Leadership and career development

What does 'entrepreneurial' really mean in the charity sector?

By Henrietta Atkinson, Director of Business Support, CoppaFeel!


In an increasingly competitive sector (there were 168,186 registered charities at the last count) what does it mean to be an entrepreneurial charity?

Being entrepreneurial is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘Characterised by the taking of financial risks in the hope of profit; enterprising’, immediately, with my finance hat on, there are two words I am less comfortable with - those being ‘risk’ and ‘hope’ (and I doubt I am alone here!) – yet while the definition includes a few aspects beyond the finance department’s natural comfort zone, I would argue that there are things that we can incorporate from a more entrepreneurial way of thinking and from a start-up culture.

At our core, many charities are like start-ups – we were set up to solve a problem, and our teams are passionate about delivering on our promises. We know our niche markets well and have defined who our beneficiaries are and who our supporters may be (and whether they intersect). We have our own brand identities and internal cultures, and, while we may not have the canteens, gym memberships and sleep pods that characterise the silicon valley start ups that we often associate with success, we do have an incredibly committed workforce nonetheless.

CoppaFeel!, the charity I have been fortunate enough to be involved with for the last six years has had a start-up culture from the beginning and by default entrepreneurial thinking has been a key part of our working ethos. Literally set up round the kitchen table by a group of passionate individuals to ensure that young people were empowered with information on breast cancer, creative thinking sent the founder Kris and her twin Maren off to festivals with their friends facepainting for the dual purpose of speaking to young people about breast cancer, and raising those first critical funds to set up the charity. Since then, CoppaFeel!’ continues to try and do as much as possible with as little money as feasible, aiming to innovate and leverage every opportunity to help the charity achieve its goals both financially and, most importantly, in relation to its charitable objectives. This has created opportunities for corporate partnerships and supporters donating time and resources to help the charity with its mission, and has opened up opportunities for sponsorships and conversations with brands from media companies to cosmetics – and the chance for us to spread awareness into those workplaces and develop relationships further.

The drive and passion and entrepreneurial leadership of Kris, our founder, and Natalie, our CEO, feeds the culture of the charity, but the benefits of an entrepreneurial culture does not stop with them, but rather is shared across the team - and perhaps this is key, as it is easy sometimes to assume that creative thinking belongs outside our offices in other departments. For those of us involved with charity finance, there are ways we can contribute positively to the culture within our charities – enabling entrepreneurial and innovative thinking, and also assessing our own practices. Entrepreneurial thinking goes beyond the initial trailblazer and the concept of having to be a risk taker, it can also mean how we ourselves innovate and enable our teams to be effective, and how we contribute to the charity’s culture.

In Bristol on the 22 November at the CFG South West and Wales conference I will be discussing what I have learnt being involved with a growing charity with innovative leaders and offering some suggestions you can consider in your own charity’s context.

Book you tickets for South West and Wales now

This post was last reviewed on 14 November 2018 at 16:32
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