business, many not-for-profit organisations have a board of directors, executives, human resources personnel and a marketing department. So why run a charity differently from a business just because the goals are different?

Successful not-for-profit organisations have strategic plans, keep financial records and have audits, so it’s important to invest in key aspects of the charity, just as you would with a business, to help it make a difference.

Importance of effective strategies

When a business is doing well, consumers realise the value of purchasing its products or services. When a charity is doing well, donors enjoy seeing the rewards of doing something good. A charity needs a competitive, effective strategy to help it support its beneficiaries. Typically, charities have less resources and capital for investment so, in a way, it’s even more important for good business sense to play a role.

The not-for-profit sector must ‘do more with less’ in every way, so needs to think differently to be more innovative and creative with what it has. In order for charities to experience business growth, sustained quality investment to promote their goals and values is crucial. A charity’s success should be measured by how its investments help it to raise more funds and do increasing amounts of good work. Charities should work to a set of standards that include leadership, transparency and results.

Streamline operating processes

The best way for charitable organisations to save on running costs is to work towards achieving streamlined processes with well-trained leaders, as spending vast amounts of money on staffing is not feasible and can eat away at funds better spent elsewhere. To this end, charity leaders could benefit from taking advice from small businesses; something that many may not even consider because they have never viewed themselves as a business.

As with business investors, charity investors wish to see the results of their investment. To produce a sustained and strategic impact, charities must be run like a business, with strategy, discipline and a strong focus on outcomes.

Be accountable

Any organisation receiving charitable support must be as accountable to the donors as a company’s board is to the shareholders. In a way, the donors are the stakeholders and therefore should be able to understand the ‘return’ on their investment.

Otherwise, they may feel as if they’re throwing their money into underperforming organisations that aren’t spending it in the most effective manner. Anyone who supports any cause has the right to expect effective strategies and efficient operations to put their money to best use.

For example, if an organisation is seeking to provide greater community amenities, it can prove the impact it’s having by counting the number of wells it has built in central Africa, or the number of playgrounds provided for poorer inner-city areas.

Management skills

Management skills are often as important as technical know-how. Trustees should search for chief executives who have the right qualities and skills to lead their organisation. Charities can benefit greatly from the experience of managers in the field who can make qualitative judgments based on comparing costs with benefits.

Putting the focus on efficiency and outcomes will work for any type of charity, no matter who the beneficiaries are. Whatever the mission, there must be a balance between expenses and revenue, with goals being set so that funding will continue.

There’s no aspect of running grass-roots and charitable movements that won’t benefit from a disciplined approach. Adopting sound business principles will make a charity more likely to accomplish its goals.

Overcoming sector challenges

It’s not always easy for charities to think like businesses. Due to the nature of the causes they support, some may find it more difficult to show clear, measurable goals. However, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try, as they owe it to the donors, managers, the board, the beneficiaries and the employees to adopt the best strategy possible to achieve their aims.

In today’s technical age, when the internet has made it easy and inexpensive to collect data of all kinds, anyone who is passionate about a charity’s work has more options to find out how it’s performing. Collecting data can measure results, enabling the charity to improve its performance.

Metrics should be seen as useful tools, rather than shackles. They can improve the effective use of money, time and people. A dream with a firm plan behind it has a better chance of becoming a reality.

Skilled people at the top

Today’s charities are a far cry from those that started life in the Victorian era to help impoverished sections of the community. In reality, many of today’s national and international charities resemble multi-million pound businesses, with funding coming from many quarters. As such, the managers should possess the skills to run an organisation of this size.

Charities must focus on squeezing the best value out of every pound that’s donated. By stripping out unnecessary administration costs and streamlining operations, efficiency savings can equate to more money being donated to those who need it.

Long-term focus

Strong leadership and effective business acumen are transferable skills that can benefit not-for-profit organisations. Some new charities fail within a relatively short period of being launched. In order to have a sustainable, long-term impact, a charity must focus on achieving its intended outcomes and also making a surplus.

Otherwise, it will be extremely difficult to continue operating, because in addition to fundraising for your cause, expenses must be taken into account, such as salaries, bills and other running costs. It’s crucial that finances remain steady because, however worthwhile the cause, if it’s being run by someone who can’t balance revenue and expenses, it’s going to end up in debt and will fail. Just like in business, it all comes down to maximising efficiency by having a good strategy, business-minded people in control and strong discipline to work towards a goal.

How can we help? Simply-Docs have a wide selection of ready-to-use document templates designed to help charities run more efficiently.

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