Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Not a Walk in the Park

Today (Wed 25th) my piece appears in the Guardian about third sector CEOs. I expect it to cause a response. Although the article is slightly tongue-in-cheek, it asserts that charity CEOs have it a bit better than those in other sectors. And get to work for causes they love, therefore should settle for less cash. I am half expecting a kicking from Stephen (Bubb) on his blog but I notice his mood is particularly sunny at the moment so he may desist.

Its ironic because my job today was not a walk in the park. Or not the Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds. More the People's Park in the Bronx. Like a lot of orgs trying to grow, we're also taking on a lot of cost. All before the cash register starts to tinkle. Added to this, we have the legacy of a lot of work which make us profit when we won it which now doesn't quite cover its own costs a couple of years on. We can sort this when we re-tender but its opened up some gaps, none more than a few percent, but together its quite a whack. As I have said on here before, we've never turned a loss at SU. But this year I think we will file a small one. All of which makes it that much harder to make the case now for pressing on with yet more essential spending & internal capacity-building ready for public sector contracts in 2009.

Had an excellent meeting about all of this with my COO Kathleen Cronin today. Kathleen was CEO at British Youth Council and has a great grasp of strategy. Her particular skill is pulling together the threads of ops, finance and funding over the short, medium and long term, identifying the risks and then coming up with options. Which is just what we're doing. All of it is framed by a key goal - to be working with 10,000 people by 2011 and doing so with a turnover of around £8m (from £4m today). Her is the job of putting it all together. We are a good Number One Number Two Team with v different skills but a lot of shared values.

My good mood was punctured by news that our house-chain has broken down. Some bloke in Soham apparently has pulled out from the bottom on the chain and buggered it up for about five families. Katy is devastated. We have a couple of weeks before the house of our dreams goes back on the market. I fought the tears myself, I confess. Its weird how these things get to you. I have always been fairly immune till now. In the midst of this we had the news that a friend's sister had lost a baby at 33 weeks, due to a congenital condition. Is it just human nature or just my own uniquely insensitive disposition that it took only seconds my worries about the house to be jockeying for first place in my mind with this terrible news?

One of my next pieces will be called Does Mission Matter? This asks the fundamental question of whether mission-based organisations do a better job of providing human services than profit driven ones? This is the whole premise of third sector service provision - and, in a ways, social enterprise. But is it true? I know quite a few people who just don't buy the view that meaning well implies that you do it well. My experience of mission-based organisation is that they CAN do it extremely well but don't always DO so, often due to a lack of the skills which enable profit-minded organisations to be as effective as they often are. The solution - social enterprise - business-like organisations in which the profits are invested back is, I think, the answer.

Long term I hope the larger charities break off their service arms into wholly owned social enterprises which can then really deliver the income back to the campaigning side of charities work. Today I think big charities have too many competing priorities to do anything particularly well. This gives rise to the not altogether untrue notion that they are fat bureaucracies which don't innovate or maximise business opportunities.

Right, in Ldn tomorrow and bed beckons. A soothing run ended my day. Tomorrow can only be better.


Anonymous said...

Fantastic piece in the guardian today, made me laugh out loud, thankfully I was not on the commuter train at the time. People are so full of their own importance and worth. I agree get over it! Zenna

Myles said...

Have caught the article and also agree with above comment, but struck by your comment in your blog ..."often due to a lack of the skills which enable profit-minded organisations to be as effective as they often are. The solution - social enterprise - business-like organisations in which the profits are invested back is, I think, the answer."
I agree sometimes there is a skills gap, but at least here at Business Link East it is recognised that organisations can participate in workshops (and other help is available) designed, primarily, for "mainstream" SME's.(Sorry, TLA...small, medium enterprises). Management skills are the same (in the main) whether you are working towards a social aim or simply funding one's latest holiday in the Algarve...(thinks, can't wait for end of July and two weeks away...). Trying to find the difference, that runs through the entire management process for a Third Sector Organisation, a golden thread if you like, is the key. No, we don't have all the answers, but it's a start. Fingers crossed for the house move...

Char from Stafford Social Hub said...

I am in the process of setting up a community activity co-ordinator service for people experiencing barriers to social interaction called Stafford Social Hub. We are a community association at the mo but plan to become a charity in late summer. I am writing the financial forecast and was wondering how much to request as a salary. I have qualifications and skills galore and to manage a service will be alot of work and I already work 18 hours in the NHS. I am on the brink of becoming a single mum with a mortgage to pay, I am struggling between wanting to carry on with the charity but not wanting to ask for too much as a wage, as it is a charity. I really like to know what you would suggest.