OPINION: Charity's a game of two halves

LISA HARKER, deputy director of the Institute for Public Policy Research

My boss drives me mad with his football analogies. No management situation seems to escape comparison with The Beautiful Game. He explains every strategy in metaphors that involve eleven-a-side teams and every solution has the equivalent of an off-side rule. I raise my eyebrows in anticipated umbrage at the very mention of football during team meetings.

It must be getting to me because I've begun to see parallels between the charity and football worlds myself. The establishment of a Football Parliament last week, set up by discontented fans who are frustrated by the way they are being treated by football clubs, reminded me of the charity sector's own challenges in meeting its supporters' expectations.

Football fans want a greater say over the direction of the game and the clubs they support. They feel ripped off by clubs that do not acknowledge the support of their fans.

Some clubs have started to make room for "ordinary" fans on their boards, but even this has not been enough. Football, it seems, needs to rethink its relationship with its supporters or fans may desert them to establish alternative clubs, as has already happened in the case of Wimbledon FC.

The challenges facing football are comparable to those faced by the charity sector. To retain their supporters, charities are under pressure to show that money is spent prudently. And, as charities gain influence, some supporters want more of a say in the direction of charities' work.

Growth in the business of professional football has prompted the need for changes in the relationship between the game and its fans. In a similar way, the increasing importance of the work of the charity sector has led to a need to re-examine its relationship with its supporters.

Many charities are already revising their management structures and increasing the information flow to and from their supporters. As my boss would say, the most important thing is that the sector has a game plan so that, at the end of the day, everyone gets a result. And, in this case, the analogy is bang on target.

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