7 Charity Conundrums Ripe for Redesign

Much of my day to day involves imagining how charities can do things differently, better, more simply. Whether it is helping people explore their differences on Brexit, supporting consumers to better navigate a tricky purchase, or exploring how to might get humanitarian aid into a war-torn country, I am fascinated about how ingenuity and design can deliver real change.

I love the variety of my work, but there are always more things that can be done and here are 7 areas I am itching to redesign around the charity and not-for-profit sector (h/t to @IDEO who did an excellent similar piece on travel).

1) The chugger and the late-night telephone call to your house asking for donations.

Taken together these are surely two of the most brand-damaging activities that charities have ever run. Usually delivered by agencies, these tactics have continued to be used even as the media, political and public furore have grown. Why? Simply because charities want to keep growing and want to do so, without growing their own headcount and raising costs.

Imagine a world where charities sacked their agencies and listened to staff, supporters and beneficiaries about their lives and how they donate. Not ‘why’ they donate (“Aunty Dorris had cancer and I wanted to support you”) but the mechanisms by which they choose which charity to go for, how they pay, when, how they talk about the donation and their ideas about how they would like to be thanked. Yes, short-term, charities would likely take a hit but longer-term, set the foundations for lasting relationships.

2) Strategy development.

Charities are doing too many things. The world is pretty wild right now. People have many distractions. And then charities wonder why they are not getting heard.

In the past, many charities had a sole focus. We want to cure polio. We want to support ex-service personnel who need facial reconstruction. Now charities try to be all things to all people. And with declining resource.

How might we give charity leaders the tools, skills, and confidence to say to staff and trustees “till this element is sorted, we are going to put all our efforts into this work”? There would be less turnover, less contract income and yes less staff, but also less internal debates, fewer silos, and more focus.

3) Reinvigorating trusteeship.

Ask a charity staff team member, “who are your trustees?” and on average most will name one or maybe a couple. A Tweet I saw recently suggested that charity trustees should be (and I paraphrase) “busy enough with other stuff to only prioritise the really important stuff inside the charity”.

At the same time often charity trustee boards are often drawn from the same group of people. How might we redesign the trustee role to ensure that a wider range of people are sought and people are only trustees for as long as they contribute to improving the lives of those the charity serves (whether this is measured through experience, expertise, money or contacts)?

4)  The campaign report; a start or end?

When trying to change something to benefit people, it will always be important to set out your evidence, the stories of those you serve, and your ideas for a better future. This can often result in the form of a policy report or brief.

If I had a critique, it would be that sometimes organisations see a report as an end goal rather than the start of the dialogue.  Thinking this through, how might we get key decision makers to experience the issues and solutions that we seek their attention on, in order to get them to work alongside us to faster solve tricky problems?

If working on a campaign to improve the way hospices operate in the UK, could you build a prototype of the ideal hospice room, based on feedback from your users? If working on banking reform, could you mockup a website that would show how you believe banks could be supporting people to borrow responsibly (and not overextend themselves).

5) Asking major donors for money.

In my experience, a lot of major donor teams spend too much time on cultivation. Often there are years of events, parties, and visits with teams never (or only weakly) making the ask for fear of losing the access they have so painstakingly built up. What if major donor teams and prospects could build and agree on a process in advance that showed how the relationship might develop and clearly set out expectations on both sides?

For teams, this might involve laying out a number of scenarios (still including the fun events) about what the charity could offer the prospect. For the prospect, they would be clearer about when they might be asked for money and the building blocks that both sides agree would need to be in place before an ask could be made.

6)  Talking about life after death (before it happens).

Sometimes the first a bereaved family will know about their loved one’s legacy to a charity will be when the will is opened. If the family and charity then disagree about the will, particularly if it comes out in the press, the ‘bad blood’ built up is inestimable.

Yes, there will be legal duties in executing a will but what about if we rethought the whole process up to the point a legacy pledge was made? Could we learn from the work around organ donation to help families and loved ones explore their wishes in advance?

7) Valuing staff, valuing volunteers.

When people hear that charity staff are paid, the first response is often anger that these salaries are taking away money from the front line. The reality is that the effort to improve the front line doesn’t exist unless there are talented people to deliver this work.

Sometimes this is about paid staff. Sometimes it is volunteers. Often it is both. It is always about passionate people working to help others. Often when governments and others have walked away.

The question here is how do we publicly value all involved in the charity? How do we recognise them properly?

When staff are paid, how are we clearer about this and explain the link between an individual’s competence, expertise and the performance of the charity? What could charities learn from areas as diverse as nursing, FTSE100 companies, nuns and footballers about how to talk mission, reward and recognition? Irrespective of whether this involves pay.

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