Interview: John Low

The Charities Aid Foundation chief executive explains the thinking behind CAF's radical restructuring.

John Low
John Low

The main aim of the raft of structural changes at the Charities Aid Foundation announced on Monday (Third Sector Online, 11 February) will be to make the organisation simpler to deal with for its thousands of charity, company and individual clients, says chief executive John Low.

"If somebody phones CAF at the moment, they speak to one of six groups that answer the phone and, depending on the nature of your query, you might be passed from one to the other," he says. "Under the new arrangement it will be one person who should be able to answer all your queries. It will be more efficient for us and it will also give all our customers a better service."

The restructuring, which the charity has described as "the biggest shake-up in its 80-year history", will also bring to an end CAF's long evolution as separate "businesses within a business", such as Give As You Earn and CAF Charity Accounts, which each have their own customer service teams and IT systems. A new customer service department will span the whole organisation, while other departments will combine. Individual Giving, for example, will become the responsibility of both the new commercial and marketing and private clients divisions.

The move follows a strategic review initiated by former chief executive Stephen Ainger. It was left to Low, who joined CAF last summer from the RNID, to implement a plan to make the organisation more integrated and responsive to customers.

"The trustees had agonised over the main direction and concluded that we should become more customer-focused and more joined up," says Low. "What I've done is check that the conclusion was sound and then worked with the executive team and the trustees to put some flesh on what it means in practice."

The changes should also help the organisation, which has long suffered from an 'is it a bird, is it a plane?' syndrome, to attain a more unified identity. "I think it will help people to understand better what CAF is about," says Low. "A lot of people know CAF but know only a bit of what we do and are completely ignorant about other parts. I'm quite shocked by that at times. I think we will be able to be much more joined up about the way we communicate and the experience you have when you are in contact with us."

CAF has also promised new financial products and services. Low says he cannot be specific at this stage but does hint at the future direction. "You can imagine that there are lots of things we do on the internet that are very effective, and there is scope for doing a huge amount more in that area," he says.

But CAF's era of radical change will begin without one of its best-known senior managers, Tracey Redding, chief executive of CAF Bank. She has been at the organisation for more than a decade and reversed a decision to leave in 2006 after Stephen Ainger's resignation.

"She has done a huge amount for CAF over the last 10 years," says Low. "But we've got to the stage where there are significant changes and new jobs being created, and it was time for her to move on. In a way, there is nothing big enough to get her teeth into."

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