not for profit

5 immediate improvements we can make in the charity sector


At #UKGC14 - my first outing in a vInspired t-shirt telling the Task Squad story (Photo by David Pearson)

At #UKGC14 – my first outing in a vInspired t-shirt telling the Task Squad story (Photo by David Pearson)

Friday marked the completion of my first 4 weeks working in a charity – ever.  In the course of my long and varied career I’ve so far worked in local and central government, been a freelance consultant, temped in a trade union, spent time in countless (and many pointless) private sector organisations, done a bit of quango-hopping and I’ve worked in or founded 5 start-ups.  On 20 January I joined Task Squad as its first ever CEO.  Task Squad is a brand new social innovation project from national well known volunteering charity vInspired.  Our mission is to get young people into paid employment by matching them to entry level micro working opportunities.

I thought 4 weeks in might be a good time to reflect upon and write down my experiences so far before I lose them.  It would also be good to get feedback from others at this early milestone – if I’m truthful I’m seeking reassurance that I’m progressing in the right direction and haven’t missed or misinterpreted anything.

Some of you will know me as a tech entrepreneur and one of Learning Pool’s co-founders.  Many, many people have asked me why I’ve chosen to work in a charity at this time instead of rushing off to start another private sector business.

The reality is that charities and social enterprises are doing a lot of innovative and interesting things.  In the past 4 weeks I’ve been introduced by Task Squad team members and funders to loads of wonderful projects bunged full of enthusiastic and motivated people who work hard and are as committed as any startup team.  What the projects I’ve been interacting with so far have in common is they’re all using tech for good and they’re all being run by teams of social entrepreneurs.

Anyway – it goes without saying that charities and social enterprises exist for good reasons and to do good things.  However, these are the 5 things that have bugged me a bit in my first month.

1.       There’s so much duplication within the sector.  What I mean is there’s so many projects doing what appears to me to be the same thing.  Government and the big funders are partially to blame by funding similar projects in isolation instead of forcing teams to merge and work together.  It would be useful if there was a matching service for small charities or social innovation projects that want to merge to save money and cover more ground.  Maybe there is?

2.       The entire sector is gripped by “accelerator” fever.  The prevalence of and participation in social accelerator programmes is reaching epidemic proportions.  Every which way I turn I uncover another one.  There has to be a better way for the sector to learn.  Also – who is paying all for all these growth accelerators and is that a good use of money.

3.       The working environment seems very formal and structured to me – even in a charity that’s relaxed and informal in many ways.  A lot of internal meetings take place and a lot of time is spent on governance type activities…what I describe as doing things the right way rather than doing the right things.  I wonder if there are ways to improve productivity whilst preserving integrity and just getting on and doing more “stuff”.

4.       Trustees appear to me to be underutilised by many charities and I don’t know why this is.  I’m a trustee of a couple of not for profit organisations.  I joined because I wanted to help them make a difference and they were looking for someone with my particular skill set.  I want to be useful.  I don’t want to be distant and see only the senior team at quarterly board meetings.  I’m sure this must work better in some places and I’d be interested in finding out who does this well and how they’ve made that happen.  Please send me any good examples you have of charities or not for profits who’ve got a great relationship with their trustees and who are getting the best out of them.

5.       Why isn’t there a central directory of all social funders and investors where they publish all their live funds?  This would make it easier for charities and social innovation projects to find and compare them and it would also significantly improve their dealflow.  Again – maybe there is and if so I would be grateful if someone can point me to it.

Apologies if I’ve dwelled upon too much of the negative in this first blog on this topic.  I don’t mean to be harsh as there’s so much good work happening generally and I personally feel completely elated to be working at Task Squad.  My interest is in helping everyone help each other to cover more ground with the limited resources we all have at our disposal.

I need your comments more than ever.  Let’s get some conversations started!