Working in the head office of a charity, it is easy to become removed from the people your charity supports. This shouldn’t be the case and beneficiaries should remain at the core of your work, even if you aren’t in a direct support role. After all, they are the reason charities exist and have the most in-depth knowledge of their own needs and the services you should be providing.
Like most areas of practice, involving beneficiaries in the running of a charity in an ad-hoc way isn’t the best way to do it. You need a clear plan of how best to utilise their skills and experiences, and here are my five top tips of how to go about it.
Whatever your charity does, the best people to talk about it at events or in the media are those that have used your services or benefited from your support. Not everyone will want such a public-facing role, but putting together a plan of who you will approach with opportunities and a programme of events will help. These ambassadors can help you raise awareness of your work and celebrate people’s achievements.
Involve beneficiaries in recruitment
At Sense, particularly when we are recruiting support workers, we try and have a deafblind person on the panel. It is not just about qualifications and skills. Relationships with beneficiaries are equally important. This allows us to gain a different kind of feedback on the interview from someone who has a unique understanding of the role of a support worker. But this wouldn’t work if we didn’t have a clearly defined role for the deafblind person on the panel. Like any good interview panel, the decision does not come down to one person’s view and it essential that they are fully briefed to understand the process and their role within it.
Ask for feedback
This could be in the form of advisory groups, an annual survey or a members’ day. But the most important thing is to have channels of communication between members and beneficiaries and the senior management team. it's also crucial to use this feedback and report back – we’ve all filled in feedback forms at one time or another and wondered what happened to them. You won’t be able to please everyone all the time; but reporting back will show that beneficiaries are valued and listened to, and let them know what changes have been introduced as a result. This will encourage people to be open and honest about where you are doing well and where you could be doing better.
Get beneficiaries on the board
Trustee boards can seem inaccessible and a daunting prospect to many people. They are concerned that they won’t know what to do or that the paperwork will be overwhelming. But diversity on a board is essential, and getting those that know your services and organisation well involved can be a real asset and help shape strategic direction. It won’t be for everyone, but do ask and be prepared to provide an increased level of support at first. Over time, your board will gain a new level of insight into your work.
Be willing to be disagreed with
The people your charity supports may on occasion have a different idea of what they want or need than your organisation does. That’s OK, but you must be prepared to listen and act on that, rather than going with what you think. When we design new services, drawing on our own expertise is essential, but we must also ask the people that use them. Involving people in the design of services ensures that they are tailored to their needs, based on their experience of what works and what they need, rather than expecting people to fit into existing services.
Richard Kramer is deputy chief executive at Sense, the charity for deafblind people