NPC report front cover

Charity analysis/organisational reviews—why bother?

By Iona Joy 13 July 2011

At NPC we love nothing better than analysing a charity. We get to escape the office, visit riveting projects, chinwag with dynamic charity leaders, and, best of all, meet charity clients. We hear moving personal stories, learn all about the challenges of the sector, and almost always miss the train home. It reminds us of what the UK’s prodigious charitable effort is all about.

But does it do the charities any good having us turn up asking loads of questions, and then writing a lengthy organisational review? We thought we’d better check, and thankfully, in our new report, it seems the benefits are real.

We interviewed 16 charities whose analysis we’d published over the last few years. Apparently our analysis reassures charities that they are ‘on the right path’, whilst at the same time giving management teams ‘something to go for’ in terms of improvements. Not only did charities welcome our independent perspective as a ‘critical friend’, a third even found the analysis process itself to be useful—despite its demands.

Well over half of the charities interviewed took action to strengthen areas identified as weaknesses by the analysis. In one case the charity reduced its over-reliance on the chief executive. Another now uses evidence and results in a more co-ordinated way when determining strategic priorities. One charity has even pinned a copy of the charity effectiveness grading grid (at the back of NPC’s little blue book) on the office wall as a constant reminder of what to strive for.

We were also heartened by the degree to which charities could use the analysis to attract funding, improve communication with stakeholders, and develop partnerships.

Our latest charity analysis assignment was for Sue Ryder, a progressive and ambitious charity offering care for those with complex neurological conditions, and palliative care for people at the end of life. The chief executive emphasised the report’s value when fundraising, and also as part of the due diligence process when negotiating with strategic partners.

Our analysis can contain some difficult messages. A confident, flexible management team generally embraces constructive criticism, and strives to improve. Over time the charity’s grading moves to good and excellent. In some instances we have to agree to disagree—especially on matters of subjective judgement. In a few disappointing cases we’ve run across a trustee or manager who simply won’t brook criticism. Then our warning light comes on. Its not about who is right and wrong on a particular point, its about whether people want to learn and improve.

If you think you would benefit from a review of your organisation, then do get in touch and we can arrange for some appropriate charity analysis. The cost varies: we tailor what we do to a charity’s size, complexity and means. If a budget is tight, we can focus on issues that matter most. Tomorrow I’m off to do half a day’s charity analysis training with a charity, as they are thinking of doing the analysis themselves.

We usually publish the analysis on our website, but if you prefer to keep it private then we will. More importantly we hope you would learn as much from the process as us, and even enjoy it!