In my recent report, Meeting as Equals, for the Royal Society of Arts and the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, I gathered examples of charities which have reshaped themselves around the goal of being ‘asset-based’: looking for people’s strengths, capacity and potential, not just their needs or problems, and as a result being more willing to be led by people as equals, sharing responsibilities, resources and even ownership of organisations which had previously been controlled by a very different group of people to those who a charity set out to serve.
You can’t do ‘a bit’ of asset-based thinking: it’s all or nothing. The table below is adapted from the report and sets out some key behaviour and goal changes across every aspect of a charity’s work, from leadership, to fundraising, to frontline support.
Many charities talk about being asset-based, and lots claim they always have been. A key test of those claims will be to look at those parts of charity’s operations where the pressure is greatest to think and act in a traditional, top-down way, such as fundraising for instance, where charities can be most tempted to fall back on images of need and vulnerability, and least likely to co-design messages with people who draw on their support. These are also where the greatest opportunities may be: when we are allowed back out on high streets again, how much more powerful it would be to meet people who have benefitted from being part of a charity, rather than be accosted by street fundraisers who know little about the organisation and its cause.
I discussed some of these ideas with the RSA’s Matthew Taylor in a podcast here.
As ever, I’d be interested to hear your views.
|The area of change||Where we might be now||Towards becoming an asset-based charity|
|Relationships||We are there to serve our beneficiaries. We are leaders.||We meet people as equals.
We are allies.
|Recruitment||We value a narrow range of expertise. Our team come from different communities, groups or backgrounds to our beneficiaries.||People with lived experience volunteer, work and lead at every level. We recruit from the communities we work within. We embody the diversity and equality we call for.|
|Structure and scale||We have a hierarchical structure with many management layers. We spend significant amounts on staff turnover and responding to failure.||We create autonomous frontline roles, and devolve decision-making and power down to the most local level.|
|Campaigning||We set the agenda, deploy our expertise and engage stakeholders in our campaigns. Our work often happens behind closed doors.||We find and develop leaders within the groups and communities we serve. We enable people to identify and gather around the issues most important to them, sharing our knowledge and networks.|
|Communications||We set the agenda and manage our stakeholders and our reputation. We police our brand and pursue reputation management when there’s a crisis.||We share our platform: enabling people to share their stories on their own terms. We curate and co-create content. We don’t seek message and brand control. We prioritise transparency and trust when we make mistakes.|
|Fundraising||We raise funds for our beneficiaries with hard-hitting campaigns which set out their problems. We compete for attention and seek every opportunity to make an ask.||Fundraising messages are co-designed and co-delivered by people with lived experience. We build communities before asking for money. We give people more choice over how their money is used.|
|Strategy, decision making, ownership||Our senior management and board has limited accountability to our beneficiaries in setting our strategy and priorities. Consultation groups lack power, a mandate and networks. We include an expert by experience on boards and committees, but worry it’s tokenistic.||We invest in citizens’ capacity to lead us at every level, building our leaders’ skills, networks and career progression opportunities. We build co-ownership into local and national work informally, and through mutual ownership models.|