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How to miss the point!

03/08/2010

I don’t often openly rant in this blog as generally it’s not helpful or useful.  I will therefore apologise in advance if what I’m about to say ‘bends’ my rule but please bear with me as there is a serious point for all marketing, communications and fundraising people here.

In a recent edition of Third Sector magazine, I read with increasing annoyance the story of how the recruitment policies of a charity resulted in the withdrawal of a valuable, effective and unrelated service to its beneficiaries.  I will let you read the full story yourselves but a quick précis is that an umbrella charity organisation representing disabled people had secured funding from cross-sector sources to deliver the end-benefits.  Government reports concluded that this was a good example of such working and that funding secured from central and local government had been used as intended.

However… the charity recruited a Chief Executive who had been sentenced for a sex offence in 1993.  No Criminal Records Bureau checks had been undertaken as the Trustees did not believe their beneficiaries qualified as vulnerable.  This breached the terms of the funding agreement with the local councils and so the funding was withdrawn.  Without funding, the service was withdrawn.

There are a few other twists (like a Charity Commission investigation, paid for out of the public purse and further financial offences committed by the Chief Executive ) but the long and short of it, I believe, is:

  1. Questionable process and procedure led to an issue which had nothing to do with the charity’s beneficiaries
  2. i-dotters and t-crossers within various public bodies must have their checklists completed in their black and white world – still apparently nothing to do with the charity’s beneficiaries in this case
  3. a valued and effective service was withdrawn because the public bodies and the charity itself could not come up with a common sense solution – depriving the charity’s beneficiaries of a service through no fault of theirs
  4. And, according to the Treasury, the service and partnerships which underpinned it worked and were being considered for roll-out across other parts of the UK – which would have benefited other disabled people and their carers who no longer have this opportunity

I’ve said this at countless meetings, workshops, presentations and conferences: the opinions and needs of our key external audiences should be prioritised over ours as organisations if we want to satisfy those needs and engage them in what we’re doing.  This isn’t rocket science and I’m sure it’s not news to the majority of readers.

I’m not suggesting we all get reckless and put individuals at risk but seriously, whose needs have been met in this whole debacle?  Council procurement departments got their policies followed.  The Charity Commission was able to conduct an objective investigation and introduce appropriate sanctions.  Central Government funded a service that met their expectations.  Risk management teams (who, to be fair can’t seem to win either way) were able to ensure they ‘protected vulnerable individuals’ even though the individuals themselves did not consider themselves as vulnerable.

And the disabled people who actually used and appreciated the fully functional, cost effective and successful service?  What of their needs?  Can you imagine how disastrous it would be to your organisation if the needs of your beneficiaries were last on your list of things to consider?  And by needs I mean their real needs, not what we might think they are (see risk assessment above).

I can’t help but think all the organisations concerned have missed the key point and lost sight of what they were supposed to be doing and for whom.  Funnily enough the only marketing and communications truism I know.

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