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19.11.2019

People are at the heart of sustainable charities

All charities have the people they serve at the heart of everything they do, writes Performance Advisor Kirsty Gilchrist. It is a core principle of our sector.

But people are also at the heart of how they do it. Without the energy, compassion and expertise of staff, charities could not do the extraordinary work they do for Scotland’s people and communities. To enable staff to channel that energy, organisations need to be able to operate from a position of strength and sustainability.

Over more than 10 years of funding and working alongside Scotland’s charities and social enterprises, we have identified our top five essentials for charity sustainability. They are not surprising; neither is it surprising that they rely on people.

# 1 Funding and strong financial management

You need the right level of funding to support people and the right level of income to sustain your operations over the long term, but income alone isn’t enough. Charities need to monitor their finances regularly to ensure sustainability. Realistic budget projections, understanding your cash position and, ideally, monthly management information are the best way to monitor your organisational financial health. A lot of this can be captured simply but charities can, and should, reach out if they need help.

# 2 Good governance

Good governance is the foundation of an effective charity – and, again, is predicated on the strengths of people. A good board means strong, accountable leadership that can build a culture of success. It also means a range of expertise to help navigate the many challenges that charities face. Having someone on the board with financial experience is as important as someone who can represent the voices of those you support.

#3 A Strong Strategy

To be effective, charities and social enterprises need to know what they want to do and how they want to do it. Without a vision which sets out your aims and a strategy which identifies the steps for getting there, organisations cannot hope to achieve their aims. The best strategies have a simple, clear direction, putting the people that the charity serves at the heart of their objectives. But charities also must to identify the resources they need to implement their plans. That means a strong fundraising strategy to help them attract funding, but it also means the right people with the right skills.

#4 Understanding the difference you make

It’s crucial that charities evaluate their impact and understand the difference they are making. Monitoring your impact helps you to ensure what you do is working and to develop the way your organisation addresses the changing needs of the people you serve. It also gives you the evidence you need to demonstrate the impact of the work you do. It allows you to build trust with funders and investors by telling the stories of the people you support and the impact their investment is having.

#5 Strong networks and partnerships

Charities cannot succeed alone. Networks and partnerships with all sectors – and the people who work there – are essential. Our colleagues in the public, private and academic sectors, as well as others in the third sector, have a depth of experience and expertise. Building collaborative relationships is essential to help charities be more effective. People, wherever they may work, are our best resource in the fight against inequalities.

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This article originally appeared in Third Force News: Guide to Running a Charity 2019

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