Building Strategy: Andrews Charitable Trust
In this series, we are taking a closer look at what role strategy plays in foundations’ work, and how they determine what it involves.
The third article in this series comes from Siân Edwards, Director, Andrews Charitable Trust.
This series first appeared in September 2017’s Trust & Foundation News. Read the magazine here.
With such wide charitable objectives – one is Christian-focused and the other is alleviation of poverty, sickness and distress – strategy provides us with a focus on how to deploy our limited resources in terms of time and money, and on how we can make a difference. We support early-stage ventures, using our funding to create a charity or organisation that is a vehicle for change.
When I first came into the job 10 years ago, I had three words as my strategy or criteria – innovation, replication and sustainability. These are still very relevant today. Developing strategy is about looking at what that means to us, how we can deliver change and how we assess the organisations we work with. It is looking at what we have done well, what people need, and whether or not we have the skills to help them.
Our next strategy review is in the autumn – we do this every three years. We have a great leadership team (in the trust and in the Andrews estate agency business) and this year we are excited about exploring what the relationship between us means for the future. What is our shared vision? What difference can we make and what are our shared values?
Since the death of our founder in 1979, the relationship between the business and the trust has been a funding and governance relationship, with four working directors on the trust board. But otherwise, staff in the branches of Andrews have known little about the trust. Equally, we have not been in a position to build on the substantial commercial skills and resources of the business. The strategic thinking for us is how do we update ourselves for the 21st century?
There are some key questions we want to take time to think about but to kick-start this, we wanted a focus for the engagement. So we have developed a long-term housing-based project for care leavers called [establish]. The plan is to buy 50 houses covering the same footprint as the Andrews branches, using trust funding plus business skills to purchase, lease and manage the houses. The houses will be leased to local youth-focused charities to support young vulnerable tenants, but we are also hopeful that Andrews staff will get involved. It is a chance to build engagement that goes beyond the traditional fundraising of most CSR programmes. We believe this will benefit the business – perhaps by employee retention and satisfaction, as well as benefitting the organisations we support and their beneficiaries – by providing role models and mentors, as well as housing management help. Our ideal is for young people in the houses to get work with Andrews, and for each local house and the charity that runs it to have a fully engaged team of Andrews personnel to support them.
In terms of staffing, there is just me and an administrator, so I rely very heavily on the trustees, who are very committed. The board is large, so that allows flexibility. They often join the board of the organisations we support and have a very deep insight from this engagement. That works very well for early-stage ventures, who welcome the expertise.
It is a big responsibility focusing on early stage organisations – one could argue there are too many charities out there already – so it is important to make sure those we select really are able to look at problems in a different way and be innovative in finding solutions. Our assessment process is quite intense, maybe taking three months or more, and I use my trustees a lot in that process. It is important that the organisations we work with themselves have a strategy, that they have adequately understood the need and assessed how they intend to make a difference.
It was our 50th birthday in 2015 and rather than have a great public event, we had a learning day. We invited a large group of grantees to reflect on their journeys as early-stage ventures: what they have learned, what they would do differently and how we as a funder can support them better. We will take that forward into our strategic review and make sure it informs our forward programme.
I also encourage us to collaborate with other funders, particularly sector specialists, as we need to understand the needs and context of that sector. In a couple of cases that has worked really well, and I think we will do more of that.
We come from a traditional grantmaking background, but with the business connections it has been a natural progression to explore social enterprise and consequently social investment, which is much more complicated for early-stage ventures as maybe their revenue model is not yet tested. For us it is important to look at their strategy and ensure they have thought about using philanthropic income as wisely as possible, and about any areas of their work where they might be able to get traded, commissioned or consultancy income – to relate what they do to their income streams. They still need grants more commonly than any other sort of income to get started, so while we are looking for opportunities to deploy social investment, those occasions have been limited to date.
Another important aspect of strategy is reflecting on what ‘good’ looks like. We are not traditionally outcome-focused, and as a funder we are not directly responsible for the outcomes for the end beneficiaries, so how do we measure what is good? It’s a question we are constantly asking ourselves – as indeed we should.
Andrews Charitable Trust
Other articles in this series: