New thinking for the New Year

Advice - s2018 could be a challenging year for charities that provide services. As one CEO recently said to me: “Local authority cuts are going to bite more deeply than ever, and we’re probably going to have to take some very tough decisions to ride out the waves, or we’ll get swamped.”

As someone who started a business at the height of the 2008 financial crash, I can personally testify that while waves of change have the potential to disrupt and destroy, they also have the potential to create a wealth of opportunities. The uncertainties around Brexit, for example, have increased costs and made it hard for many businesses to recruit and retain overseas staff. But the weaker pound has also made exporting easier, and the manufacturing sector recently hit the highest levels of growth it’s seen since 2008. And even in that simple example, you’ll find opportunities for charities.

As the market for skills heats up post-Brexit, employers will become more focused than ever before on the welfare and wellbeing of their people, particularly those with difficult personal and family situations; people your charity might well be set up to help. For example, a charity that specialises in helping people cope with depression, so they can continue to lead productive and fulfilling lives, might identify that employers lose money every year on covering absence and replacing people who’ve left due to the illness. By helping employers to help their affected employees, through training, information, advice and the like, they could deliver on their mission and make some money.

Given what we saw with RNIB’s commercial division in 2017, that might sound high-risk. And it’s true: if you go through their annual reports, many large charities with consultancy and training departments are, at best, breaking even, but some are doing remarkably well. The difference is one of mindset: the first group is trying to add income, the second is trying to add value.

For instance, the first group might approach the CSR or HR team in a large retailer, to sell them some training events or to get funding to provide information or signposting to the workforce. But the second group is trying to add the greatest possible value. That group would aim for the Retail Operations Director, who’s looking at those costs on a weekly basis, and will place a much higher value, and pay significantly more, for expertise that will make a difference to the bottom line.

The starting point for any successful business enterprise is value, and the ultimate test of your value is what other organisations will pay for it. Advice in particular is more highly valued, more comprehensively actioned and ultimately more impactful, when it’s paid for. The more a business pays for your expertise, the more value they need to get back from their investment, so the more attention they give to what you say. That Operations Director will expect to see results, and s/he has the incentive and the authority to make whatever changes you recommended, so that the people you’re trying to reach can get your help, respond positively, and provide the business return. Same expertise, different buyer, bigger fee, greater impact.

The point is not that all charities should be providing training and consulting to businesses, although some are making good, on-mission money, by doing exactly that. The point is, your assets, insights and expertise can be extremely valuable when offered to the right people, and there are often many routes to finding and helping your beneficiaries. Every change provides new opportunities to those with the vision to see them. Find the opportunities that fit with your mission, and 2018 could well turn out to be a great year.

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