ActionAid UK is aiming to reduce its cost base from £20m per year to £16m, as part of an overall drive to refresh its strategy and become more focused, its chief executive said yesterday.
Girish Menon delivered the opening plenary to delegates at Civil Society Media's Charity Finance Summit, where he said that so far the charity has saved £2.2m, mainly from decreasing office space and subletting property.
In 2015 the treasurer tasked leadership with cutting £4m out of a £20m cost base over four years, and the charity is still aiming for that target.
ActionAid UK had also streamlined its workforce, but increased its staff expertise on women and girls to a team of 12 from one, after determining that as its core focus.
The focus on women and girls had come from discussion across the ActionAid affiliates in 45 countries.
Menon said: “We invested a lot in developing our own identity, and asking that key question: who are we and what are we known for?
“We looked around the federation, we looked around the programmes, we asked all the countries implementing programmes, across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and asked them what it is that's providing depth to your programming, what is the one thing that you do consistently and what is the one thing that you're going to focus on over a period of time.”
“So we asked that question, and we also looked at a history of our relationships across the 45 countries and it was very clear that the focus, the depth of our programming comes in terms of rights of women and girls.”
But while that focus had built up identity and brand, and hence trust and income, its pro-choice and trans-inclusion policies had lost the charity some supporters, said Menon.
He added that increasing trust and income also meant greater responsibility and accountability for the charity.
Investing in business development
The focus on human rights also meant that ActionAid needed a more flexible funding model and higher unrestricted funds for advocacy and leadership, said Menon.
As well as investing on branding to increase voluntary income, he said it had consciously invested in business development to fit a more commercially-focused DfID.
He said: “We figured out from past analysis that because we were so complacent in the Blair-Brown era, [ActionAid] constantly under-invested in fundraising and brand because there was such a wonderful warm glow of appeal here in the UK.
“So we didn't really have to work that hard to generate the kind of income because we had a very venerable set of prime ministers and chancellors and parliament who were really much more outward-looking.”
Concern about reserves
Menon also said trustees were concerned about the level of reserves.
He said: “The trustees are worried that in 2021 we might dip below the reserves level as determined by the policy.
“What we’ve said is - it’s a Richter Scale - so everybody is on absolute alert. Keep an eye on costs, because we have 18 months to plan for it.”
He added that trustees will meet in December to discuss plans on further reducing expenditure and maximising income.