Saturday, 20 July 2013

Home working is not a charter for skivers

There is no doubt about it, as the summer goes on, and the longest period of decent weather we have had in years takes us into the school holidays, the debate over home working continues in certain quarters. 

When a forward looking (or at least that's what we thought!) company like Yahoo bans its staff from remote working with comments in its memo to all staff saying: "Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings," and "Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home." it is certain that there are many skeptics about the benefits of home working. Unbelievably Google's CFO Patrick Pichette had a similar view, saying that "as few as possible" Google staff work from home!

I have heard of situations, in organisations where there is an issue with trust, that there are hoots of derision from staff when they hear that a colleague is working from home 'again'. In my view this is a very unhealthy situation. Just when I thought we were getting somewhere in this country, where in 2011 30% of UK employers allowed remote working (compared to 25% in 2004) it seems that the benefits of home working are being forgotten and the skeptics are being allowed to rule the roost.

Ultimately this is all about how you measure your outputs as an organisation. Surely if we are setting people the right objectives and managing them against these objectives, then this should be sufficient. It should not be about measuring the number of hours they work or their physical presence. It should be about whether or not they deliver.

So what are the benefits of allowing or even encouraging home working? Aside from promoting work life balance (probably a separate Charity Coach blog some time in the future!) I think that it encourages autonomy and entrepreneurialism, it demonstrates trust in your staff, creates a happy and engaged workforce, and enables staff to focus on areas of work on which it may be hard to concentrate in the office. For example I use my (infrequent) working at home days to carry out complex pieces of work that I simply could not do in the hustle and bustle of the office, for example writing a board paper or designing a presentation. Therefore working from home can increase output and productivity. 

So what are the down sides for an employer? Well, it could be argued that one less person in the office puts the burden on other staff to answer the phone, deal with visitors, etc. It can also be the case that employees who work frequently from home miss out on contact with colleagues and therefore become less engaged in the social side of working and perhaps even the organisation itself. I would argue that it is the employer's duty to minimise this through making sure that contact is maintained and that employees are not left to work at home with little or no interaction with colleagues. In that respect it is a bit like managing geographically dispersed staff.

So as an employee how can you work at home most effectively? Here are the Charity Coach's top tips:

1. Dedicate a workspace to home working. Not everyone has a study or spare bedroom, so if you are using your dining room table, make sure everyone in your family knows that. Clear the space and make it seem as much like a desk as possible. Ensure you have everything you need around you.

2. Avoid distractions. Don't combine the working day with domestic chores, caring for pets or children, eating loads more food or drinking more coffee. Take breaks as you would at work. 

3. Get dressed. I will never forget an Area Fundraising Manager at a previous charity telling me he worked in his pyjamas! He wished he had never told me that! In contrast one of his colleagues told me he put on a suit and tie for working at home even if he was not meeting with anyone that day. How can you expect to get into work 'mode' if you are not dressed for it!

4. Create boundaries. Let family members and friends know that, even though you are at home, you are working and not available for social contact.

5. Proactively stay in touch with colleagues and your boss, not just by email but also by phone. Don't wait for them to contact you. Use Skype to join meetings you cannot attend. (Now that definitely reinforces the need to get dressed!)

6. Make sure you adopt the right posture when using your computer. If necessary do a work station assessment to make sure your screen is at the right height, that you are sitting properly and, if necessary make the required adjustments.

7. Don't feel guilty for working at home. You are doing this to complete a specific piece of work or for a specific reason. You will almost certainly get more done if you follow the tips above and that will please both you and your boss.

Home working is a great thing. Technology has made it possible to work as well remotely as you can do in the office. It is down to the employer and the employee to make this work for mutual benefit.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

The seven habits of being a great charity trustee

During my time in the non-profit sector I have come across some great trustees, some average trustees and some not-so-good ones. So what makes a great trustee? In this blog I draw on my experience of being a trustee of two organisations and my observations of trustees in charities I have worked in or been involved in. This blog may help you to be a better trustee, to see whether trusteeship is for you, or simply to confirm you are doing a great job. If it does any of these things, my Saturday morning has been worthwhile!

My first observation is that trustees should choose the right cause. You need to be passionate about the cause you volunteer for. You need to be able to demonstrate that passion to fellow trustees, charity staff and volunteers and to the outside world - supporters and potential supporters. If you are not passionate about the cause, wait until an opportunity comes up in a cause you really do care about. But please do not apply to be a trustee simply to develop your own brand or profile; I have seen this all too often!

Secondly you need to decide what you can bring to the board table. What expertise, support and advice can you add to the current skills mix on the board. Are you an HR expert, a communications guru, a technical geek, a great fundraiser, a finance wizard? Whatever your professional expertise and experience, plus what you have gained in the past or in your personal life, can all be valuable to the mix. So conduct a skills audit of yourself to see what you can bring and then match that to what the charity needs.

Thirdly, a great trustee needs to have a huge amount of commitment. No matter how busy your day job, being a trustee is a big responsibility and you need to be able to commit to this. So what might this look like? Well, most trustee boards meet at least quarterly, in many cases more frequently. This may be a 3 or 4 hour commitment in addition to any preparation time. Many trustee boards also have an annual or bi-annual awayday, which you need to be at. Often this is a great opportunity to meet and work with the staff team. You may also be expected to sit on a sub-committee - typically these include finance & resources, fundraising, programmes, etc. You should also be prepared to attend fundraising events and other charity activities. Finally you may be expected to coach or support a particular member or team within the charity's staff. For example I work very closely with the Head of Fundraising in the charity I volunteer for.

Attending meetings in your role as a trustee is not just about being there! You have to be able to make intelligent input and to make key decisions. This is simply not possible if you have not put in any preparation time. I cannot tell you the times I have seen trustees in organisations I have worked in as a staff member making comments or asking questions that made it obvious they had not done their prep. And saying you are a volunteer is not an acceptable excuse. Either you are in the game or not!

Fourthly you need to be knowledgable about the charity's work. At the very least this means reading and understanding the annual review and other publications, talking to the staff team, attending briefings and presentations, but preferably you should see the charity's work first hand, although I appreciate this may not always be possible for international charities. You need to know more than the donors you will undoubtedly meet at events. They will expect you to, as will staff. There is nothing more frustrating for staff to feel that a trustee does not understand the work of the charity. 

You also need to have a firm grip and understanding of the charity's strategy and finances. Ultimately these are the responsibilities of the trustee; this is what good governance is all about.

Fifthly you need to understand the boundaries between staff and trustees, and I think this is where many trustees get it badly wrong. Many trustees over-step the mark and get bogged down in the details of what are staff responsibilities. You are there to support, advise and to ensure the strategy is delivered, not to interfere!

Sixthly, you may get involved in recruiting key staff.  This has massive potential to go wrong, especially if you are recruiting a new CEO or director. The best trustee boards also involve the senior management team of the charity in these decisions. In the small charity I am on the board of, all the staff team met potential CEO candidates before the ultimate (good) choice was made. To do good recruitment you need to make the right choice based on where the organisation is now, and where it needs to be. This should be based on the the charity's strategic goals, not your personal preferences.

And the seventh habit (and this is the one that is most controversial!) is that trustees should give and get. By this I mean you must be prepared to give money at a level you can afford, and also help the charity raise funds, either through fundraising yourself (see my previous blog) or by asking your contacts to support your cause. I am not interested in trustees who say they are doing enough by giving their time. How can you ask others to give if you are not giving yourself?

I am sure there are loads of things I have missed out, and this is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to trusteeship. you can get that elsewhere. The Charity Commission and NCVO websites are a good place to start. But hopefully there is something here that will help you have a better understanding of what makes a great trustee. Feel free to comment.

Friday, 12 July 2013

How to fundraise over £2000 for a charity cycling event with the minimum of effort

Yes I admit it! I am a MAMIL! A middle aged man in lycra who rides an expensive road bike (one of three bikes I own!) mainly for commuting, but also on the occasional longer foray out into the Surrey hills. In fact I have been known to ride up Box Hill on the odd occasion- yes that's the one that thousands of other like me regularly hold up the traffic on a Sunday morning in a vein attempt to emulate their hero Sir Bradley Wiggins. But I don't do this because I think I look good in unfeasibly tight clothing (not possible unless you have the physique of an Olympian!) or because I am going through some middle age crisis (I did that when I bought a motor bike some years ago, now the proud property of some other middle aged geezer I am sure!). I do it because I love cycling, I love the freedom it gives me on my commute. I can now get to work (10 miles ride) in well under an hour and be sitting at my desk by 8.15, having had a shower, and with a nice coffee and a bowl of Oatso Simple in front of me. I also do it because it keeps me fit; I have lost two inches from my waistline and a couple of stone over the past two years. Can't complain about that can I!

That's enough self indulgence, but I hope you can tell I am passionate about cycling! In fact apart from moving to the charity sector over 20 years ago and meeting my wife just before that, cycling is by far the best thing I have ever done! What I really wanted to do in this blog is tell you about how I successfully fundraised for a London to Paris cycle ride I completed last August in aid of ChildHope, the children's charity I am a trustee of (soon to be Chair). I like to think I did this efficiently, effectively with the minimum of effort, but in a way that respected and valued my supporters.

I have been a trustee of ChildHope for almost three years. Whilst I make a monthly donation via payroll giving and the occasional one off donation, buy Christmas cards, sponsor people occasionally, etc. I thought I was not doing enough. As I had just taken up cycling, I signed up for an open challenge event with Discover Adventure, almost a year before the event itself. I figured this would give me plenty of time to get fit (cycling 300 miles over 4 days was something I had never dreamt I could have achieved!) and to start fundraising (I thought this might be a challenge). I knew I did not have the time or the patience to be doing cake bakes, boot sales, street collections or selling my body (that might have raised 10p!), but I did want to raise a reasonable amount of money. I thought £2,000 would be reasonable and achievable.

So how did I go about this, given that I have no rich friends or family members, and wanted to spend more time on getting fit than raising money?The getting fit bit was the easy one. I enjoy cycling, so I cycled into work as often as I could (the 2011/12 winter was appalling if you remember, so this was not as often as I would have liked), I bought a rowing machine that now sits proudly in the spare bedroom, and I took part in two sportive events. I ate carefully and tried not to drink much alcohol. I did not stick to my training plan but I knew I had the fitness to complete the ride. The fundraising bit was the thing that scared me more. Even though I have raised millions as a professional fundraiser over the years, this was different and I knew it would require careful planning.

I drew up a table of gifts. I know this sounds ridiculous for two thousand quid, but it really helped. I knew my maximum level donations were going to be probably £100 and I knew the minimum might be a fiver or a tenner. I worked out how many gifts at each level I would need to reach my £2000 target. In fact I set my target at £1600 on my JustGiving page so that I knew could beat it!

I then drew up a list of everyone I know, family, friends, neighbours, contacts and everyone I have worked with in the past, including two chairs of committees I have worked with in previous jobs with whom I am still in touch. I figured they might be at the top of my gift table! I emailed all of these contacts asking for their support for me and ChildHope. I posted the fact that I was doing the ride on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. I put a footer at the bottom of my work email. I talked about the ride with everyone I came into contact with.

At Christmas I sold ChildHope christmas cards at work and pledged to match the value of the cards with a donation to my fund. I sold things on ebay that I did not want and that I would not miss. This generated a couple of hundred pounds. But by far the majority of my money came in by my email campaign.

What was interesting was the way the money came in. As I have already said, my 'major gift' amounts were £50 and £100. I was surprised and delighted by the number of these I got from people who I really do not know that well! By far the bulk of my income came from the £10 and £20 donations but it was the bigger donations that were the ones that made the difference! 20 £50 donations are a far quicker way of generating £1000! I was also surprised by those who do not give! This included friends and colleagues I thought I could count on. I did not take this personally; I think many people just forget to give, even though they have every intention of doing so.

Every donation I received I wrote a personalised email. I did not think that the automated email generated by JustGiving was sufficient. I wanted my donors to feel really good about supporting me. And I actually got feedback from several that they really liked getting the personalised email!

When I had completed the ride (different blog, different time) I wrote to all my donors with a detailed description of the ride and reiterated the difference their donation would make to the children ChildHope work with. Of course I also sent them a copy of the picture of me standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, biker aloft! Again I got good feedback on this letter.

All in all I raised £2500 for ChildHope. I was proud of what I had achieved and the difference this will make to our beneficiaries. I was proud that, as a trustee, I had done something that many of my peers had not yet done.