Google provides the following definition of the word sustainability:
It seemed an ideal opportunity to write to all our members about sustainability and the importance of ensuring our services are run in such a way that ensures their longevity. We know that many of our centres are 98% reliant on Cafcass / MOJ funding and with the latest changes in the eligibility for this, there has been an understandable amount of concern and anxiety amongst Child Contact Centres. Before we go further with this article, I just want to stress that if you are expecting challenges as a result of the changes to the Cafcass criteria it is important that you contact them as a priority. There might be something that can be done, and we really do not want children to miss out on the fantastic services you provide.
Sustainability is a constant challenge within child contact centres. We find ourselves with several challenges from not being able to recruit younger volunteers to difficulties in succession planning meaning that we find ourselves missing key members of a management committee or a co-ordinator. It is important that we think about the futures of services and what this may mean in terms of the way that we will meet the needs of families moving forward.
In this article we will try to address some of the different areas of Sustainability that are important to supported centres. We would also welcome input from you, which might include:
- And so on…
The pressure to raise money is probably the thing that keeps most charity leaders awake at night. Most charities face the challenge of working with short-term funding and significant uncertainty about ongoing funding. There is sometimes a real sense of living hand to mouth, and there is often little margin for error in ensuring they have the cash and reserves to cover their commitments.
Increasingly we find that the government is reviewing where money is spent as are other organisations that may have provided funding to child contact centres in the past, like the Tudor Trust for example. It is also the case that the grants supported centres receive from Cafcass (out of their MOJ Funding) are not guaranteed and could, in theory, stop at any time with little or no notice of this beforehand. Alternatively, it is also possible that the criteria for making applications could change meaning that centres that were eligible are not anymore, or that they are eligible for much less.
This is a particularly worrying because we know that some supported child contact centres are 98% reliant on this money and such a change would almost certainly leave no alternative but closure. It is essential to have a clear strategy for managing income and responding to increases and decreases. Some of the organisations are still taking a reactive approach to financial management, and in some cases, people are not fully aware of or were not facing up to the fact that their money was running out. It is dangerous to ignore warning signs.
Having a clear sustainability policy and procedure as well as regular discussions as a management committee will guide your organisation in recognising the changing financial landscape and being able to plan for this. There are lots of organisations that will support Child Contact Centres, but you need to take the time to know who they are.
Regularly, the Postcode Lottery, Comic Relief and Children in Need are assisting with funding but there are a number of other grants making authorities that will support you. It is also the case that Supermarkets and Banks are doing increasingly more to be seen to be supporting local charitable services and may have something to offer.
Elizabeth Coe – NACCC CEO, spends significant amounts of time looking into different ways that centres might be able to fund themselves and with support from the office centres are often contacted with information about grants and donors locally that might be able to assist centres. However, this will never be enough on its own and centres need to be enthusiastic and creative about making sure they are sustainable in this sense.
TIP: You will have a better chance of solving any funding problems if you predict them well in advance and explore your options carefully. Keep trying to diversify income – difficult but important and tell your funders as early as possible if you think you will have a problem; they may be able to renegotiate with you or reschedule payments to help see you through.
Kate Sayer wrote an article for the website thirdsector.co.uk (https://www.thirdsector.co.uk/kate-sayer-ensure-charity-financially-sustainable/finance/article/1454854) in February 2018 where she provided the following pointers in terms of remaining financial sustainable as a charity.
The big advantage of being smaller is that you can respond to opportunities more quickly. As long as a new activity is within your objectives, it is worth considering. The challenge for larger organisations is often that it takes them a while to reach decisions and they might have high fixed costs, plus rules about covering overheads that make them expensive to a potential funder.
Working with others is not always easy but can bring benefits. You might be able to second staff to another organisation to give team members experience and learning. When you need help, those organisations might reciprocate. Secondments can be one-way traffic, too, with large firms really valuing the learning for their staff from placing them in a different setting.
Look for pro-bono help
Companies might not be able to provide large amounts of funding but could be willing to provide people or resources. Use your board to make contacts and think about what you have to offer, not just what you want. Grant-making trusts could provide premises, advice and contacts too.
In past recessions, small charities have been incredibly resilient. Organisations that realise it is about people, not money, seem to do much better. If you can keep people involved as supporters and volunteers, you do not need large sums to keep going. Small charities can go back to being volunteer-run in times of austerity – not easy, but better than giving up altogether.
2. Good Governance
The success or otherwise of any charity will depend largely on the people running the service. Every charity needs strong, confident leadership. This will include a management committee that have a clear sense of the values of the centre, what it seeks to achieve, how to do this and what the future is likely to look like.
This will only be achieved by passionate and committed management committee members who understand the value of the child contact centre to the children in your local community. By being focused in this way management committee members will be better equipped to guide and direct the organisation through challenges that occur.
They will only be able to do this though, if they have the skills that enable this. Recruiting the right people for your management committee will be essential. It is important to have a clear idea of the skills that your centre needs to carry it forward and to ensure it is succeeding in meeting its aims, once you know what the skills are that you need you can then recruit to ensure these are met. There are a number of different organisations out there that will assist you in recruiting for your management committee.
Once you have this in place it is important that your management committee are guided by the Articles of your charity and any other guiding documents that might be in place to ensure they are effective. Documents that are written governing the operation of a centre are probably something that was written 30 years ago and scarcely looked at since. These documents need a little tlc from time to time to make sure that they are still relevant to the aims and objectives of your service and more importantly to ensure that the people using them are able to make sense of them. NACCC would recommend that the management committee review these at least annually, although we do recognise that some years no amendments would be applicable.
NACCC has recently delivered Governance Training to management committee members with fantastic feedback. If this is something you would be interested in accessing, please do get in touch with the NACCC office.
3. Succession Planning
Many Child Contact Centres have dedicated passionate volunteers offering the service on the ground and within the management committee. These people have often given significant years of their lives offering hundreds of hours of their time on a voluntary basis. It is truly amazing that people are willing and able to do this and something that must always be applauded and recognised. The experience and expertise of these people is something that we could not and would not want to be able to replace.
However, we also must accept that one day these people will move on, or sadly we will lose them through bereavement. The most tempting and easiest thing to do it to bury our heads in the sand and not think about this too much.
The problem with this is that one day we won’t be able to do this anymore and the skills and qualities of that individual will be lost and irreplaceable.
For reasons that are not immediately clear, it seems that it is harder these days to attract younger volunteers to our contact centres. It might be to do with a busier lifestyle or family commitments, but I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this, particularly if you have ideas that have been successful in the past. Bringing younger people into our management committees and volunteer teams would mean that co-ordinators naturally grow and develop from the team learning as they go and developing the values that are essential to the type of work that we do.
It is, therefore, important to think about the future and planning for changes that we would rather not think about or even imagine. This might include having people shadow or work alongside the co-ordinator or being invited to management committee meetings to offer contributions on specific topics. If nothing else this would equip you with people that might be able to stand in at short notice or even to cover holidays etc.
There are ways of recruiting to child contact centres, it isn’t easy, but not impossible either. Many professionals want to find a way to continue working once they retire or take on less in paid employment. Teachers, social workers, Cafcass, solicitors, magistrates and so on the list really is endless. There are also some local authorities that will encourage foster carers to volunteer at a supported service as part of the fostering process, contact your local fostering team to see if you could strike up a working arrangement with them. Additionally, universities have hundreds if not thousands of potential volunteers passing through their doors every year. The experience and up to date knowledge that a student can bring to a service can often be immeasurable, they have access to a range of information and knowledge that is the most contemporary available. Why not approach these people or organisations and make sure they know what you are doing, invite them to your centre or AGMs for example so that they feel confident and involved? You have little to lose.
The NCVO has lots of information about this. The Indeed job website will also allow you to advertise for roles you need covering, this will allow you to search for particular skills or experiences that your service might need. You can use this service free of charge and you can also specify that this is a not a paid role.
On the note of payment. Have you ever considered whether your co-ordinator should be paid? Lots of centres have and decide that it is too much responsibility or too complicated. This is something worth taking seriously and giving due consideration too. The role of the co-ordinator is a complex one requiring lots of time, patience, skill, commitment and motivation. Co-ordinators will often give more of their time to a centre than any other person and opportunities to switch of from being a co-ordinator are often limited.
Paying someone to fulfil this role might help you to attract the person that you need and better still be able to keep them once you have them. It is certainly worth thinking about and there is information online that makes this process much less of a chore. Link to previous article where centres have shared their experience in employing staff.
4. Learning and Developing
We learn every day, sometimes as a result of getting something wrong or receiving a complaint, sometimes it’s as a result of getting something right and seeing the impact that this has for a child – potentially life long. We learn from experience and from opportunity.
It’s important that co-ordinators and management committee members harness this learning and reflect upon it to consider what it means for your service. For example, does a complaint warrant a review of a policy, have you just found a genius way to support families to move on. When we learn and develop implement it, make your lives easier whilst also improving outcomes for children and their families.
5. Horizon Scanning
“Foresight allows decision makers to make a more informed and timely assessment of the likely impact of policies against a background of possible future environments. Foresight is not about predicting the future; it is about making better decisions in the present” – Bob Johansen, Distinguished Fellow, Institute for the Future.
Horizon scanning is the continuous process of gathering information about children, families and their needs, other child contact centres, NACCC and other Stakeholders, society, technology, and so on, and using this information to make informed decisions about your child contact centre. Horizon scanning involves deciding:
- Which parts of the charity or funding environment to scan for information?
- Where and how often to gather the information?
- Who will gather the information?
Why is it important?
Horizon scanning can provide you with information about risks or opportunities in the future and therefore also provide you with the opportunity to be able to plan for these and make any relevant changes or reviews ahead of time.
How do I use it in my Child Contact Centre?
The horizon scanning process can be a formal, documented and tightly controlled series of steps or it can be managed informally, provided those involved understand what they are doing and why. The important thing is that it is continuous. It is not a one-off exercise completed before an annual strategy meeting. The business environment is constantly changing, and you need to know about it!
The steps involved in horizon scanning are Organise and Lead, Scope, Scan, Analyse and Review (see image):
We have always faced challenges in terms of sustainability, and we have always successfully navigated these because we are passionate about our work and we can only imagine what things would be like for the families that we support.
The challenges and information are nothing new and for many of you will serve as little more than a reminder. After all some of you have been around for 30 years or more. However, it is important to plan for the future and to envisage a time when it might be harder to continue with our invaluable work. By envisaging it we are able to prepare for it and by preparing we may be able to prevent it altogether or ensure that we can successfully navigate these challenges when they do occur.
NACCC are really interested to hear your thoughts or reflections: what have you tried in the past, did it work, did you learn from it and so on. The more you share with us the more we can share with others.
In July 2014 the Guardian Newspaper wrote an interesting article about Future Proofing Charities. Whilst this is quite aged now, it is still and interesting read and something that might be able to support you in thinking about how you can support your child contact centre to still be around for the future generations that so desperately rely on you and your services.