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The comms insider

19 April 2013

In my mid-twenties I was – like countless others before and no doubt since – lured away from the relative security of the corporate world by the promised land of Charity, where doing your job came with the added satisfaction of helping people in need. What could possibly be better than that?

Who cared, thought I (revelling in a rose-tinted haze) that salaries were lower in the not-for-profit sector (the clue was, after all, in the name)? The sense of pride I’d feel as, all around me, my corporate peers whored themselves out for personal gain would more than make up for that! I would be a pioneer, a crusader in the importance of the causes I represented. I would achieve that most hallowed of goals: I would MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

Some years later I sit before you as a more jaded and cynical – perhaps just realistic – individual. But nonetheless one who continues to work in the charity sector, despite being comparatively underpaid and often unappreciated in the various roles I’ve held as a communications professional.

Through this monthly blog I’ll document the challenges I’ve faced and recount the highs and lows of my professional career in the third sector. I’m certain for me it will be cathartic and hope that – for some of you at least – it will be of interest. I'm remaining anonymous so I can speak freely and frankly, without feeling inhibited by the prospect of embarrassing my employer or colleagues or prejudicing any future employment prospects.

For this, my first post, I’d like to touch on the (arguably large) problem of poor governance. Having worked for both large and small charities I can say with some conviction each comes with its own problems. But nowhere is the problem of poor governance as acute as it is in large charitable organisations. Why? Because it’s easier to hide in a large organisation – there’s always someone else who can be blamed, which means few are ever held accountable for bad decision making and errors of judgement.

Take the size of the senior management team as an example. The larger the team the harder it is to:

a) Agree on anything – because there will always be a million conflicting viewpoints

b) Get things signed off – because senior management are, by their nature, egotistical souls, all believing their input to even the tiniest of press releases to be crucial (and because you can guarantee they will never – and I mean never – all be working at the same time).

c) Communicate effectively to staff lower down the food chain (because information will cascade via different senior management streams, the messaging warping a little each time like a game of Chinese whispers)

d) Develop a strategy that everyone adheres to (see a)

e) Develop messaging that everyone understands and can communicate (see c)

On my sizeable list of large charity frustrations, having an unnecessarily large senior management team is therefore a strong contender for the top spot. Not only is it financially wasteful, it’s also – for the reasons given above – counterproductive. I’m a big believer in accountability, and to my mind the old adage of too many cooks spoiling the broth is particularly pertinent here. To throw another metaphor into the mix, if you appoint too many chiefs you lose control over the villagers – because whilst the chiefs are preening and butting their egos against one another like stags, they fail to notice their homes going up in flames (The peasants are revolting! Not as revolting as the chiefs. Sorry, bad joke).

So, if the first step on the path to successful charity management is a lean management team, what’s next? Reducing waste and redirecting funds to where they’re most needed (rather than where they’re most fashionable), that’s what. Next month I’ll share a story that illustrates this point.

The comms insider – On wastage. The comms insider – Admin fees and wastage peeves.The comms insider – Managers in the charity sector.


Mystery UK charity

The comms insider is an anonymous comms professional working at a UK charity. S/he wishes to remain incognito so as to be able to write frankly about his/her experiences and opinions.