Charity Business Plan

Charity begins … with a business plan! Monica Higgins takes a look behind the scenes at some successful charities and finds that many commercial business structures are crucial to their survival, too.

Walt Whitman once said, “charity and personal force are the only investments worth anything.” That may be so, but charity is serious business these days and these organisations need a business plan, cash flow and investment, to realise their philanthropic goals.

While recent reports suggest Australia is in a phase of donor fatigue, the number of charities and non-profit organisations popping up-and flourishing-suggests otherwise. From charities for cancer and every other known disease, to education, the environment and natural disaster recovery, it would seem Australians are happy to open their wallets for a good cause. Also peeling bills from their folds are benevolent ex-professionals and corporates keen to make a difference to the state of our nation.

These organisations may not be the Starlights, St Vinnies or RSPCAs of the world, but their socially aware creators and subsequent employees have bent a backbone or two to make a dent in research and improving the quality of life.

While many of us daydream of being instrumental in saving a forest of ancient trees or feeding a village of starving children, going the whole nine yards is not as easy-or as instantly gratifying-as we imagine it might be. Making that charitable business ‘succeed’ requires a good dose of dedication and patience.

The CEO of Tender Loving Cuisine (TLC), Jack Barker, should know. He’s been at it for a decade, but it took five years just to break even. Today, the meals on wheels-style non-profit organisation proudly carries the Heart Foundation tick and is working closely with Diabetes Australia. But the business had humble beginnings and it was a long road to becoming the fully self-funded operation that TLC is today.

With an entrepreneurial and accounting background, Barker’s benevolent business idea arose from helping out a mate with his meals after a debilitating car accident. The food was a hit and it set the wheels in motion for a premium meal delivery service with a client base of the elderly and the unwell. Barker entered into an agreement with NSW Health to provide home-delivered dinners to discharged hospital patients from Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital, and now many more public and private hospitals use the service.

“To run a charity or a non-profit organisation, you have to be absolutely committed because it’s not a money-motivated industry. The motivation instead comes from providing a great product or service that helps others. And the satisfaction and gratitude for doing so is very rewarding.” Barker’s motivation was well and truly tested at the start when the nursing staff working alongside him found the role too time consuming, and left the now 65-year-old to train health care workers, social workers and dieticians to spread the word.

Theo Richter, president of Power Thinking Health Council, thinks along the same lines when it comes to commitment to a cause. He says the drive behind starting a non-profit organisation is about a philanthropic intention rather than the spoils of wealth.

Richter’s registered research-based charity dedicated to the power of the brain as a tool, and the positive role it can play to deliver relief, recovery, prevention and treatments for cancer sufferers. “To start a charity or a non-profit organisation you need to have a community purpose. And that purpose should never be based on delivering any profits to the members of the organisation,” he says.

“You need to seek out like-minded and right-minded people and set up collaborative arrangements.” He suggests having an additional base of resourceful people will cover any gaps that might appear in the structure of your business.

Like all registered charities, Power Thinking Health Council relies heavily on marketing to attract investments and donations from outside sources, a task Richter says is a challenge when you’re already running on a shoe-string budget.

His organisation’s initial target for fundraising was through their website and registration with www.ourcommunity.com.au a network and resource for community groups, charities and non-profit organisations. “As a purely web-based research company though, we found investments and donations were very difficult to attract.”

To increase awareness of their research, Richter and his team opted for interactive workshops to promote the powers and benefits of the brain in better health and well-being. With gold coin donations suggested as entry fees, the seminars also provided a solid foundation for further research. “The results of the workshops fed strongly into our research. And once our results have been circulated more widely, we can then put out a business model, which will form the basis of our forward projections for significant investments and donations.”