Charities must improve their productivity, research among managers suggests

To improve productivity, charities need to ensure they have a 'committed leadership and an organisational culture that is centred around the organisation's charitable objectives', a new report says

Almost nine out of 10 charity department heads or key decision-makers say they believe their organisations need to improve productivity, according to a new report.

The report, Exploring Productivity in the Not-For-Profit Sector, commissioned by the software company The Access Group, says that of the 45 department heads who took part in the research, 89 per cent said their organisations' productivity needed to be improved.

But 87 per cent of those surveyed said they felt increasing productivity would be challenging, including 55 per cent who said it would be extremely challenging.

The respondents all work at organisations with up to 300 employees and were interviewed over the telephone for the report, which also took into account longer interviews with a number of senior charity fundraisers and consultants.

Of those surveyed, 84 per cent said improving productivity would have a big impact on their organisations, particularly on workplace culture, staff training, communications, software systems and processes, and 82 per cent said it would create a better service for beneficiaries.

Almost three-quarters (73 per cent) said improved productivity would lead to more time to focus on key priorities, and 66 per cent said it could create increased profits or outputs and more engaged staff.

To improve productivity, the report says, charities need to ensure they have a "committed leadership and an organisational culture that is centred around the organisation’s charitable objectives".

They also need to start measuring and exploring productivity in order to identify opportunities for improvement across every department, the report says.

And, it adds, strong internal communication is vital – and this should include the board and senior leadership – as is empowering people to make decisions in their roles.

Two-thirds of respondents said they needed to view up-to-date data about their organisation every day, but 51 per cent said their internal processes meant they had to request that data from another department on a day-to-day basis.

Integrating data systems and ensuring staff have the right digital skills will boost productivity, the report says, as well as ensuring charities have the right technology to meet their needs, with 47 per cent saying automation of some tasks would increase productivity.

"Technology isn’t always the answer, but it can lead to significant productivity gains for charities, ranging from the day-to-day running of the organisation to people management and supporter relationships, payment processes and front-line service delivery," the report says.

Daniel Fluskey, head of policy and external affairs at the Institute of Fundraising, said the report provided "much food for thought".

He said: "The need to embed a culture of improvement and skills, alongside technological solutions, to improve productivity within charities is a welcome focus."

Meredith Niles, executive director of fundraising and engagement at Marie Curie UK, said: "Because we are investing donors' money to make a positive social impact, charities have a moral imperative to take productivity seriously.

"As a sector we are achieving great work, but often we end up cutting corners on core systems and processes in the well-intentioned desire to put as much resource as possible into the front line.

"This report is important because it highlights the false economy of this thinking. I encourage my peers to read it and share it with their executive teams and boards."

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