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Carlos Miranda Headshot

Harnessing the Entrepreneurial Spirit

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The lack of drive and commitment to business development and strategic fundraising in the charitable and social enterprise spaces never ceases to amaze me. Don't get me wrong: I'm not implying that all charities, social enterprises, and NGOs lack business or fundraising acumen. In fact, I've been lucky to work with and learn from some amazingly driven organisations (see Afrikids, Vital Regeneration, and WomenWin). I'm also not suggesting that most organisations - large, medium, or small - don't invest time, energy, and money in their programming and beneficiaries. However, the sector, and dare I say, society as whole, would benefit tremendously if charities and social enterprises, particularly at the senior management level, were more focused and invested in their business development and fundraising practices.

The days of armchair fundraising are over. No longer can you just apply to a government body or a large foundation and get the majority of your annual budget covered. Times are tough and the competition for funds - from all sources - is at an all time-high. Earlier this month, the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) here in the UK published a survey stating that 26% of people who give to charity say that they expect to cut the amount they give over the next 12 months. UK charities and social enterprises need to be more entrepreneurial if they are to survive and thrive. Any successful entrepreneur will tell you that fruitful business development and fundraising opportunities rarely just happen. You have to make them happen. It's time for your organisation to start being more entrepreneurial and dedicated to properly identifying and cultivating a wide range of opportunities.

Let's talk specifics. One of our clients, the UK charity SolarAid, recently tasked itself with eradicating the kerosene lamp from Africa (they refer to this mission as their "BHAG" or "Big Hairy Audacious Goal"). With SolarAid's African-based social enterprise, SunnyMoney, having recently become the largest retailer of solar lights in Africa, they knew that now was the time to tackle what is without a doubt a massive undertaking; they have momentum and they want to maximise it. However, they're also aware that to meet their goal, a coalition of donors, allies, and partners will have to work together under one banner: SolarAid can't do it alone. The SolarAid team (lead by Chair, Jeremy Leggett and CEO, Steve Andrews) started by creating an action-orientated committee tasked with providing advice, making strategic introductions, and facilitating fundraising. SolarAid determined the type of volunteer group (and skills) that was needed to begin effectively tackling its BHAG and pro-actively tasked its team, Board and key donors with finding the group's individual members. While it's still early days, this volunteer group, which is managed by a senior SolarAid staff member, is already hard at work with specific tasks and requests, all aimed at building the infrastructure required to achieve the BHAG.

Not every organisation needs to be (or should be) the size of Oxfam nor do they need to set themselves massive targets, like SolarAid has done - that's not what I mean by ambition. But every charity or social enterprise can learn from SolarAid's entrepreneurial approach. Even if you're looking only to grow modestly over the next few years, in these hyper-competitive times, you need to be goal-orientated and focused on business development. If you're not, someone else will be, possibly at the expense of your organisation and your beneficiaries. It's a sad truth, but the truth just the same. So set yourself, your staff, and your volunteers some realistic business development targets (e.g. your CEO should be having a minimum of six fundraising meetings a month, your Chair three, etc.), hold yourself accountable to these targets, and begin being pro-active. Again, fruitful business development and fundraising opportunities tend not to just happen, you have to make them happen.

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