We are a charity whose purpose is to improve people’s lives; in particular through support to advice services.
Our strategy for being financially viable in pursuit of our purpose is to build a sustainable business group, the activities of which will complement and provide funds for the core charity’s work.
By means of this strategy we seek to achieve the following objectives:
- increase our flexible income and resources;
- enhance our independence;
- provide leadership in the advice sector;
- add greater value to advice provision; and
- enhance the impact and public value of advice services.
This strategy draws on our long experience of successful social enterprise activity. Its emphasis on raising income through enterprise represents a shift in strategy compared with past years. It is a shift made necessary by the culmination of trends in the charity services environment, particularly with regard to the availability of other types of funding. Though a shift rather than a complete change in strategy, it will nevertheless have significant internal and external implications.
No advice support organisation has ever been financially viable without some form of external funding to supplement limited income from member advice agencies. This external funding, or subsidy, has usually come in the form of grants for core costs and/or project activity. In our case, it has come from project funding (grants and contracts) and surpluses generated by our own enterprise activity. In most years, this funding has enabled us to spend more than £1million net on support to advice services. But this is just a fraction of the £5million annual net spend we estimate is required to provide optimum support to our constituency of around 1,000 independent advice organisations across the UK.
Historically, our strategy for closing this financial gap has been to try to secure an equitable share of central government core funding for advice support organisations but recent developments have rendered that strategy no longer even remotely plausible. Without, now, any prospect of a subsidy from central government, and given the reducing availability of project funding, especially for support organisations, the only option for closing our funding gap is to try to generate more income from enterprise activities. This presents us with an extremely difficult long-term challenge but the requirements of it are at least familiar to us and we have a range of assets to build upon. We already possess some of the knowledge, skills and affiliations necessary to extend our activities and continue to increase unrestricted income.
Were we to raise no future income from sources such as project grants (which will not be the case), the challenge facing us, in order to yield funds for a net spend of £5m on advice support, would be to build a business group with a turnover approaching £20million per annum. Achieving even 50% of that figure is an almost absurd target viewed from where we stand now and it would certainly take years to achieve. However, we believe that changes in our operating environment make it a more realistic objective now than it could ever have been in the past. Also, the path towards it is one that we have some experience of. It is a path along which we believe we can continue with some prospect of success.
Over the next five years we will seek to invest in the resources necessary to grow a group organisation and further increase the proportion of our income that is unrestricted. Where we do seek restricted funding that is project-based it will be to fund activities within a prospectus of support projects that we will develop. We will also continue seeking to develop relationships with non-advice organisations in all three sectors of the economy in order to broaden our potential income and enhance the public benefit we and our members are able to deliver.