Destinations are great, but journeys are important too

By Peter Gilheany

There has been a sea-change in the business sector over the last generation, where the focus on how organisations can operate ethically and sustainably has moved from the margins to the mainstream. Those responsible for corporate responsibility or sustainability now sit at the top table in many boardrooms.

Read the full report here

The voluntary sector isn’t the same as the corporate one – charities are mission-driven by nature, their focus and resources are on delivering against that objective. However, some recent scandals within the sector highlight the dangers for charities of not giving enough attention to their methods as well as their mission, of not at least learning from the development that has taken place in many businesses.

Some charities are large and complex, and many work on complicated, nuanced and difficult issues. A one eyed focus on the end result can come at the expense of ensuring organisations operate in a way that is true to their values and the overall responsibility of being a mission-driven organisation.

Recent examples of charities falling foul of this has impacted not only individual charities but the sector as a whole, and it’s no longer enough for a charity’s purpose to be solely reflected in what it does and the impact it has.

So, are charities learning from how businesses are tackling this issue, does it matter, and if it does, what can charities do about it?

These were the three key questions we explored in our latest report, examining whether the biggest charities had people with roles related to their corporate responsibility and sustainability. The short answer is, very few:

Just 13 out of the top 100 UK charities had an employee whose role involved an element of corporate responsibility, and in all of these cases it referred to the businesses charities work with, not to their own operations.”

We examined the reasons why this is an issue that the sector and individual charities need to respond to, and finish with recommendations on what form that response could take:

“The fact that trust in charities has not been above 65% since May 2013* indicates that we are potentially facing a long-lasting crisis of trust in charities.”

The research shows that how charities operate and how ethical and honest they are form a key driver for public trust, over and above the impact they make in terms of their mission. By examining high profile scandals and reputation crises affecting charities, we have identified common threads between how charities are involved and the causes of the scandals. This report highlights the anatomy of six that we have found.

The report also touches on the business perspective and the impact on potential partnership opportunities. Katie Buchanan, from Virgin Media writes:

“Social sector organisations need to give the same attention to how they conduct themselves otherwise they might find it difficult, if not impossible, to find progressive businesses with whom to build long term, sustainable and productive partnerships.”

So, what can charities do about this? We’ve identified nine ways that charities can ensure their methods match their mission with examples and inspiration from across the sector. The report draws on insights from an event we ran in partnership with ACEVO earlier this year speaking to charity CEOs and research from nfpSynergy around trust in the sector.

Here at Forster we’re unusual in that our work spans across the voluntary and business sectors, and we can see what each can learn from each other, as well as the benefits of them collaborating more closely together. This not only gives us a wide view of sustainability issues but also means we’re well placed to advise you on the approaches and people that can help you deliver change internally and externally. If you’d like to talk more about how we can help you to tackle some of these issues then do get in touch via

Read the full report here


*nfpSynergy Charity Awareness Monitor, 2011-2018

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