Running a charity isn’t all doling out funds, nodding and smiling and being congratulated on being a good egg. Mostly, it’s dull painstaking work and recently I started drafting our second annual report, for the year 2012. As always, these bureaucratic requirements force you to stop and face issues.
Last year we had one permanent employee, Rachel Wade, and very good she was. At the beginning of the year money appeared to be flooding in. Money was flooding out as well to very worthwhile projects and we were busy. As the year progressed, income dropped off but we continued to find great things to fund in Afghanistan.
We’d always anticipated that our outgoings would exceed our income, having started with some capital and needing to establish a reputation for delivering on the ground. In the long run, it’s this performance that will make us sink or swim.
As we neared the end of the year, we had to face the fact that our overhead costs were rising and becoming too high as a percentage of income – mostly due to Rachel’s wage costs even though she was being paid little above the minimum wage.
We had always said that we would be a low overhead organisation so Rachel had to go, painful as that was because she had almost become part of our family. Fortunately, there’s a happy ending here as, through Foundation contacts, she found an interesting and challenging job working on an agricultural aid project in Liberia. And she thought the Outer Hebrides were laid back!
We wondered how we would manage without regular help but manage you do, if required.
We are now 100% volunteers in the UK. In Afghanistan we have a volunteer assisted part-time by a paid Afghan woman.
We do need to adopt a more hard-line approach to fundraising because sometimes the amount raised does not justify the overhead incurred. This is especially true in an area like ours where the people, although so generous, are not by any means wealthy. It’s a difficult balance; small fundraising events might not be economically justifiable but they can raise the profile of the charity and create favourable press coverage.
I’ve given talks to schools and women’s groups. These involve expense and little income: a disaster for overheads but good for the Foundation. Percentage overheads are a crude tool but we have to face the fact that people donating money will continue to use crude tools.
We draw strength from the example of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan who we continue to fund and with whom we are currently working to develop a much larger project.
They have two part-time staff in Canada paid at reduced non-profit rates for only a part of the hours that they work and the rest is all run by volunteers. They raise and spend, including organising and running the programmes in Afghanistan, more than £500,000 a year but their expenses in Canada remain below £10,0000.
Now there’s a model to follow.