Friday, 28 February 2014

Sinister Sustainable Development

Following on from the Voluntary Sector Humour earlier this week about the Kenyan NGO mokumentary, here's another video, this time linked to an article: Survival International reveals a sinister side of “sustainable development”

It's tempting to say it's a little simplistic, but there is certainly something sinister about people selling their internal organs to repay microfinance debts.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Collaborating as a Small Charity

Cross-sector collaboration is not just for the big boys. Small charities have a lot to gain too – indeed many already are. Data from the Foundation for Social Improvement (FSI) shows that 64% of small charities work in partnership with other organisations. However, the extent of this is limited: 62% collaborate on less than 20% of their activities.

It goes on to cover:

  • Understand what you want to achieve
  • Find the right partner
  • Set roles and objectives
  • Put in place policies, systems and processes
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate

Really worth a read.

Also worth checking out my posts on background checking a business.

Monday, 24 February 2014

NGO Mokumentary: The Samaritans

[A] new TV show exists to highlight some of the absurdities of the international aid sector. The slyly named The Samaritans is a comedy about the perils – and pleasures – of the “NGO world”. Created by a Kenya-based production company, it chronicles the work of Aid for Aid – an NGO that, in the words of its creator, “does nothing”.

There's more on Buzzfeed, and the mokumentary's official website.

I'm rather hoping it'll be out as a box set by the time I get to Kenya later this year.

Friday, 21 February 2014

PEACe - HR for the VolSec

PEACe HR Services have teamed up with NCVO to offer a free telephone helpline and 10% reduced-rate services to charities in England & Wales who are NCVO members. You can find the full terms of the deal here.

So, if you're a small organisation thinking of employing its first staff, or you want training or advice on employment law, it's worth checking them out.

NCVO membership also comes with perks of its own.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014


I've mentioned social media scheduling in the past as a way to free up time in the office. Here's a user guide for FutureTweets, which is a user-friendly way of scheduling Twitter posts. You can find more user guides for social media here.

Tweet on.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Why is PayPal a Good Idea?

There is an old fashioned line of thought that says PayPal is dangerous because it's too easy to use - anyone could empty your account.

Something being bad because it's too easy to use is the type of thinking that leaves organisations at the back of the line for efficiency.

PayPal is no more dangerous than having online banking, which just about every charity has. 

The danger comes if you don't have good Policies and Procedures in place governing who can use those facilities and for what purpose. That's a fault with your organisation's administration, rather than PayPal.

In fact, PayPal makes payment transactions both safer and often cheaper. It has the potential to revolutionise international aid once regional banking systems catch up. There are still countries in the world where national banks haven't heard of PayPal.

So, why is it such a good idea? 

Three main reasons:

  1. Fundraising: The obvious one. It makes it as easy as humanly possible for people to donate money to your organisation. It's free to include a Donate Now button on your website - why wouldn't you?
  2. Transfers: It's often free to transfer money between PayPal accounts, and even when it isn't, the charges are far smaller than doing it via your bank. For instance, if I wanted to donate £10 to a charity in Africa, my bank in the UK is likely to charge me a further £30 in transfer fees - why would I? Even Western Union is expensive compared to PayPal. Hopefully it won't be long until every bank in the world understands and accepts PayPal. Just think what that would do for international and local aid organisations, and how much they would save in bank charges.
  3. Safety: I've tried to illustrate above why PayPal is so clever. Every time you give your payment details to a new company or individual online, you are taking a risk. There are many reputable companies with strong privacy policies, but there are also unscrupulous traders who will try to defraud you. Often, you don't know whether a company or individual is legitimate until you have given them your payment details, by which time it's too late. PayPal shields your bank details from third parties. Only PayPal has your bank details, and when you pay through PayPal, it protects those details whilst conducting the transaction. PayPal also has a very good mediation procedure. If you think money has been taken from your account unlawfully, you can contact them. Often the money is returned within twenty-four hours.

People often say 'isn't giving your card details to PayPal risky?' Only if you intend never buying anything online, ever. Giving your payment details to anyone online without using PayPal is the risky bit.

Although PayPal is by far the most widely used transaction service, you might also like to check out alternatives to PayPal.

Friday, 14 February 2014

YouTube Tutorials

This may seem like a very obvious tip, but if you find staff are struggling to get to grips with the finer points of PowerPoint, Excel, word processing or just about any other software package, try running a YouTube search for what you want to know + tutorial.

You'd be amazed what people have produced tutorial videos on. Far from YouTube being a waste of work time, it can often blast through the issues that are holding your organisation back. If your staff can easily find a video explaining what they need to know in easy steps without having to go on a lengthy or expensive training course, everyone benefits. Five minutes watching a video online can boost your office efficiency, saving you many more hours of head-scratching. 

In case you're wondering, it also works very well for musical instruments, vehicle maintenance and handcrafts.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Another Way to Get a Free Website

In my last post, I offered a step-by-step guide to setting up a website for your organisation, including purchasing a domain name and dealing with e-mail addresses. Hopefully it was fairly straightforward, and most organisations and volunteers should be able to get the hang of it without too much difficulty.

For organisations lucky enough to have a budding web designer or resident techie, here's another way in which you can bag yourself a completely free website, hosting it via DropBox or Google Drive

It's very clever, but does require some technical savvy.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Get a Free Website

I had a discussion with a community group the other day. They were doing a lot of really good work in their local community, but no one ever heard about it because they didn't have a website. When I asked why, they said they were applying to donors for funding to create one.

This is a common misconception amongst organisations: that you need money to build a website.

You don't. You don't even need much technical expertise. But if you are a charity looking for funding, donors will expect to hear about the impact your projects are having. You can be doing fantastic work, but if no one ever gets to hear about it, who's going to invest?

Having a flashy website is secondary to having a website. You can always expand it later when funds are more plentiful.

Step One: Build a Site

There are lots of free places to build a website, from Wix to WordPress.

I tend to suggest Blogger because:

  • It doesn't try to up-sell you for integrating PayPal or personalising the template - it's completely free.
  • It's very easy to use, volunteers can get the hang of it quickly.
  • It allows for static pages (pages where the information doesn't change, like Contact and About), and for an integrated blog where you can tell people about your latest news.
  • You can add authors (administrators) and limit their powers, so they can post updates but not delete the site.

Here's an example of a website created with Blogger, and another.

The important thing is that it's easy to change the style and content yourself, so you don't need to pay anyone else to do it.

Step Two: Get a Domain Name

Thanks to my friend Andy at Forth Business Systems (who does a good deal on hosting and Joomla design), I recommend using as it's usually slightly cheaper, and it's very easy to use.

Once you have your website, you can purchase a domain name and forward it to your free website (see page three of the guide below).

Before you settle on a domain name, check it out on Facebook and Twitter too. You'll want to integrate your social media with your site, so go for a name that you can use with all mediums. This helps to unify your brand so that people can find you easily and avoid confusion.

If you're absolute strapped for cash, you can get a free .tk domain name here, but you can't set up e-mail forwarding on it.

Step Three: Set up Your E-mail

Once you've set up your domain name to point to your website, you need to set up your e-mails. Sending official e-mails from a Hotmail or Yahoo address doesn't inspire confidence. It looks far more professional to have an e-mail address that matches your website address.

Use the guide above to set up forwarding accounts: e.g. Chair@ goes to Sarah, Secretary@ goes to Jon, info@ goes to Jean etc.

Then you need to make sure that Sarah, Jon and Jean's e-mail accounts are set up to look as though they are replying from the same address. 

You do this by setting up an alias. Here's a step by step guide for Gmail:

Any e-mail provider can do this. Here's the instructions for Hotmail & Outlook and Yahoo. Google search 'provider' + 'set up alias' for other instructions.

Once you have checked this is working, and that they can send, receive and reply using that e-mail address, make sure they add a signature to the address. This is the bit at the bottom of an e-mail that gives their name, job position and contact details. Adds that professional touch. See the above guide for an example.

Step Four: Integrate Your Social Media

Once you've got your website and e-mail, set up your social media accounts. Make sure there are links to your website on your social media accounts, and links to your social media on your website - preferably at the top where people will see them, rather than hidden down the bottom. The idea is to drive traffic between your social media and encourage people to engage with you.

Step Five: Integrate PayPal

Use your website to generate unrestricted income. Sell training, research and merchandise online, and include a Donate button to make it as easy as possible for people to donate to your organisation.

Have fun with it, get creative, and shout about your successes.

Show people (and donors) what you're worth.

See also: Another Way to Get a Free Wesbite

Monday, 3 February 2014

Quick Charity Stability Test

Here's a quick test I run with my clients.

Grab a pen, a piece of paper and your latest finances. 

Every charitable organisation has two forms of income, and two forms of expenditure:


Restricted: Restricted income is any form of income where you are restricted in how you can spend it. For instance:

  • Major Donors & Grants
  • Microfinance Loans
  • Local Government Grants
  • Service Provision Contracts

It's also called 'Project Funding' because it is granted on the basis of a project or a plan of what you are going to do with the money, and a budget outlining how the money will be spent. Or a grant that is given with a specific area it must be spent on. If you don't spend the money in the way you say you will, you may end up in legal trouble, or being asked to repay the money.

Unrestricted: Unrestricted income is any form of income that you are free to spend as you see fit. For instance:

  • Donations
  • Membership Fees
  • Income Generation from Trading
  • Legacies
  • Subscriptions
  • Knowledge Market (Research, Training etc.)

This is money where there is no restriction on how you spend it, provided you meed your charitable aims as laid out in your governing document.


Project: Your project costs are the things you spend money on in order to complete projects. These are usually time-bound outgoings that have been budgeted for in your project plan. Common project outgoings may include:

  • Project Management Costs
  • Volunteer Transport & Subsistence
  • Additional Printing (i.e. Advertising or Information Leaflets)
  • Equipment: Computers, Video Recorders, Vehicles etc. 
  • Specialist One-time Skills: Legal Advice, IT, Consultancy

Core: Your core costs are all the things you purchase on a day-to-day basis, simply to keep your organisation open. These include:

  • Rent
  • Electricity, Water & Utilities
  • Printing & Photocopying Costs
  • Telephone & Internet Access
  • Stamps, Envelopes & Postage
  • General Stationary

Staff costs can be a little ambiguous. Staff on fixed-term contracts tend to come under project spending, whereas permanent staff such as administrators and cleaners tend to fall under core, as they remain even when projects are not taking place, as part of the general running of your organisation.


In the centre of your paper, draw a rectangle representing your organisation.

Based on your latest accounts, draw four arrows: two at the top representing restricted and unrestricted income, and two at the bottom representing project and core spending.

Make the size of the arrows proportionate to the amount of money. Large arrows for lots of money, small arrows for little amounts.

Maintaining a healthy organisation is a constant balancing act.

Here is an example from an organisation where the balancing act has gone slightly wrong.

This organisation is suffering a very common problem.

Their project income and expenditure is well balanced, as their income for projects is based on a budget of what they expected to spend. If this has been calculated accurately, there should be enough restricted income to complete the project.

However, the organisation's core outgoings are higher than the amount of unrestricted income they are generating. This is a strong indicator of trouble to follow. They can't borrow money from the restricted pot to cover the shortfall, otherwise they may be breaking the terms of their donor agreements, but if they can't afford to cover their core costs, they won't be able to keep the organisation open.

Many organisations spend a lot of time chasing statutory and trust funding at the expense of building up their unrestricted reserves. This can lead to big long-term difficulties, especially in the face of unforeseen emergencies that require additional spending.

In order to keep your organisation healthy and robust, it's a good idea to conduct this little test on a regular basis, and adjust your fundraising focus accordingly.

If you need a hand with this, you might like to check out my training on Diverse Fundraising Methods.