Why charities are flipping the narrative to take charge

01 Aug 2017

Why charities are flipping the narrative to take charge

The new essay collection by charity sector think tank New Philanthropy Capital (NPC) indicates an increased appetite for transformative solutions within organizations in the charitable sector.

Flipping the Narrative: Essays on transformation from the sector’s boldest voices follows a report into the state of the charity sector released in May. It is interesting to see how charities are now increasingly cognizant of how and why their existing organizational structures should develop professional governance models and what that means for enhancing their performance in a changing world.

To that end, charities appreciate that to be truly effective, they require a new narrative, one that is mindful of value for money, strong performance and demonstration of an impact as well as philanthropic intent. This reframing of the narrative means charities are placing greater importance upon increased unity between management and board, implementation of a new target operating models and in attracting talent that embraces technology, are confident with digital and data focused strategies and who possess a distinctly commercial sensibility.

“Charities need to recruit the best people, not just the well-meaning.”

-Peter Kellner, Chair, NCVO

As I mentioned during the roundtable I contributed as part of the report, when referring to future approaches to diversity, the right mix of experiences, perspectives and backgrounds is important to innovate, develop and deliver agreed strategies. This is equally applicable to leadership and governance.

It is also relevant to the issue of transformation, given that the research found governance needed to be “fearless”. Specifically, there was an identified need to inject a commercial mindset within existing boards from a governance and recruitment perspective to ensure those same boards were dynamic enough and even “fit for purpose” according to Kevin Carey, Chair of RNIB.

From a recruitment perspective, this involves bringing the most diverse skills from across sectors on boards, with trustees pooling their knowledge to maximize opportunity and taking a more consumer-led approach to crisis management, for example.

A further observation from the NCVO caught my attention, which stated: “charities need to recruit the best people, not just the well-meaning”. Alongside an identified need to drastically improve public relations, what this particular observation from the NCVO intimates in a broader context, is that the narrative of the charity, the underlying message and the communication of that message, is an imperative as it illustrates a clear way to prove impact and value for money to a public that is increasingly sceptical of how funds are being utilised. This was something NCVO’s Peter Kellner briefly touched on when he spoke for us last year just before he took on the Chair role at NCVO – so it was good to read his thoughts now half a year into his role.

Interestingly, this finding was also articulated in the submissions of a number of other contributors, including PwC, Barrow Cadbury Trust and Barnardo’s, who concluded that this new narrative would go quite some way to building a stronger, focused and reinforced public face of competence and experience.

The need to flip the new narrative does not just arise from study and research alone but also as a result of the compelling nature of the political environment all charities now face. This was picked up by Legatum Institute and feeds into the sector-specific skills required from board members and senior executives in the face of Brexit; Legatum Institute spoke of the need to create an improved management structure that can help create new markets for delivered services that are simultaneously strong in bidding for and managing contracts in a more effective manner, especially given uncertainty around the regulatory frameworks such as VAT, for example.

It is interesting that charities see ‘flipping the narrative’ as not just about recalibrating public perception toward their activities from a consumer standpoint, but also in agreeing that one of the best ways to reinforce that shift is through structural changes at the top level, to bring in the quality of talent that can build a more effective and sustainable business model.

Find out more

Read the full research: Flipping the narrative: Essays on transformation from the sector’s boldest voices