Some things I’ve learned about change 4: Mission vs Money?

Many charities describe a battle between ‘mission and money’. This came up a lot when I chaired the government’s review of health and care charities as charities which had grown during the ‘good’ years of increasing government funding, had to face up to what they’d sacrificed along the way, in terms of community roots, volunteers and supporters, and the capacity and potential of the people they worked with and frontline workers who were often working in increasingly narrow and reduced roles. When charity leaders try to reverse financial decline, this can often alienate sections of their team who can’t see the charity’s values and mission in rounds of restructure and cuts.

We have been very fortunate in Shared Lives Plus in that our income remained stable and even grew from some sources during the pandemic. What we lost in earned income we partly made up for in savings from our previously huge travel bill, and from new grant income. Our grant funders (including the Pears Foundation, Fidelity Foundation, Ellerman Foundation and the National Lottery Community Fund) were exceptionally pragmatic and flexible as our needs and priorities changed. But before the pandemic we had also been on a considerable journey to develop consultancy and contract income, and to build the value of our paid-for membership offers to individuals and organisations. This needed a more ‘commercial’ mindset, but none of wanted to lose sight of our values. 

The model below is still a work in progress, which I was at an early stage in discussing with colleagues when I got my new role. It’s an attempt to show that charities create different kinds of value, and that those kinds of value don’t have to pull the organisation in opposite directions. I believe we create at least four kinds of value:

  • The direct impact we have on people’s lives
  • The value of our brand, by which I mean the impact we have on how people think
  • The value of the data, learning and insight we generate
  • The surplus we generate once we’ve paid all of our bills

Most of our activities are about more than one of these kinds of impact and the diagram suggests some roles we play when, for instance, we provide direct support, which generates social impact, and also, if we’ve been able to cost it sustainably, surplus. In reality, most things we do create all four kinds of impact to an extent, or could do, so our support work on its own might look more like this:

Lots of impact and some surplus, with some insight and a little brand value as well. Could we increase the value of this work in those weaker quadrants, for instance, by doing more to generate and use data and insight from that work? Could we communicate the value of that work and the lessons learned more widely, to increase its brand impact?

In other words, charities can’t be battlegrounds between people who are focused mainly on impact, and people focused on keeping the finances afloat. A healthy charity will create all four kinds of value, and it’s always useful to consider how a piece of work that has been thought of as being only, or mainly, about one kind of value, could be tweaked to create the others.

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