Charities failing to adapt services to changing needs, says Heart of the City chief executive

In the latest piece in Acevo's 30 Things to Think About series, Sarah Mitchell says the sector should widen its gaze beyond fundraising and bake sales, and learn from the private sector

Sarah Mitchell
Sarah Mitchell

Too many charities are failing to adapt their services to meet society’s changing needs, charity leaders have been told.

In an article published today by the charity chief executives body Acevo, Sarah Mitchell, chief executive of Heart of the City, a charity that helps primarily small and medium-sized companies with their corporate social responsibility activities, says the sector should "widen our collective gaze beyond fundraising and bake sales" and learn more about how successful companies operate.

Mitchell’s article has been published today as part of Acevo’s 30 Things to Think About series, which involves a different thought-provoking article or video being published every day in November to mark the membership body’s 30th anniversary.

Mitchell says charities are failing to reform their services to meet changing needs and questions whether the sector is putting users at the centre of its thoughts when developing services, in the way that businesses do with their customers.

"I don’t say this lightly and I recognise that many impressive charities are responding with imagination and investing in future services, but too many of us are not," she says. "I say this because I want great charities to thrive and I think we are missing out by not learning from businesses at the same rate they are learning from us."

Mitchell says it is easy for people in the voluntary sector to sneer at what companies are doing in the area of corporate social responsibility, but some firms are dramatically changing the way they relate to the communities around them and their own employees.

Businesses have much to teach charities in areas including systems and processes, market research, product placement and investing in staff, she says.

"They recognise that charities do not have a monopoly on achieving social good," says Mitchell. "In fact, profit-generating businesses can – and do – achieve enormous social impact as a core part of their business."

She says businesses are also working together to respond to significant social problems, such as through place-based giving schemes in London where funders, business, residents and others work together to tackle poverty and inequality.

"Why is it that supposedly cut-throat, competitive businesses can work together to solve these problems when charities seem to find such joint work incredibly challenging?" says Mitchell.

"We should widen our collective gaze beyond fundraising and bake sales to learn more about how successful companies operate and to understand what else we can glean from them."

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