Freelancers for charities

Managing a charity is the toughest of all worlds

Reams of guff have been written about private sector management. A bit of guff has been written about public sector management (including by me). But very little if any has been written about the challenges of managing in the voluntary sector.

Yet managing in the voluntary sector is the toughest challenge of all. Charities suffer a double whammy - they have the commercial pressures of managing in the private sector and the complexity of managing in the public sector.  

Like private sector organisations charities are in a constant cycle of selling to funders (or customers). Even larger charities with long term commitments and some long term funding cannot escape the daily grind of thinking where the next slug of money is coming from. For a charity manager the pipeline, business development, marketing plan, and managing relationships with existing funders all loom far larger as day to day concerns than for their public sector counterparts.  

However, unlike a business their primary focus is not on making money but on delivering often complex social outcomes which rarely have clear success factors. As in the public sector there is rarely a single easy to measure success criterion to ease the management tasks of developing a strategy, setting targets, assessing performance and motivating people. 

This combination has consequences in a number of areas:

  • Performance management; charities must satisfy the performance management needs of their funders and their own operations. In a world in which funders demand (often ludicrously) specific impact measures the two may not be the same. It is challenging to be clear about the differences and attach the appropriate weight to the right measures in the right circumstances.  
  • Culture and skills; every charity needs to deliver on its core charitable mission whilst being ruthlessly avaricious in the way it approaches fundraising. These two objectives may not always be easy bedfellows particularly when it comes to pay-scales, training, values and recruitment.
  • Sector competition/co-operation; one of the lovely things about working in the public sector is that (in theory) you can share information about costs, performance or process with your peer group. The dynamic is slightly different in the charity sector.  On the one hand there will be some competition between charities who operate in similar spaces when it comes to fundriasing and profile.  On the other there will theoretically be benefits to be gained from joint lobbying or sharing best practice and resources when it comes to delivery. It can be difficult to achieve the balance of ensuring that the competitive element does not pollute the positive possibilities of working together.

Bring on some charity management guff!