If charities are going to be innovative, to try new things and to increase their scale, then sometimes things will go wrong--sometimes so badly that the charity collapses. That is always devastating for the staff and even worse for the beneficiaries who rely on them. In the event of the charity ceasing to operate, focusing on this last group and trying to ensure some continuity of service is most important of all.
But the key thing in the longer run is that the sector as a whole-from those who fund organisations to those who are trustees, auditors, advisers and senior management--tries to learn some lessons.
In recent days the charity press has been full of stories about what did or did not happen at charity Beat Bullying, which has gone into voluntary liquidation. No doubt the processes now underway will reveal all sort of things about who did what and when, and whether they did the right and reasonable thing.
But I hope that, without getting into that necessary 'blame game', we will also be given a public reflection on what happened here, to help us all understand what it tells us.
Beat Bullying was trying to do new things-on-line mentoring, much more use of social media-and was trying to grow fast. What in the end went wrong here, and could they have done better? To what extent was this about bad but avoidable mistakes? And to what extent is this a lesson that those pushing the boundaries are taking risks and, that some will get it wrong, and that this is how progress proceeds? After all, firms go under regularly and is often how lesson are learned and new innovations are born.
Is this a subset of the problem in the charity sector that funding for innovation is in short supply, so that innovation carries a greater risk than it should do?
Shining a light on these sorts of question is essential to creating a charity sector which is up for innovation and risk-taking, while avoiding booby traps and mistakes that never need to have been made.
Last week also saw the announcement of the merger of two breast cancer charities - not before time most would say. We would all benefit from understanding how it came about, why it did not happen in the past, and how it can be made to work now.
At NPC we argue that every charity and every funder should try to improve their impact. But because in the sector we are all mission focused, we should always be sharing our knowledge too, even as we have to compete with them in different ways. And that sharing is not only about impact lessons, but issues around failure and mergers.
Let us use the demise of Beat Bullying to learn as much as we can.