Governance crisis? Help is at hand!


This week the press have jumped on the news that the Charity Commission has given an official warning to the National Hereditary Breast Cancer Helpline. There has been a massive conflict of interest that hasn’t been managed properly – the founder and her daughter have been paid – and some exceptionally poor financial management.

Here I look at the problems faced by smaller charities and those with relatively inexperienced Boards, and note what support is out there.


How has this happened?

Many are posing the question, “how has this gone unnoticed for so long?” after the charity’s annual accounts show a decline in spending on charitable activities in three consecutive years from 6% to 3.4% to 2.8%. To give a sense of perspective, the average spend on charitable activities is 83%.

Perhaps this wasn’t spotted because the Charity Commission is underfunded to deal with the increase in inquiries and investigations, nevermind proactively seeking out poor governance practice? Or perhaps the Board weren’t equipped to managing the charity? Or perhaps there was a change in accounting method – how did charitable spend jump from 2.8% of total expenditure to over 98% in the just one financial year? That’s some impressive turnaround management or interesting accounting.

Gina Miller, Founder and Chair of the True and Fair Foundation (and of Brexit fame) has suggested there be a minimum (percentage of) spend on charitable activities. Thankfully the Charity Commission has rebutted this, with a statement reflecting the diversity of charities and consideration of their life-stage being taken into account – reminiscent of the response the Commission and others gave the True and Fair Foundation’s report ‘A Hornet’s Nest’ early last year.

Maybe it’s time to revisit Dan Pallota’s TED Talk: The way we think about charity is dead wrong?


Charities are specialist

Charities are specialist and need managing accordingly to be legal and effective. My reflection on working with small charities is that people tend to join a Board because they are motivated by the cause. They are not typically from a charity management background, and then find themselves up to their eyeballs in CC guidance, or conversely, not! Passion for – and knowledge – of the cause is extremely important but how effective is it if the infrastructure isn’t there to deliver it? As Wendy Watson, Founder of NHBCH stated:

“Mistakes were made. I’m not a businesswoman, I’m somebody passionate that wants to keep the helpline going and find a way to raise some money to do that.”

The usual brief I receive is, “we need some help developing our fundraising strategy”. It’s true, but the precursor to that is clarifying organisational purpose, honing down their priorities from doing everything in their causal area to a few strategic areas where they can genuinely make a difference. This strategic direction should come from the Board and highlights the need for a sound understanding of charity governance.

The main issues for NHBCH seem to be around managing conflict of interest (CC29) and financial management (Charity finances: trustee essentials (CC25). It’s not illegal for family members to be on the Board or work for the organisation, but conflict of interest – including perceived conflict of interest – must be managed. The governing documents detail how conflicts of interest are managed, and how and when meetings are conducted (i.e. decision making). Adhering to the governing document therefore ensures trustees operate legally. Given the jump in NHBCH’s charitable expenditure in the last financial year, Charity reporting and accounting: the essentials, March 2015 (CC15c) might also have been a useful resource.


Help is at hand

Trustees in large charities often have the support of a paid-for governance function ensuring things operate smoothly: trustee inductions, Board papers are in on-time and circulated, minutes are taken and approved, queries are resolved within working hours. These organisations are therefore well placed to capitalise on the non-charity sector experience that these trustees bring. But for smaller organisations and those with less experience of charity management, this in-house support is missing.

Charity Commission guidance is publicly available and in becoming a charity trustee you are agreeing to comply with it. It’s pleasing to see the new Charity Governance Code progressing themes every trustee should be mindful of. (NCVO’s blog on the Charity Governance Code covers everything you need to know about the Code.) But for those organisations reflecting on their governance as a result of lack of funding or that they think they may need to close, how pressing are these themes? They need a fix, and strengthening governance at point of crisis feels a little too late.

So here’s a quick summary of what you could do if you’re new to a Board.

  1. Charity Commission Guidance. An excellent place to start for new trustees of those needing a refresher, is The essential trustee: what you need to know (CC3).
  2. KnowHowNonProfit. Free info! Check out the Governance section.
  3. Small Charities Coalition. Free trustee matching, finding and networks. And seminars taking place across the country, including this one on Governance in Chester in October.
  4. NCVO membership. It’s worth the membership fee. Access tools such as the Governance Wheel (easy to use and gives a snapshot of governance strengths and weaknesses), the Trustee Bank (free trustee recruitment site) and get discounts on training and consultancy. I’d recommend Charity Trustees: Induction and Refresher Training – next one in October in London.

Do you know of other useful resources are out there for new charities and trustees? If so, please share!

Going it alone



I’ve gone freelance by accident. After having my delightful, gorgeous, exceptionally noisy baby boy, I had fully intended to go back to my role at Toynbee Hall. Then we moved out of London. So, I’ve decided to go it alone.

Having worked as a consultant at NCVO and provided voluntary consultancy support through Small Charities Coalition (which I think is brilliant, btw) I know what I’m signing up for in terms of work, though the reality of the lack of monthly salary is rather alarming.

However, I’m very excited to be starting out on this new adventure. I’m an Associate Consultant with NCVO and aside from that, the work I’ve got lined up so far is varied and challenging, so just up my street.

My work is focused on delivering the best outcomes to people in need. That’s it. I do this by supporting organisations to operate as innovatively and effectively as they can.

I’m good at planning and making things happen. Whether that’s developing a new income stream, a fundraising strategy or writing a costed business plan for a new service.

I’m open to interim management positions and can deliver training.

Get in touch if there’s something that I can help you with.


Gin treat? It’s time to get prepared for Easter, so get involved with this beauty: Gin & Tonic Easter Egg. Well done Prestat, well done.



The first week: Toynbee Hall and Mozart


This week I started as Head of Development at Toynbee Hall. My job is to grow unrestricted income for the organisation, which is likely to come from a mix of corporate, individual and major donor giving, but after just five days, rather unsurprisingly, what that looks like and how we focus our effort, I haven’t yet figured out. Ideas on a postcard, please.

What struck me before I joined Toynbee Hall was that whoever I mentioned it to, they always had something positive to say about it. On top of that, there’s the amazing history: the first university settlement, an impressive alumni including Attlee and Beveridge, and a key player in social reform. Consequently, I’ve been excited to find out more and get going.

Here are the highlights of my first week.

1.    Who is who and what we do

As you’d expect, I met many of the service managers and got a sense of what we do and the impact we have. The complex range of services fit into one of three areas:

  1. Law and money (such as the Free Legal Advice Service)
  2. Learning (such Deesha, English as a second language)
  3. Wellbeing (such as Dignify, a project supporting older people)

I also got to see our City Advice service in action, operating out of a local community centre. A free service to people living in the City who are struggling with legal, welfare benefits or debt problems, I was struck by the impartiality of the advisor and that these people simply have no other place to access the information they need.

Meeting the fundraising and communications team was great – a lovely and smart bunch of people. Hurrah! I started to get a sense of who funds us, why, how much, what for, etc. and began to look at our fundraising communications such as our appeals, thank you letters and the website.

So pretty standard stuff, really. Then all this happened…

2.    Aspire graduation

The graduation ceremony for Aspire provided the perfect opportunity to really get to know Toynbee Hall’s flagship youth service and meet the young people involved.

Aspire works with young people who are lacking in confidence and struggling for various reasons (e.g. bereavement, bullying, family difficulties). It’s an incredible programme that gets young people to connect with each other, express  themselves, and explore new things and ideas. The programme includes circus training and a trip to Jamie’s Farm. It was incredible seeing the changes that these young people have gone through, growing in confidence and being able to express themselves better. An example of this is three of young people speaking at a fundraising event earlier in the week – in front of 500 people; a daunting task for most of us.

3.    Visiting the archive

One of the highlights of my week was chatting to Liz, who works in the archive. Part of the archive is held at the London Metropolitan Archive, but the biggest collection is at Toynbee Hall itself. Liz has spent the last year collecting information from across the organisation and organising it.

It is a gold mine of history about the people of the East End, Toynbee Hall and its influence in social reform. Handwritten diaries, annual reports since 1884, pictures of everything and everyone – tennis matches, smoking debates, and various members of the royal family at Toynbee Hall.

The first thing I laid eyes on was a poster from 1907, advertising one of the Smoking Debates that took place every Thursday – this particular one was about women and the vote. Incredible to think that these debates were taking place in that actual hall.

Liz has also started to map out and research the families that were/are connected the founders, Samuel and Henrietta Barnett. In its first iteration, it’s a beautiful sheet of card with pins and string connecting all the relationships together. At some point, I hope for these names to be gracing Raiser’s Edge.

4.    Having someone sing Mozart to me 

One of our service users wanted to discuss making a contribution to Toynbee Hall so I had a chat with him. In his late seventies, he was actually more interested to discuss his passion for music and his career as a composer than making a donation. Then he then sang a bit of Mozart – an unexpected delight!

5.    Checking out the local area

I’ve been encouraged to get out and about in the local area to see more of borough and the communities that we work with. As I have no sense of direction I decided to wait until the weekend for Mr Crackles, tour guide extraordinaire. Although I’ve lived in Homerton for the last four years, I hadn’t really appreciated (a) how close Poplar, Shadwell and Canary Wharf were to me, (b) how segregated the areas are – mostly split up by huge roads, and (c) how separate worlds live side-by-side. This latter point is epitomised by the homeless people camping outside Toynbee Hall in the council-owned garden, directly opposite the building of luxury apartments.

On our cycle this morning, I took a few pictures. This one a dog amused me – note that it says ‘gentrification’ at the bottom. My interpretation is that this is trying to convey that the population of the area is changing; people with silly dogs are moving in. (I try not to be judgemental – each to their own, etc. – but if you think that dogs should go in a handbag, it’s going to happen.)

Silly dog

So it was a busy kind of week: all of the above, plus finding out that we get a 5% discount at the on-site Arts Café and discovering the foods vans down Petticoat Lane; a guilty pleasure for lunchtimes. Over the next few weeks I’ll be doing more of the same plus my favourite thing – planning to plan.


Gin O’clock?

This is a real cop-out and it has been pointed out to me that this is not a cocktail, but it’s proper.

Bit of elderflower cordial, shot or two of gin, top up with prosecco.

Consequences include excellent parties and immense headaches.

Fancy something more refined? Check out The Rivington Grill – it has a gin menu. Although the service was shoddy, they earn extra points for using this quote:

“Beloved, we join hands here to pray for gin. An aridity defiles us. Our innards thirst for the juice of juniper. Something must be done.”

Wallace Thurman, Infants of Spring.


Charity Masters Degrees: a balancing act


My media career started at a very young age – at just four years old I was pictured in The Selby Times, dressed as a bell for my school nativity play. But I’m no Macauley Culkin and since then I have withdrawn from the heady heights of celebrity and got on with my life.

However, this week there’s a little snippet from me (not dressed as a bell) in the Guardian’s post-graduate supplement. So I’ve taken this opportunity to note why I believe there is a need for specialist charity masters degrees and the opportunities and challenges of undertaking one.

The main point is this: while the general public believe that our work is special, they don’t necessarily believe that it is specialised. It is.

There are 180,000 registered charities in the UK tackling social, economic and environmental issues. This vast sector requires staff and volunteers that are representative of its diversity (I’m referring to skills, education, expertise, background as well as ethnicity and gender) but it also requires specialist knowledge. This is where a charity masters degree can be beneficial.


  • Sector specific knowledge: some things are different in charities due to the fundamental difference between for-profit organisations and charities, who do not distribute profit to ‘interested parties’. If you’re a senior manager at a charity you should know something about charity accounting (the SORP) charity law and regulatory bodies such as the Charity Commission – and practitioner-specific ones like Fundraising Standards Board.
  • Broad knowledge: the basis of each course covers areas including voluntary sector policy, marketing and research, and resource management (financial and otherwise). Whatever your seniority, there’ll be something you’re not so strong on and charity masters provide an opportunity to develop in that area.
  • Practical and applicable: coursework is based on your organisation – this is really useful if you want to explore something in or for your organisation but can’t fit it into your day job.
  • Clever folk: guest lecturers and speakers tend to be well-known and well-respected individuals in the sector, such as Ian Bruce, Karl Wilding, Jenny Harrow and Debra Allcock Tyler. Consequently you get excellent case studies and examples throughout.
  • Networks: past students advised us to make the most of the contacts we make through the course. I hadn’t anticipated how valuable this would be; I now know people across a range of organisations who I can call if I need a steer on something new to me.

And the flip-side:

  • Balancing personal development according to sector changes: I don’t believe that solely a charity background is the only way to strengthen the sector (as per my NCVO blog regarding people coming in to the sector from the forces) and I’ve certainly noticed an increase in people talking of talent coming from the corporate sector: there are lessons to learn from both sides. Fundraising and marketing are inextricably linked and some organisations are reflecting this in their structures: Friends of the Earth, WWF and Breakthrough Breast Cancer staffing structures place marketing and fundraising activities within the same directorate. This enables greater synergy between the two functions but has implications for marketers with a corporate marketing background working with fundraisers and vice-versa. For those of us already in the sector, we should balance charity-specific training with broader, perhaps more commercial training. For those entering the sector, courses such as Cass’ Charity Masters could provide the edge to push you further up the ladder. Ultimately, a balance of development activities and training will enable us all to work more effectively together.
  • A bit of a life thief: there are times when you’re busy at work, or you’re on holiday, or you’re just shattered…but you need to research and write an assignment. If you genuinely want to develop, you need to put in the effort and this can be testing at times.
  • You become a charity geek – and quickly too: shifting from a mind-numbing episode of Hollyoaks of an eve, to clips from BBC Parliamentary Live because it’s interesting was an unexpected change for me. You notice things in the press you wouldn’t have previously noticed, you want to comment on said articles, dammit you want to write them!

For me, the course is helping me gain knowledge and skills that I wouldn’t necessarily have gained ‘on the job’. Moreover, it has encouraged me to be better, aim higher, expect more: we can’t solve complex social problems if we don’t keep pushing.

Time for tea and cake

Gin and tonic cake

I didn’t think that such a thing existed, but to my pleasure, it does.

Courtesy of my course buddy @KatieKirks who directed me to this:

My top tip is to use a massive tin as it’s a lot of cake and it rises a lot too. I used tonic and lime in the icing and I think that was a very good choice.

Feedback included: “It’s a very accomplished cake.”

Fundraising for difficult causes: a starting point for small charities


In 2009 I heard Mark Astarita launch the Gill Astarita Fundraiser of the Year Award at the Institute of Fundraising National Convention. In addition to that burning feeling in the throat when you’re trying to keep yourself together, I vividly remember him talking about Gill fundraising for truly difficult causes, including drug and alcohol charity Addaction: “Gill never had much truk with any fundraiser who said their cause was hard to fundraise for”. That speech has stuck with me.

Roll on a few years and I’m going for an interview at a large children’s charity. At the time I was working for an environmental charity and a colleague and friend asked if I had applied because “it’s easier to fundraise for kids”. Of course some causes are easier for people to understand and empathise with, though I imagine that their fundraisers aren’t there for an easy life.

These two separate incidents made me think that perhaps some people simply accept that some causes are difficult to fundraise for. I feel that this is rather defeatist and a barrier to testing new fundraising ideas. Combine this attitude with some of the challenges many small charities face – limited time and resource to divert from front-line services to fundraising – and you’re in a bit of a pickle.

So what can we do to raise income for smaller, more niche charities?

I’m going to talk through what I think is a sensible starting point, giving examples of two different causes. Ideally this approach would be complemented with other work (e.g. external environment and competitor analysis), but if you’re pushed for time and want a starting point, I’d recommend this.

The first charity provides palliative care services. It is based in a deprived area and while there is huge goodwill towards it across the community, nobody has any spare cash. The second is a theatre organisation which aims to democratise the arts. It genuinely transforms the careers of the people it works with, but some perceive the arts to be a rather elitist, particularly given the current climate.

While these organisations are dissimilar in pretty much every way, the approach to their funding strategies is similar. Because whatever the cause, someone will fund it.

What it’s important to understand is:

  1. Which organisations need this service to continue; and/ or
  2. Who cares enough to fund it?

Here’s a suggestion for how you might go about this:

Firstly, consider all your potential funders.

Working through the income spectrum, from donations, grants, contracts to trading, who are the organisations or people that need or care enough to fund your work?

For example: Is it in the interests of business to support you? Is your cause emotive enough to appeal to a large number of individuals? Might your services save the NHS money? Have you got stuff, space or skills you could sell?

This isn’t about chasing the money, it’s just an initial way to start prioritising which income stream(s) to consider pursuing. Remember to consider your organisational strengths too – e.g. if you don’t know any rich people and you’re a niche cause, major donor giving might not be your best trick.

Secondly, determine what the motivations of those potential funders are.

For example, the palliative care organisation is not currently receiving any statutory funding.

Marie Curie estimate the cost for a day of community care at the end of life is £145 compared with £425 for specialist palliative in-patient care in hospital. This represents a saving of £280 a day per person.

“If additional community services were developed to enable even 30,000 patients to reduce their hospital stay by just four days, there would be a potential saving of £34 million.” Alternatively, a compelling message to statutory funders could be the increased cost to the NHS of not funding the service and the organisation ceasing to exist.

Now let’s think about the theatre organisation. Let’s face it: some people have done alright for themselves. Be it through the arts, business or simply through being born. And despite the recession their lives remain pretty much the same. Major donor giving looks like a strong option for this organisation. But why would wealthy people want to give? Because they love the theatre? Because they want to support young people? Because when they were younger, someone gave them the break that they really needed?

Building a sustainable funding strategy is dependent on many factors but I’d argue that taking the time to identify the potential funders with the greatest motivation and ability to give is right up there on the to-do list.

Reflecting back on Mark’s speech which made such an impact on me when I was new to the sector, I wonder if Gill had started out with the mindset that the causes she worked for were difficult and that’s just how it was, she would have pioneered new fundraising techniques such as door-to-door. Would she have raised such significant income? Would she have been considered a leader in the sector? I doubt it.

So let’s leave any defeatism at home, put some strategic thinking behind our fundraising programmes and make the most of what is working in our favour – our cause and our potential funders.


Congratulations! It’s gin time!

The 1873

This is the house cocktail at The Gilbert Scott – the bar adjoining The Renaissance St Pancras. It is, quite simply, delicious.

Acquire these:
250ml Bombay Sapphire gin
200ml cranberry juice
300ml apple juice
10ml rhubarb bitters
7.5ml egg whites, preferably pasteurized

Do this:
Chill the ingredients over night (never in a freezer – how crude!).
Combine the gin, cranberry and apple juices, rhubarb bitters, and egg whites into the siphon.
Serve in a chilled champagne coupe.

I have removed the bit involving a CO2 canister as I don’t feel it’s necessary. I imagine The Gilbert Scott would disagree.