Regulation with Rosie: Meeting real needs

The Charity Commission's Rosie Chapman on meeting real needs.

In a world with insufficient charitable resources to go round, it's ironic that one of the most common reasons for charities going under is their inability to meet an actual need.

I know of a playgroup that hired staff, then had to close down because not enough children attended to cover costs. Then there was the sheltered housing that offered accommodation nobody wanted to live in because it was too dilapidated for modern needs.

Forward planning is invaluable for any charity starting up. If you find the need for a service but can't afford to deliver it to the standards expected, you may need to rethink funding.

Our report, Milestones: Managing Key Events in the Life of a Charity, suggested that less than 50 per cent of charities surveyed had a plan for the next year or longer, which also casts doubt on their sustainability. What happens, say, to a playgroup when the parents of the current intake send their kids to school?

Just because a charity offers something doesn't make it intrinsically desirable. Expectations change: people expect modern bathrooms and more than just a cubicle room in sheltered accommodation. Interests change: sewing clubs may be less attractive to older women than courses on web skills or car maintenance. Needs change: amateur dramatics may become less relevant in a rural area than a community transport facility.

And regulations change, too. Minimum standards can be raised and service delivery and funding can be contingent on meeting them.

You need to be honest. Is there a need for this service? Is it sufficient to justify setting up a new organisation to meet it? Is it likely to have a future? With so much need not being met, it's always a good idea for would-be organisations to check that people really want what's being proposed.

- Rosie Chapman is executive director of policy and effectiveness at the commission.

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