Emma Hughes: Charities’ staff can be key to unlocking more unrestricted funds

27 Nov 2023 Voices

Sanctus Charity’s CEO says small charities can utilise the skills, passions and experience of their staff and volunteers to diversify income streams in a cost-of-living crisis…

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As charity leaders, employees and volunteers we are all too familiar with the impact that the cost-of-living crisis has had, not only on our service users but on our charity’s finances. Funding bodies are all too often wanting new and innovative projects, which is great to get our creative juices flowing, but no good in a world where we currently have to fight tooth and nail to survive, let alone thrive.

So, to coin a much-overused phrase, we all need to think outside the box. That is exactly what led Sanctus Charity to look at our existing under-utilised resources, our team and our property, and to use them in innovative ways to raise much-needed unrestricted funds.

One year ago, in the wake of tussling with the difficult decision to close our 365-day service at weekends in a bid to save money, we completed an informal skills audit. Many of our staff and volunteers have had previous careers or have skills and passions that we may not have known about should we have not gone through a financially tough time. Having seen a dramatic rise in our utility bills, a slump in monetary donations and a 50% increase in individuals accessing our services we pulled together and pooled our resources, organically creating some further innovative unrestricted funding during an incredibly difficult time.

The overlooked toolkit

We are so closely involved in our daily tasks that we all too often overlook the toolkit that is right in front of us. Think about the building you work from, spaces that you have access to, and most importantly your invaluable staff and volunteers who can bring many skills, knowledge and contacts once we share our financial challenges.

Getting to know one another at team events has been invaluable in learning more about who our team are, what they do away from the charity, and what they are prepared to do to help us raise funds and awareness. You will often find that “trustee Fred’s father makes wooden planters and is prepared to sell some to raise money” or “Laura who volunteers on a Tuesday is the caretaker at the local sports club and can lease you the venue for free to host an event”.

We learnt that diversifying your income stream doesn’t have to involve a big outlay and mind-blowing ideas - with a few simple sales and some all-hands-on-deck events before you know it you are steadily building up your unrestricted funds.

Creating unrestricted funds

We diversified our income streams as a team in a number of ways. For example, I hand-painted Dr Marten’s Boots for pleasure so we decided to collect donations of boots from our community of supporters and I redirected my artistic antics into a fundraiser. I now have a six-week residency at a local gallery, with all profits going back into our charity, alongside sales at a local community art space. Promoting via our social media channels and newsletters, the quirky venture not only makes us a small amount of unrestricted funds but further spreads word of Sanctus.

Moreover, our café manager is an official jack of all trades and after organising some very successful fundraising events we decided to split her role between café manager and community fundraiser. She now spends part of her week arranging events that bring in a good amount of unrestricted funds. These have included Rock ‘n’ Roll Bingo nights in our café space, beer and music festivals on the grounds of our founder’s home, golf days (calling on her contacts as an avid golfer) and currently, she is organising staff Christmas parties for local businesses. Utilising our charity café space that sits redundant for an evening, she has created a team of volunteers who assist with meal prep and provide waiter service.

Our café supervisor is a retired accountant from a large local car dealership. Capitalising on a strong existing relationship, he has promoted our charity to his former managers and we have a wonderful new van with our own signage, petrol and all expenses paid. This has enabled us to collect and deliver furniture to our vulnerable community at no cost to us. We have also hosted a staff party for the company, making considerable profit whilst again marketing our charity to a new audience of supporters.

One of our volunteers and relatively new trustees has a business background and currently runs an online antique business. He has begun to sell our unwanted donations and is currently setting up a Sanctus Charity shop, to be run by volunteers and offering a number of our service users the opportunity to volunteer and gain valuable work experience. This will enable us to make money from selling donated goods and we will have another avenue open to us when applying for grant funding.

In summary, anything that capitalises on existing skills and resources and can open up further sources of funding is well worth exploring. There may be numerous unrestricted funding streams readily accessible to you if you are open to utilising the skills of staff and existing charity assets to their full potential.

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