Think beyond just generating income, Children's Society director tells charities

Joe Jenkins says at Third Sector's Charity Leaders's Forum that doubling down on the usual fundraising methods will not be sustainable in future

Joe Jenkins of the Children's Society
Joe Jenkins of the Children's Society

Charitable organisations must think beyond generating income if they want to guarantee future success, fundraising experts have told Third Sector’s Charity Leaders’ Forum.

Addressing delegates at the event in London yesterday, Joe Jenkins, director of supporter income and impact at the Children’s Society, and Tim Willett, executive director of fundraising, marketing and communications at Action on Hearing Loss, discussed a "perfect storm" of challenges faced by the sector, including stretched finances for statutory income contracts, increased competition, regulation and legislation on funding.

"We’ve seen many charities double down in the face of these challenges and try to push themselves harder, but simultaneously sticking with the normal methods of fundraising and development," said Jenkins.

"Our reflection today is that this will not be good enough for being sustainable in the future. Being sustainable is not just about income generation; it’s more fundamental and focused on what charities do to achieve impact in the 21st century."

Maintaining relevance in a changing environment will demand a fundamental rethink of leadership methods, recruitment of diverse new talent and the most productive ways to interact with developing social initiatives and movements such as the Extinction Rebellion climate change protests, Jenkins and Willett agreed.

"If you look at the world of youth philanthropy, where larger-value people can just set up their own foundations and create solutions, there’s a sense of not believing in charities," said Willett.

"When you add that to the changing world we live in, where attitudes and technology are changing dramatically and new generations are coming through with values that are different from ours – not to mention the absolute explosion of activism with Extinction Rebellion and others – the conclusion I have come to is that this is not just about fundraising, but the entire model of operation."

Without committing to evolved, flexible models, Willett warned, charities risked becoming the victims of disintermediation and getting cut out of the loop between people who wanted to drive positive change through direct action, social enterprises or private companies, and their beneficiaries.

Jenkins added: "This is not just about copying Extinction Rebellion. But there is a question about why, when people want to be successful and do good, they don’t see charities as a means of doing that, but set up their own causes or social enterprises."

Queries put forward by delegates included whether the leap to this new model would be too great for some charities, which could face closure rather than forcing traditional models into a new state of existence.

Others suggested that larger organisations such as Oxfam were likely to thrive despite inflexibility and the shadow of prior safeguarding scandals.

"It’s no longer enough to promise to do good with donor money," Willett said. "We have to reinvent our business model, be more agile, add speed and investigate different models of operating, from investigating holacracy [flat] models of leadership, to recruiting in new and interesting ways, and developing that talent ourselves."

He added: "If we do those things well and add bold, risk-taking, courageous leadership, I think we should fail fast and happy, but also succeed and find success.

"So although it’s important to ensure we are changing funding and delivery models and making sure they are far more integrated, we also have to be looking at that bottom line and the good we do – not just for our causes, but for our wider environment."

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