Charities play an important role in the UK economy, contributing £52.2bn in revenue across an estimated 167,000 organisations. Project work is a significant part of this contribution: PwC analysis estimates that project management in the charity sector contributes a total of £6.61bn to the UK economy each year, and a major portion of charities’ work is project-based.
The adoption of project management approaches in the charity sector is relatively recent, but on the increase. Charity sector experts interviewed state that the use of project management is increasingly established throughout the UK’s large charities, with some now employing dedicated project professionals. Smaller charities are following suit, training staff on project management approaches and introducing documentation and theories of change to underpin their work.
TYPES OF PROJECTS
Charitable organisations vary greatly in size and so too does the size and number of projects undertaken in the sector. Projects range from smaller, specific projects (for instance, a fundraising event) to large digital transformational projects with long-term strategic objectives. Broadly, project work can be split between internal projects to dedicated to improving charities’ ways of working, and outward facing projects focused on the populations and social issues the charity is intended to help.
SKILLS GAPS AND NEEDS
The charity sector tends to attract a well-educated workforce with over 50% of the workforce having
degree level or higher qualifications. New hires within the charity sector tend to have well-rounded skills, with the focus on building their knowledge of the sector and learning specific project management techniques. Hiring experienced project managers can present a bigger challenge, as knowledge of the sector is seen to be crucial to the role and this reduces the potential pool of applicants.
Challenges affecting project professionals in the charity sector
- Political uncertainty: Impact of Brexit, issues around future grants and funding,
- Cost pressures: Frequently working to tight budget combined with reduced disposable income leading to declining revenue, lack of resource in small organisations and scrutiny over project management investment
- Project management perceptions: resistance to project management over ‘stifling creativity with bureaucracy. Importance of knowledge sharing and good practice.
- Staff workload: High-pressured environment due to budget and time constraints increases risk of burnout and staff turnover putting projects at risk.
Despite the high proportion of project work in the charity sector, charities have a relatively pessimistic outlook, with four in 10 expecting the number of projects and budget sizes to decrease over the next three years. A year earlier, a more optimistic picture emerged across all sectors involved in The Golden Thread study, with 40% expecting an increase in the number of projects, and 34% predicting increased budgets. This may be a feature of the timing of the research in 2019 when the cumulative effect of a number of years of uncertainty about the UK’s position in Europe appears to have peaked, and this may have disproportionately impacted on the charity sector.
PwC analysis has identified the following key challenges that are contributing to a more cautious outlook among charities:
- Political uncertainty
- Cost pressures
- Project management perceptions
- Staff workload
CHARITIES CASE STUDY: YOUNG BRENT FOUNDATION
The Young Brent Foundation is a charitable infrastructure organisation, which supports the needs of children and young people in the London Borough of Brent by developing the local youth voluntary sector. The Young Brent Foundation’s key aim is to enable local organisations to grow beyond their current capacity, including through fundraising opportunities, coordinating bidding activity, consortia working and sharing skills and resources.
THE WAY FORWARD
Project management approaches are relatively recent in the charity sector but are being adapted and embedded. Drivers encouraging this uptake includes:
- A ‘filtration effect’ from local authorities as project management benefits become more widely known, a wider recognition of project management in the charity sector and grant decision makers increasingly requesting evidence of project management approaches in bids.
- Larger charities which have access to more resources are thought to be ahead of the curve implementing project management within their organisation and a need to support smaller charities was identified.
Long term needs
- Raising awareness of project management to the public and donors – could lead to more volunteer work being salaried.
- A suggested approach is to bring charities together more often to share and debate ways of working in the future.
- Embedding project management within organisations and encouraging staff to buy in.