The following principle is the same whether running a business, a charity or other non-profit organisation: some corners are not worth cutting.
To ensure the sustainability of your charitable body, and so that it doesn’t fold after months and months’ worth of your efforts and good intentions, you must have a long-term plan in mind.
There’s nothing wrong with creating a small charity—though, if this is your plan, it may be better to define your cause as a community group or pour your time and energy into an already established national charity. Doing either of these things wouldn’t undermine your altruistic intentions, nor would it detract from the memory of someone passed (if their life’s experience was the catalyst for your foray into the third sector).
If you feel from the outset that your potential charity has legs, i.e. that it could become an organisation capable of implementing change across one locality, if not more, then launching it will most likely be worth the time you’ll need to put in, the red tape you’ll need to tackle, and the promotion/marketing you’ll need to continually work on.
The right advice
If you’re still unsure of whether the launching of a new charity is the right decision for you, get the right advice first—BEFORE you begin working with your beneficiaries. The last thing you want to create is a millstone around your neck that requires every second of your time and energy because you didn’t understand what was involved.
Imagine if things ran out of your control and you had to pull your support from the very people you aimed to help, because you didn’t have the correct processes and structures in place to guarantee and underpin your work. Get your ducks in a row before you even begin to think about helping other people, as you wouldn’t want to make promises you may not be able to keep.
The right advice may involve consultations with HR professionals (if you employ staff to help you deliver your support), legal eagles and financial specialists to ensure you commit to the right level of liability (if any) for you.
It may seem attractive—even sensible—to cut corners at the beginning. You’re a new entity, you may not have begun to fundraise any money for the charity or found any sponsors/donors, and you may think that you can simply go ahead and start your charitable work without consulting anyone. This is where things could go badly wrong. Say you start supporting young people under 18 or vulnerable adults and an unforeseen safeguarding issue crops up. If you have no policies or insurances in place, no official paperwork or charity constitution, no trustees guiding you, things could turn dark very quickly. Liken it to not having house insurance. Yes, you save money each month if you don’t pay any premiums for this type of cover, but say a tree topples through your roof in a bad storm, or a car comes off the road into your living room…would you say that the cost of repairs would be less costly in the long run? No, it would be quite the opposite.
If you’ve never run a charity before, it would be hugely helpful to seek advice from someone with knowledge of, or who is already working in, the third sector. Someone to guide you through all the common pitfalls and someone who can provide introductions to other experts and/or appropriate sponsors/donors/grant-making organisations.
Their support in the early days could be the difference between your charity being a short-lived experiment and a long-lasting, effective catalyst of change. If you haven’t been in the position of launching a charity before, you may not know of any alternatives that could suit your cause better. No one knows what they don’t know. If your support is intended to help people who desperately need the help of others, it’s only fair to them that you seek as much information for your charitable endeavour as possible and arrange adequate safeguarding measures—to ensure that the rug isn’t pulled from under them once they begin to flourish because the charity has stalled or dissolved.
Always looking ahead
Once your charity launches, that’s when the fun starts! Whilst it may be cost-effective for the founder to do everything at the outset, once the organisation begins to grow, it’s not practical nor good business sense for one person to do everything.
Whether outsourcing the accounting, the paperwork/daily admin, project delivery support—the tasks that take time from your week and which have to be done, but ones that other people could quite easily do—it makes sense to pass them on, if only so you, as the founder/chair/CEO can continue pushing the charity forward. Time is money, and yours, at that point, can be better spent.
Running any kind of organisation requires continual evaluation. The goalposts can often change, due to internal or external pressures/opportunities, and the most efficient, effective outfits take stock of their position on a constant basis.
I reiterate, some corners are not worth cutting. Wherever you are on your journey, take advice from the experts.