EDITORIAL: Take caution of the pitfalls when changing tack

LUCY MAGGS

There has been a rash of charities recently looking for a change in focus, remit or positioning. The reasons vary widely. Changing markets, and the changing needs of beneficiaries, mean organisations often need to reinvent themselves. Donors' perceptions of what is important also change, and competition for donations is fierce.

Age Concern recently established that it needs to cater for a new market of beneficiaries that it refers to as the "younger older". As it loses current beneficiaries, these will not automatically be replaced by the next generation in their sixties and seventies, who no longer necessarily see themselves as old.

The National Trust is moving into a youth market in order to broaden its appeal and attract donors and volunteers. The challenge for an organisation reassessing itself is to keep up with the market without losing sight of its original goals, gaining new beneficiaries and donors without ostracising their original core constituency. Consultation is vital with donors, beneficiaries and anyone else whose opinion may be valid. It can be a lengthy process but it is vital in order to hold management to account.

Membership schemes can ensure that management or the trustee board does not plough ahead with big changes without consultation.

The National Trust is undertaking the enormous task of consulting with its 2.9 million members about updating its governance structure.

The matter is further complicated for organisations such as Age Concern, made up of different charities around the country and where the views of each branch must be taken into account.

Innovation is one of the strong points of the voluntary sector. But quick decisions are difficult. It's not easy for a large organisation to be flexible and adapt to new circumstances. However, it's vital in order to continue to be relevant and provide the necessary services.

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