Expert view: Always put your own objectives first

People do the daftest things for charity. Butch, rugby-playing men just love getting into drag, for example. Some women leap at the chance to parade round London's Battersea Park in their bras.

But for the self-conscious among us, there are more cerebral ways to make fools of ourselves in the name of a good cause. 

Here's a popular one. Your organisation is looking to buy in a service - training, say, or publishing, or even data management. A bit of research has thrown up two potential suppliers. One would charge £7,500. The other would charge £10,000, but gives 20 per cent of its profits to charity.

OK, so it didn't take long to work it out (I hope). But didn't it make you pause? A company that supports a charitable cause - fantastic! And if that gave your heart a skip of joy, how excited are you going to get when you hear from a supplier that actually is a charity? Well, with many apologies to Michael Winner (and I suspect that he doesn't get many of those), calm down, dear, it's only a non-commercial.

True, it may be that the best and most cost-effective provider of whatever you are after is indeed a social enterprise or a voluntary organisation. But if so, that organisation's competitiveness won't simply be because of its corporate status.

Neither being not-for-profit nor giving a proportion of its profits to charity in themselves make a supplier cheaper, more effective at meeting your requirements or even in tune with your organisation's culture.

Nor does a dog-in-the-manger-attitude - in other words, "we're not here to make money, and we don't want to deal with anyone who does" - necessarily breed good purchasing decisions.

Let's all try to keep a clear head when choosing providers, and remember that we're supposed to be pursuing the objectives of our organisations. We can't know what's on offer unless we've properly researched the field with an open mind. If all other factors were equal, we could justify a preference for a not-for-profit partner. But how often is that the only thing to distinguish between providers?

Key points

- The corporate status of an organisation is no guarantee of good value

- Research your options thoroughly before deciding which organisation to buy services from

- Only if all other factors are at least equal would you be justified in preferring a not-for-profit partner

- Heather Lamont is head of charity business development at HSBC Investments.

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