Wading through my Google Reader feeds over the past few weeks, a couple of questions seem to be reappearing when it comes to the non-profit arena.
Firstly there have been various articles in ‘Third Sector’, the magazine for charity professionals about the rise in running costs, and one in particular that criticises increasing salaries in some areas of the sector.
The second, on the excellent US blog ‘Philanthropy’, asked whether non-profits were
too ‘nice’, avoiding the normal tests and rigour that a commercial environment would bring over effectiveness, value for money and impact. The premise described was that since people in non-profits are simply trying to help others, the close scrutiny of their approaches and evaluating their impact should not apply.
So, two questions seem to recur, and I come across them often as I travel in the UK and East Africa:
- Are you efficient? How much of my money goes on really helping people? This question usually centres around how much money is spent on what people call ‘admin’, but also whether funds are being used to run frivolous fundraising activities, often with a low return on investment.
- Are you effective? How good are you at solving real problems? Not just applying a quick fix, but consistently and methodically applying a well designed strategy that has a genuine impact on real people’s lives. Oh, and can you prove it?
These are fundamental, crucial questions that any charity should be able to answer.
Of course charities, by definition, don’t exist for the benefit of people that work for them, or anyone else, they exist for the benefit of people in need. If they don’t focus on this, then in my opinion, they aren’t charities. They may do something worthwhile, something of value, but they are a different kind of entity. When I am choosing who to support, if someone in genuine need isn’t benefiting from my donation, I won’t give.
And so, for the sake of clarity, here are the Bridge2Aid answers to these two key questions…
Because B2A grew from very small beginnings, we have always been aware of the importance of using money well. Like all growing enterprises, we faced periods where money was very tight indeed. Tight to the point of ‘we’re not getting paid!’. The people involved in B2A from the beginning have always had a great deal of ‘skin in the game’. We have always watched every penny. Our trustees are relentless in making sure we spend well (and don’t take anything in expenses themselves). This gives us all a very focussed perspective.
This approach has led, I am pleased to say, to a spend of around 85% on charitable activity. This is among the best you will find if you benchmark us against other organisations, whether dental or not.
To add to this, we also raise around 10% of our income through the profits of Hope Dental Centre, our own clinic in Mwanza. This sustainable source of funds means that that our administrative and fundraising costs are almost completely covered. In short, pretty much everything we receive, we spend on charitable activity.
When it comes to effectiveness and impact, clearly there is a huge need that we at B2A are trying to address – 60% annual pain prevalence from caries in East Africa, 75% of the world’s population with no access to a dentist. Result – a lot of people in pain, with no hope of help.
Faced with this, we’ve worked very hard to make sure our approach is appropriate and will have a lasting impact:
- No quick fixes that just look good
- Creating sustainable access to emergency dentistry through training
- Impact as many people as possible – focussing on the meeting the most basic needs, for the highest number of people
- Working ethically – in partnership with governments to increase capacity
To sharpen our approach, our DVP (Dental Volunteer Programme) model has been continually improved since we began work in 2004. In addition, we have a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation framework which assesses the effectiveness of our training and the impact on communities after training has finished. Our volunteer trainers provide feedback on the quality and impact of their experience. With trainee success scores of 92% and volunteer satisfaction at 95% reporting good, very good, or outstanding, we’re pleased with what we’ve achieved, but remain driven to improve even further.
The questions raised by the two articles that caught my eye go to the heart of why people do and don’t support charities. As a CEO, I am acutely aware that I am spending other people’s money, and take that responsibility seriously, to create maximum effect. As a donor myself, I know what I want to see from my donation – responsible spending and real impact for people in genuine need.
Charities need to be accountable and open about how much we spend on charitable activity. Just as important, we all need to be open to have our methodology and effectiveness questioned.
In reality there is a limited pot of funding (some estimates say 7 UK charities chasing every £1). There is limited time to address the issues that the oral health community can have an influence on. We owe it to the millions of people in genuine need from untreated dental disease to be focussed, efficient and effective. They cannot afford for us not to be.