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  1. Impact Philanthropy
June 3, 2015updated 01 Feb 2016 10:14am

Can charities emulate Ars’ne Wenger?

By Spear's

The charity sector could benefit from a dose of Arsenal’s indefatigability, says Farooq Sabri of NPC

The FA Cup final this weekend capped-off a fine season of English football. While there was only one winner, there’s an argument that both sets of fans can end the season satisfied. Both teams achieved the objectives that anyone could have realistically set for them: Arsenal, having learnt from mistakes in the first half of the season, ended it with silverware; Aston Villa entered the final assured of Premier League survival after a fraught few months. They probably couldn’t have hoped to get any closer to the cup with the resources that they had.

Charities also have their tough times, their glorious moments and the odd cup final (and for the unluckiest a scrap for survival). They too aim for ambitious goals in the face of tough opposition, even if success is never topped off with medals and open-top bus rides. So if you want to back a winner, where have charities enjoyed the greatest success in recent times?

One of the most notable examples is gay rights. The Irish vote in favour of recognising same-sex marriage has thrust this back into the headlines, and the battle for legal recognition has been a long one. Over the last fifteen years, gay rights campaigners have overseen progress far beyond their counterparts in other areas of social justice.

In the face of opposition from politicians and conservative commentators, effective lobbying has seen LGBT rights top the campaigners’ performance league. As NPC has written before, legislative progress has been achieved at (by parliamentary standards) a remarkable pace. Equal age of consent (2000) was followed by legalised civil partnerships (2004), rights to workplace protection (2010), and same-sex marriage in the UK (2014).

Not everybody has a story of success to tell, though. Sometimes a true test of a charity or funder is how they learn from their mistakes.

It may have taken Arsenal nine years to win a trophy before 2014, but it took the Shell Foundation a shorter time to learn from the mistakes in their grant-giving strategy. By assessing their previous performance, and doing so very openly, the foundation was able to transform the number of projects that succeeded in achieving either scale or sustainability from 20 per cent to 80 per cent in the space of eight years.

The NSPCC also understands the relevance of learning from past experience. They should be highly commended for launching their Impact and Evidence Hub in 2015 to understand whether their services are making a difference, and putting those lessons in the public domain so that others can learn from them. This is especially welcome from one of the UK’s biggest charities (and one with which NPC has had its disagreements in the past).

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It may not be possible for every organisation to evaluate their services quite so robustly as NSPCC, but it is possible for every charitable organisation to document their targets and their progress towards achieving them. The children’s charity Spurgeons have demonstrated an impressive willingness to do just that.

And we should acknowledge the unexpected. The philanthropist looking for a winning idea to fund may not have all the information they need. They may be taking an educated but risky guess by investing in a new campaign. But if this weekend has taught us anything, it is that the sweetness that follows when hard work and the odd risk turn out right is unbeatable.

Farooq Sabri is a researcher at NPC

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