At Charity Finance, we spend more of our time analysing charities’ core functions rather than their direct work with beneficiaries, so Charity Awards season is an exciting time for us. Every spring we have the chance to write about and meet some of the UK’s most inspiring charities, which reminds us what the sector is ultimately all about in vivid detail.
This year’s event was no exception. Indeed it included one of the event’s all-time great moments: a standing ovation for the event’s overall winner, Who Cares? Scotland.
Their work campaigning on behalf of those leaving the care system was more than worthy of the accolade. However, the impromptu speeches given by Kevin Browne, who had grown up in the care system himself before working his way up to become the charity’s care-experienced membership director, did much to bring home the life changing nature of the charity’s work for those of us attending.
It is a tribute to the strength of this year’s entries that Redthread, which won the children and youth category, did not scoop the overall award itself. Attendees were shown a highly moving video documenting how the charity visits young victims of knife crime in the emergency departments of major trauma centres and encourages them to pursue positive changes to their lives at their most “teachable moment”.
All of the shortlisted charities made their way through a rigorous assessment from the judges. This year they were greeted by a reworked application form which was designed to make it easier to explain the value of their activities. It included the following:
- What was the problem you were seeking to address or the area you wanted to improve? How did you know there was a need for your project?
- How did you arrive at a plan to tackle the problem and how did you record your plans and targets?
- What were the changes you made and how did you implement them? As well as any physical and operational changes please outline the timetable, who was involved in managing and implementing the change and how much it cost?
- Describe the results of the project. Be explicit and include numerical results where possible and relevant (such as the number of people directly helped by your initiative and the changes or outcomes they experienced)
- What lessons, positive and negative, emerged from your experience? How will you put this knowledge to use on this and other initiatives and projects?
The new process seemed to work. Indeed, one of the shortlisted charities later said they found completing the application a useful exercise in its own right, which led them to seek out information about their project that they hadn’t previously known.
If there is one thing that the shortlisted charities all share, it is clear thinking about how they operate. They have developed a detailed understanding of the problem they wish to tackle, used a methodical approach to develop their action plan, clearly documented the results they achieved, and learned lessons which they could use to inform their future work.
Any charity that does not have a deep understanding of how their actions effect change could do worse than to follow these principles and revisit them on a regular basis.
Gareth Jones is editor of Charity Finance