Recently, I was lucky enough to be involved in a community project that will make a massive difference to a charity very close to my heart. It was announced last month that Side by Side, a Jewish special needs school, would receive fibre optic internet for free at their new site in Hackney. My company, Avon Group, worked with internet provider Community Fibre to ensure that the broadband was installed free of charge and monthly fees were waived. For a small school that is supported mainly by charitable donations, this deal will make an incredible difference.
Charity is an essential tool in strengthening our Community. It nourishes causes that support needy and vulnerable people, helping to support individuals throughout their lives. It is therefore essential that charities are run well, providing those in need with the best support possible.
Through my years of philanthropic work, I am always struck by one fundamental fact that people often get wrong: the skills you apply in business should be no different to the ones applied in charity. Or, to put it another way, business know-how is fundamental to the success of a charity.
This might seem jarring to philanthropists, who argue that a special dedication to the cause separates business and charity. No doubt, if your heart isn’t in a charity, you shouldn’t be either. But a group of dedicated individuals, left to their own devices, is not enough. For a charity to be truly successful, we must take that dedication and apply business sense to it.
During my involvement with charities as both a donor, active volunteer, and board member, I have often reflected on the value businesspeople with other specialisations can bring as charity trustees. After all, we are in a unique position to apply a wealth of business experience and acumen.
Trustees with a business background have unique gifts that can help charities run more effectively. It can be too easy for businesspeople to silo their work life away from philanthropy, to view it as a tick-box exercise and commit minimal effort to it.
It seems clear to me that business and charities aren’t all that different. Charites still have board meetings, or meetings with other charities and sponsors. Who is better than an experienced director to chair these meetings on their charity’s behalf?
Like all businesses, charities need to ensure that their financials are water-tight and their work in compliance with the law and government regulations. An accountant will help to ensure that all outgoings are responsibly invested and signed off; a commercial lawyer can ensure that contracts are appropriate and regulations are adhered to.
But professionals also bring something intangible – a business nous, and some excellent contacts to boot. If we can apply this to charities, the results can be terrific.
What does that mean in practice? To successfully apply this to work life, businesspeople must do something challenging – they must consider charity at every turn. Understanding how a charity can benefit from a business deal can mean the world to that non-profit organisation. I speak from experience when I say that communicating a charity’s interests, as well as your business’, will often lead to additional support for a charity.
After all, what is the harm in asking? All businesses understand the importance of charity. More often than not, laying out how a charity might be included, and might benefit, in a business deal will create new opportunities. This might be as simple as a conversation with someone in your network.
By keeping a charity’s aims close to your heart and in your head at all times, you are better able to make a real difference.