Let’s be more “charity-like”

I noticed at a recent meeting that the term “being business-like” was used as a shorthand for a well-managed charity. Now I do agree that charities and other non-profits can learn from the best of business practice and the increased attention on getting the financial and business model right to try and secure sustainability for vital services is a good thing.

There is a welcome increase in businesses giving time for employees to share their expertise with charities and providing pro bono help – for example, Business in The Community has over 400 professional firms in its ProHelp network; LawWorks helps smaller groups find free legal advice and The Whitehouse Consultancy run an annual pro bono scheme providing support from their political consultants to a charity without the means to get involved in the political debate (see links below).

However, not all businesses are well run and not all practices are appropriate to the charitable sector. How well would a business manage when all its ‘customers’ are experiencing severe trauma? How well would they cope with a doubling of demand, but with no additional resources and providing a service that is free?

It got me thinking about the reverse situation. What would “being charity-like” mean for businesses?

Here was the list I came up with for what for-profits can learn from not-for-profits:

  1. How to motivate people – when you can’t do so through large salaries and bonuses
  2. How to be lean – this may be one of the latest buzzwords for companies but charities have been delivering quality services on limited resources for years
  3. How to stay positive – these are tough times and I am always struck by the optimistic outlook most charity leaders hold despite the odds
  4. Embedding values at the heart of delivery – charities often live and breathe their values in ways corporates can only wonder at

So while we are quick to look to business to fill some gaps in charitable practice, we should also remember that we have approaches and expertise to exchange.