Charity Resources: A Trilogy of… Lots?

‘I may not have gone where I intended to go,
but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.’

‘I love deadlines.
I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.’


I am a fan of Douglas Adams.

He was a great author, writer, humorist, and all round good egg.

So in honour, of Douglas Adams famous Trilogy in Five Parts, I’m starting my own trilogy, on Charity Resources.

And whilst it might  not be as funny as Hitchhikers, it does share a certain ambiguous numeracy. In that I’ve no idea how many there will be. 42 might be appropriate?

But, following Douglas Adam’s lead, I’m going to start at the beginning. And hope that this won’t be regarded as a bad move.

My first Charity Resource page is on charity law.

I hope this series will be helpful.

But as the great man once said:

“You live and learn.
At any rate, you live.”


10 Steps to Grow Your Busine… erm, Charity

I just came across this article on growing your business.

I think it’s helpful, even for charity management…


The 10 DIY Steps to Growing Your Business

So your business is going great, revenues are somewhere between £500k and £3m, and being an entrepreneur you’d like to successfully grow it into something more substantial. How do you do it?

1. Plan. A business plan does not have to be complicated, sophisticated or long. Initially it’s a document for your own use, with your workings out detailing the sales revenues you realistically believe you can achieve and the cost structure necessary to generate and support that level of business. Remember, cash is king, so if your plan is in the form of a P&L, work out a cashflow forecast as well.

2. Strategise. What are you trying to achieve? Write it down in words. Not sure what to write: search the internet and look at other business’s strategies to get ideas for your own. What will success look like? How will you measure it? When you’ve done that, write subset strategies for each key business area e.g. marketing strategy, product strategy, customer service strategy, people strategy, each with their own measurements of success.

To read more, visit Wallace Burch’s blog on the 10 DIY Steps to Growing Your Business.

Governance Workshop 14th November 2013

Governance Workshop Thurs 14th November 2013

I am delighted to invite you to our Governance Workshop!

Governance Workshop Info – November 2013

We are partnering with the Charity Commission to host this event. The details are:

Date: Thursday14th November 2013 from 10am to 3:30pm
Venue: Ascension Trust, Alpha House, Alpha Place, Garth Road, London SM4 4TQ
Cost: £15 with lunch provided for every person.

The Workshop is designed to help local charity trustees, staff and volunteers better understand the role of a trustee, the importance of good governance, the various legal, financial and policy issues to consider, and it will be a chance to meet and talk with various local trustees about their personal experiences.

Highlights include:Charity Tax Group

Rev Les Isaac OBE, CEO, Ascension Trust speaking about Trustees as Leaders; Contributions from the Charity Commission and Charity Tax Group; and AT General Counsel, Andrew MacKay, covering legal and policy issues.

Here are some of the reviews from the last Workshop:

“I found the last workshop very helpful and definitely worth investing the time to attend.”

“It was very helpful and something that would be of benefit to all trustees, especially if they have had little or no involvement as trustees in other charities. It provided a good overview. I think it was run extremely well and each session valuable.”

“It was well organised, good food. It was interactive which I think is great giving people time to digest the information being presented and reinforce it through discussion.”

For more information, just email, tweet @BetterCharity or call 0208 330 2809.

I look forward to seeing you there,


Flood-Gate: Five Emergency Action Points

Monday was a water-shed moment for our office: there was lots of water, and it felt like working in a shed.

It was, if you like, Flood-Gate.

Apparently a pipe had burst over the weekend, and had slowly shared its goodness with the staff kitchen, main office, and the meeting space below.

When I arrived on Monday morning, it was like a biblical scene: sodden carpets, ceiling tiles on the floor, mushed up paper and books. And so began the slow clean up.

But it was certainly not, to stretch the metaphor, all plain sailing.

There were real difficulties dealing with the landlord; we lost access to servers, computers, and email accounts; our staff and volunteer contact details were stored electronically and couldn’t be accessed; and we didn’t have hard copies of key documents.

As a small charity it’s easy to forget that life happens sometimes.

And happen it did.

So here’s what I’ve learned from my Noah-esque adventures, handily summarised for you by the word of the day: FLOOD.

1. FOLLOW an Action Plan

When things go well, which is usually, getting on with work life is easy. But when things go wrong, it can get stressful, emotional, and difficult. And that is *the* worst time to start thinking about how to deal with emergencies.

Even as a small charity, you should be thinking about your emergency plan before things go wrong. Some of the main things to cover are: alerting your employees and volunteers, and making sure they are safe; reporting the emergency to the appropriate authorities; thinking about helpful procedures; identifying the right safety equipment; and delegating responsibility to the right people.

Our office is fortunate to have a Mother Hen office manager and management with life experience, but we’ll be better prepared next time.

2. LEAVE Emergency Supplies 

When we were came in on Monday morning, we had no electricity or heating, and all the windows were open to help dry the office.  And it was rather cold.  And it was raining. Yay.

We were fortunate that our neighbours were able to help us with coffee and teas, providing us with an electricity hookup, and letting us use their canteen and toilets.  But it might not have been as easy.

Think about what supplies would be useful in an emergency, and build a kit in an easily accessible place. You may have to evacuate at a moment’s notice and only take essentials with you: what would you need?

3.  ORGANISE Hard Copies 

Once we had sorted the immediate danger, the next round of questions were thrown out: do we have insurance, what does the lease say, who’s responsible for the leak; who do we contact about…

It was then I realised that being obsessively ‘paper-free’ at work has its disadvantages.  All the relevant documents were neatly filed on the server and in my inbox. D’oh.

You should think about what important documents and files you might need if everything starts going wrong, and keep them securely in a paper file. Consider keeping documents like leases, insurance details, contact forms, warranties etc.

4. ORDER  Backups and Spares

When we first arrived, around 6 staff computers were sitting in the pooling water.  We raised them off the ground, but the damage was done. Turns out electricity and water don’t mix. Who knew?

We have been fortunate in having spare capacity in our office with extra desks, computers and volunteer space, which we were able to use to relocate essential staff members.

But you should think about what spare capacity you might have to deal with the loss of key systems, personnel or space? Order in spare batteries, torches, paper, pens etc, so that life can go on without electricity.

And make sure your essential computer data is being backed up. When it’s gone, it’s gone….

5. DEVELOP Incident-Ready Staff 

We had recently undertaken some staff training on issues like data protection and office policies. But none of us had been trained in dealing with an emergency, or in following any action plans.

Think about training staff in your emergency action plan, where to find emergency supplies, spares and backups, who to ask about what, and who’s responsible for what.

Because time spent preparing is not time wasted.

So remember, even as a small charity, life can happen.

You never know when the FLOOD gates might open…

OSCR’s gone Wilde! Interesting developments with the Scottish Charity Regulator

I’ve always been a fan of Oscar Wilde, the enigmatic poet, playwright, polemic and prisoner.  How can you not love his caustic wit and winsome charm:

Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.”

“Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much.”

The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it…

But my favourite Victorian writer is not the only Oscar causing a stir from time to time: OSCR, the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, is finally considering publishing some charity accounts on its online Register of Charities.

Interestingly, there are some key differences between the English/Welsh and Scottish charity regulators.

In England and Wales, the Charity Commission only registers charities when they have a regular annual income of more than £5,000, before which they are unregistered charities, but charities nevertheless; whereas in Scotland, if you aren’t registered with OSCR you ain’t a charity full stop.

In England and Wales, the definition of a charity is contained in the Charities Act 2006; whereas in Scotland, the definition  of a charity is contained in the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005; both quite riveting reads.

But a much more practical difference is that the Charity Commission does include a charity’s accounts on their site, while OSCR provides much less financial information on its register.

However, OSCR is now considering a consultation with the sector about publishing some charity accounts on its website. The reason given is the improving quality of Scottish charities’ accounts since 2006.

This is surely a good thing.

It is vital for the public trust in the third sector for charities to be as transparent, open and honest as possible, and to be seen as fully accountable for the sums they have received.

Checking how a charity has spent its money is a key part of this process.

And this is even more critical in light of the recent media furores about the extent of charity overheads, the level of charity’s chief executive pay and remuneration, and the salary paid to William Shawcross, the Charity Commission Chair.

So I would generally welcome this development.

The publication of charity accounts on OSCR’s website is needed. In an era of increasingly savvy donors, interested trusts and foundations, and attentive media, it is time for Scotland to follow best practice from England and Wales.

And as the great man so helpfully put it:

We are all in the gutter, but only some of us are looking up at the accounts…

To read more visit the OSCR website, or view a helpful Civil Society article.

Ten Tips for Charity Managers…

I’ve just come across this helpful article from Empower on management.

It’s quite a helpful top ten for those managing staff: here’s a wee sample…

1. Remember it is a process:

Follow the process and don’t make it personal.

2. Ensure that you do not avoid difficult conversations, particularly around conduct and behaviour:

If something needs to be dealt with, deal with it straight away. The longer poor performance goes unchecked, the harder it is to deal with.

3. You set the standards:

Be clear about the standards you expect from your team and offer support to staff to achieve them…

For more, do have a look at the original Empower newsletter and article.


Tesco Law: well, what about Oxfam Law?

Oxfam, Solicitors?

It’s not as crazy as you might think.

The legal landscape in England and Wales changed in 2007 with the introduction of The Legal Services Act 2007. The Act, known informally as ‘Tesco Law’, introduced the ‘alternative business structure’ (“ABS”),  which allows ‘appropriate companies to provide legal services to clients.

The Guardian reviewed the impact of Tesco Law at the time.  The article noted,  whilst it may not have been the big bang that some feared, that  “in five or 10 years’ time, the face of legal services could look very, very different“.

And weren’t they just right.

This week, the very first charity-run law firm has opened in Leicester.

Castle Park Solicitors launched in the heart of the city’s legal district, and provides “high-quality, low-cost, legal services to people who might otherwise be priced out of the market, particularly following recent cuts to legal aid.

The Castle Park law firm, which grew out of another general advice charity ‘Community Advice and Law Service’, seems to be the very first example of “Oxfam Law”, of a law firm coming from the not-for-profit sector. Castle Park will initially offer family and employment law advice, but do so at competitive rates, in bite-sized chunks, and in user-friendly packages.

I think this is a really positive development, and has a lot of potential, for three main reasons:

1. It Can Transform Not-for-Profit Legal Advice

This development will build on the work of Law Centres, which have existed since the early 1970s and work within local communities to serve local people.  Law Centres are independent, not-for-profit, and are accountable to their local communities, with local people helping with their management.

But Oxfam Law would allow charity-based legal services to develop and grow out of simply local communities, offering paid-for legal services where the profits are used to grow the business not make their lawyers wealthy.

And that must be positive.

2.  It Should Transform Charity Legal Teams

Many larger charities already employee solicitors to help them stay legal and advise them on their complex work, which saves them having to pay law firms to give them advice.

Surely, it would not be a difficult move for larger charities to use this pre-existing legal resources to offer legal services to other people, as part of their charitable work?

3. It Might Transform the Legal Aid Cuts

Many people imagine all lawyers to be well-paid fat cats, sucking the blood from their poor clients.  While that may or may not be true (and as a former commercial lawyer, I’d prefer remain silent!), it is true that many lawyers do try to help society, providing services on the high street, to those on low incomes, to charities and to the wider third sector.

But the recent cuts to legal aid, so wonderfully lampooned by Radio 4’s John Finnemore (audio link and text link), will in effect be removing a vital access to justice for the most vulnerable in our society.

The government are seeking to save £350 million from the legal aid bill.  While we all know cuts have to happen, and the legal aid budget should of course be reviewed, many have highlighted the potential damaging effect of the Government’s current approach.

Perhaps when the Government see that we are now in a position where charities are having to provide legal services, they might reconsider their position.

So, Oxfam Law?

It really just might work…