As a social enterprise we have a clear mission. Charities are no different. We were usually founded by a person or well-meaning people that want to solve a social problem.
Even in the last five years the world has changed. Let alone if you’re the YMCA and have been around over 150 years.
I see two main reasons at the moment for mission-creep and I think it’s threatening the sector in the long-term.
The first is financial. The climate is currently very threatening. Alongside more competition, dwindling traditional funds the funders and commissioners expect more. At the micro level the need is higher too. This is a perfect storm and requires not just some pretty clever accounting.
The second feels a little less obvious. Perhaps due to high levels of need, perhaps due to the digital age. And perhaps due to a distance between beneficiaries and the organisations that run them, we are all finding it harder and harder to actually engage with our beneficiaries.
This landed with me this week when we talked about ‘need’ versus ‘demand’. Too often we come up with great and even evidence-based ideas in a darkened room. We know they work – in the abstract. When no young people use them we re under threat of closure.
Co-production and all the other fancy stuff is part of the answer to this. It has to be done right and that means you need the cash and the expertise.
In this climate it’s obvious to diversify income. New projects mean you can provide that thing you think your beneficiaries need and because they are already engaging, you’ve done the hard bit. It also means you are bringing in more cash.
So if a domestic violence specialist organisation diversifies into employment support because there is a need, is this watering down the mission?
In some cases I think it is. We have a duty to report on our mission, which we don’t do brilliantly now. If we’re doing all these extra things it requires even more sophisticated impact measurement to tell the story of impact against the core mission.
We’re simple beings being spread too thin and expected suddenly to be experts in everything. I feel that this puts the whole sector at risk of being average and generic.