McCracken Consultancy
Strategic Consultancy for charities and third sector organisations
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Moving from a one-off fundraising campaign to a Charity. When and how does a campaign become a charity?

Recently I met a charity who quickly struck me was still acting like a fundraising campaign rather than having evolved into a charity. A lack of understanding of how to develop into a charity was causing a blockage in growth.

Many new charities grow from a vision that the founder has had, often related to personal experience.  There has been a fundraising campaign linked to a tragic story such as the death of a child that has had a groundswell of support in the local community, assisted by local media, then subject to the multiplier effect of social media.  Sometimes stories jump instantly to touching hearts directly on a national scale through social media.  Where campaigns have been so successful and campaign initiators are so driven often a charity is born.

The effectiveness of these early stages of gathering support for a fundraising campaign often relies upon the drive, charisma, communication skills, and high-profile media presence of the campaign initiator who is personally involved; maybe a mother, a husband, and it often becomes a full-time public relations job to keep the story alive supporting funding.   It certainly will become a full time job keeping the story in the public eye which informs the nascent charity brand such as it is and keeps the donations flowing in needed to create a charity from a standing start.…….. and here lies the rub…..

The initiator is most likely to want to become CEO of the charity to keep full practical control of decisions and most naturally will try and find space to do so in their life – this is ‘their issue’ so close to their heart.  But who does the strategic or back office management job that is needed of a CEO if the campaign is to develop into a charity?  Strategy aside, in the transitional period the CEO will have to do some back office administration as there will not yet be the funding for comfortable back office support.  Is that charismatic passionate founder the person who wants to disappear into the back office doing administrative work?  Are they best skilled to do so? Difficult, but some support could be found and a bumpy road steered until funding for back office staff is secured.  BUT most crucially and a much more difficult problem to resolve……………if the founder withdraws from the public relations front-line for any reason, including strategic work, will the underlying support base disappear and the ‘story’ wither? The brand has not matured past this story.

Furthermore, other people in the organisation such as trustees and volunteer / paid-for staff, inherently trust the charismatic founder CEO because they have led them to this financially successful springboard………….they would be (even if subconsciously) scared to in a sense ‘demote’ them by bringing in other practical power holders alongside.  The outcome can be to fail to recognise and tackle the need for a transformative process but just expect the CEO to do more and more. They, as well as the CEO founder cannot contemplate anyone taking over functions from the CEO founder. 

However this situation will not enable this successful one-off campaign to become a successful charity.

So what to do?

1)      Firstly trustees, staff, and the founder themselves must recognise it is not feasible to simply to expect the founder / CEO to work harder and harder.

2)      It is really important that the founder is clear about what they want to achieve going forward. What is their vision for 5 or 10 years’ time? While I would not usually write a 10 year business plan, I would say it takes at least 10 years to build a really strong secure charity from scratch and most of us look at our own lives at least 10 years on in my experience, so look at least that far ahead. Personally, do they want to be hands-on involved all that time? They could plan on becoming a trustee and an occasional speaker.  Who will carry their baton?

3)      What is their brand strategy? The initial campaign may have had large ‘in memorium’ and awareness-raising elements; it is likely the charity will now be shifting its focus to longer term aims and projects.  How will the initial founding ‘story’ fit within the brand?  These are complex questions.  Creating their new charity will not be creating a brand from fresh, it will be in essence a rebranding process, and it will be one to be handled very carefully, internally and out, because of the pitch of emotions involved.  

4)      Reappraise roles and responsibilities as are currently.  With a clarified vision and brand strategy in place look at how to best deliver charity aims and projects going forward. Time to look again at those people historically involved with an honest look at their skills and motivations.  Who really does want to continue to commit rather than working from a sense of loyalty to the founder? What kind of work do they want to do in the longer term and is there a fit?  Put in place as a matter of priority a marketing and organisational plan that allows the founder to either withdraw slowly from marketing and fundraising duties, or that recognises the founder as central to fundraising whilst releasing them from central management functions; find someone to carry that baton…….or find some very specified and limited definition of what the founder role should be based on strategic need and skill. 

Change does not need to be sudden. Some change will be disconcerting, some may be really quite painful.  But moving from a campaign to a charity needs fundamental change in behaviour, roles and brand and it needs to be recognised and planned if sustainability and development is the intention.

If you want to talk to me about growing your charity, brand development, and optimising using your resources, please call me for a no-obligations chat on 07792 503 815

Natasha McCracken