How UK charities set goals
In the UK, Ireland and Northern Ireland, the goals to be achieved by every charity are defined by its governing document. This states the charity’s mission, and should break down into detail the components of that mission, or specific goals.
As the UK Charity Commission points out in its guidance:
“You and your co-trustees must make sure that everything your charity does helps (or is intended to help) to achieve the purposes for which it is set up, and no other purpose. This means you should:
- Ensure you understand the charity’s purposes as set out in its governing document;
- Plan what your charity will do, and what you want it to achieve;
- Be able to explain how all of the charity’s activities are intended to further or support its purposes; and
- Understand how the charity benefits the public by carrying out its purposes.”
This is not just a matter of setting objectives. Spending charity funds on the wrong purposes is a very serious matter, the Charity Commission warns, and in some cases, trustees may have to reimburse the charity personally if funds are not used for the specific goals set by the charity’s governing document.
Getting the benefit of long-term goals at UK and Irish charities
Surprisingly, relatively few charities in the region set long-term goals clearly, according to Tris Lumley, Head of Development at the not-for-profit consultancy, NPC.
“Beneath these vision and mission statements, you often find some so-called goals or aims, but these will focus more on what the organisation does than what they will achieve. This isn’t surprising – it’s human nature to focus on what we’re doing, rather than why we’re doing it.”
This means understanding how the charity has impact; where it helps people; where it changes society, the environment, or whatever aspect of the world that concerns its goals. It means knowing:
- Who the charity is there to benefit (its beneficiaries);
- How they will benefit (what the charity will do for or with them);
- Any order of priority to the services and benefits the charity provides; and
- Any restrictions on what the charity can do or who it can help (geographical or other boundaries; or specific criteria that beneficiaries must meet).
One of the chief results of this clarity for goals is that impact measurement becomes feasible, as Lumley notes.
This is a substantial benefit. Impact measurement in itself provides benefit as a means for seeing how to improve the performance of a charitable organisation.
But it offers greater benefit in that impact measurement tells the board of the charity whether it is making a difference or not.
The following case study, recounted by Pesh Framjee, Head of Not-for-Profits at the London-based Crowe consultancy, provides a useful illustration of how impact measurement gets a charity on the right path.
A charity had the mission of building schools in Sub-Saharan Africa. It built the schools, and populated them with teachers, but children didn’t show up for class.
The charity evaluated its impact, and found that the children were spending their days getting water at faraway sources, and so had no time for school.
So the charity expanded its mission to digging wells in the communities in which the schools were located. And, with water nearby, the schools filled up with pupils.
“Measuring impact involves the whole performance chain,” explains Framjee. It’s not about seeing how much money was spent and on what. It’s about understanding the organisation’s goals, and seeing if there is a meaningful effect to the charity’s actions. In that way, the benefit of having long-term goals becomes clear.
Another benefit: effective communication with management
As the charity’s board determines long-term goals, the mission should be broken down into functions which are easily communicated to management for implementation. Individual action plans can be determined based on these functional areas, and then the trustees can work with management to set short-term objectives for each of the long-term goals. Additional functional areas exist that underpin a cross-section of the organisation’s activities, such as administration and financial management, and these also require short-term goals to guide their actions.
All of this makes communication with management easy and effective, and that is a royal road to improved performance – and greater impact.
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