Tania Mason: Be bold to be best in class

15 Mar 2017 Voices

Tania Mason says that trustee boards need to help their charities be bold and the best they can be.

It feels like we’ve been saying this forever, but things are tough out there for charities. Our recent news analysis reports the stark finding that 18 per cent of charities fear they may not last the distance, up from 15 per cent who said so two years ago.

Rising inflation puts pressure on household incomes which squeezes donations. Continuing austerity by government means less cash for non-statutory services. Stricter data protection regulations will make fundraising harder than ever. Meanwhile demand for charities’ services continues to rise.

Against this backdrop, trustee boards could be forgiven for giving in to the temptation to batten down the hatches, to adopt the position of treading water, just to stay afloat. After all, nobody wants to be at the helm of an organisation that fails, right? Retrenching to ensure survival can seem like the only way forward.

Except it’s not.

Far too many organisations wait until the writing is on the wall before considering their options – but there are usually options, and the earlier you examine them the more choice you are likely to have. Merging, transferring some services to another entity, changing your constitution, or investigating how technology can help you deliver new or better services – all of these are options open to organisations who are assiduous enough to grasp the nettle early. It’s waiting until your back is right up against the wall that makes survival less likely.

In our cover theme in the March edition of Govenance & Leadership, we shine a spotlight on some organisations that have taken a long hard look at themselves and come up with new ways of being as good as they can possibly be at what they do. Some, like Investors in People and Education Support Partnership, have changed their constitutions so they can be more nimble in their decision-making. Others, like Eureka! The National Children’s Museum, deliberately targeted a whole new beneficiary group. And others still, like FareShare and RNIB, have seized new technologies to create entirely new products and services that would have been unthinkable even a few years ago.

Of course, it’s easy to say this and not always easy to do, so the edition also features a clever new tool from One YMCA, which can help your charity to evaluate the risks and benefits of strategic opportunities.

Directors of private companies have a legal duty to maximise shareholder value. Charity trustees have no such legal obligation to maximise social value, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be constantly striving to amplify their charitable impact. As One YMCA’s director of resources David Martin points out, charity law does make clear that trustees must always act to further their organisation’s best interests.

So, be bold, and make every effort to ensure your charity is the best it can possibly be.

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