Interview: Lorraine Clifton

The chief executive of Clic Sargent says every charity can save money and still be effective

Lorraine Clifton
Lorraine Clifton

Lorraine Clifton, Clic Sargent's chief executive, is on a mission to save £1m from the charity's budget by next year - and she's already halfway there, thanks to some strategic thinking and borrowing a few ideas from the private sector.

Clifton met senior colleagues last year to discuss how they could expand the charity's services to meet the challenges of the future.

They concluded that the organisation, which spent £22.4m in 2011/12, would face a £1m deficit if it wanted to continue pursuing its objective of expanding support services for 16 to 24-year-olds with cancer by 2017.

"We decided we would have to cut services or cut costs but, if you are trying to grow, it's ridiculous to reduce your effectiveness," says Clifton. "I was convinced that we could reduce waste and increase our effectiveness."

From this, the project Better by Design was born, as a way of looking at the processes involved in operating the charity and then reducing the amount they cost.

Clifton believes that other charities could benefit from a similar approach by taking a "long, hard look" at all their processes.

"In some organisations you will end up with redundancies as a result of that, but every organisation can reduce its costs and improve its effectiveness at the same time," she says.

Cost-cutting plan

Clic Sargent's cost-cutting plan is based on the 'lean six sigma' model, favoured by large private companies, such as Toyota and Tesco.

"It's all about waste reduction and 'just-in-time' ordering methods," says Clifton, who worked for BP in the early part of her career before becoming the chief executive of several hospitals in the NHS.

"It is a structured method backed by tools to map the organisation's processes."

After mapping the charity's processes, the next job was to work out how to identify the best savings.

The charity identified its stock-management operation, the purchasing of goods and services and travel costs as some of the processes in need of most improvement, as well as making better use of Gift Aid.

"We had fundraisers wasting their time having to bank the money they had raised themselves - it was quite inefficient - but we now have a more centralised system," says Clifton.

There is always a danger when implementing cost-cutting programmes that you might fail to convince staff of their necessity and create bad feeling.

Clifton says this did not happen at Clic Sargent because she was careful to give the charity's 450 staff ownership of the process by getting them to fill out questionnaires with suggestions for cost savings or comments on the current projects.

Cuts on target

"The reaction from the staff has been very positive and they have endorsed the things we looked at, as well as making suggestions of their own," says Clifton.

The chief executive is confident that the charity will have cut the whole of its target £1m from the budget some time after April next year.

"I think this is a real endorsement of the charity: we were not wasting money before, because we were careful, but our processes were too bureaucratic and slow," says Clifton.

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