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Helping build charity capacity and resilience

Roo Cleland, Communications Manager at the Cranfield Trust comments on the recently published Civil Society Strategy and Cranfield Trust's own ethos, with examples of how they have improved their management practices and the effect it had on their teams and service users.

This month the government published its first Civil Society Strategy in 15 years. It sets out a vision to create stronger communities by putting people, communities and charities firmly at the centre of decision-making. At the Cranfield Trust we welcome the new strategy and share the government’s ambition to bring together resources, policies, and people to enrich lives and create a fairer society for all.

The government’s new strategy mirrors the Cranfield Trust’s ethos. For nearly 30 years our work has focused on uniting skilled business volunteers from the commercial sector with charities supporting people in need, in communities across the UK. At the Cranfield Trust our vision is to improve the lives of people experiencing society’s most pressing problems – particularly poverty, disability and social exclusion. By matching volunteers that have expertise in areas such as business strategy, finance, or marketing with charities in need of that support, we can help charitable organisations become more effective, sustainable and able to help more of their beneficiaries.  

Importantly for the organisations we work with, all of our services are delivered at no cost to them. This is possible thanks to the generosity of charitable trusts and foundations, individual donors and corporate supporters. Their vital support enables us to deliver free management consultancy, HR advice and masterclasses to hundreds of charitable organisations every year.

We’ve helped charities like Caxton Youth Organisation, a local charity working to advance the personal development of young people with multiple disabilities living in the City of Westminster. With a change of Chairperson on the horizon, Caxton Youth decided it was a good time to review board policy and practice, implement improvement strategies and strengthen their management committee. As a small charity with an income under £150,000, only three full-time members of staff and 3 trustees, the board was keen to draw on the advice and guidance of the Cranfield Trust to improve their governance and sustainability.  

From early conversations with Caxton Youth Organisation's trustee board and CEO, it was agreed that having a Board and Management Committee improvement programme in place was crucial. Volunteer consultant Stephen Cowburn was on hand to mentor and guide CEO Rachel Akehurst every step of the way.

With a strong background in line-management and developing individuals and teams in the commercial sector, Stephen worked with Rachel to make sure every aspect of the charity's governance and leadership were explored. Once areas for improvement were identified, a plan of action was put in place, which Rachel, her team, and trustees were able to put into practice.  

The charity's young service users are already benefitting from a new approach to meetings, as Rachel explains: "Previously, Young People's Representatives came along to Board Meetings, which were referred to as Management Committee meetings prior to this project, where they had to sit through an agenda that wasn't of much interest to them. They now attend Operational Meetings instead, which didn't exist prior to the project, where every agenda item directly effects them. It's a much more effective way of working, and a far better use of everyone's time."

Since completing the project, trustees are clearer about their individual roles, board meetings are more focused on strategic matters, rather than replicating operational meetings, and new systems and procedures bring have increased confidence when making funding applications.

When the project drew to a close, the positive outcomes were clear to Rachel: “The project achieved more than it originally set out to, including a rewrite of the organisation's governing document. Stephen supported us to formally recruit two new trustees, review board meetings and create an agenda that encourages us to think strategically rather than operationally. We now have improved leadership, improved structures and a more strategically-focused Board of Trustees. Caxton Youth Organisation is better prepared for the future as a result of the project with the Cranfield Trust." Caxton Youth Organisation now feels stronger and more prepared to take advantage of opportunities and deal with the everyday, and strategic, challenges they may face.

The government’s Civil Society Strategy talks about charities and social enterprises being the core of civil society and here at the Cranfield Trust, we couldn’t agree more. We believe that charities should have access to the management expertise they need to help them thrive, and benefit as many people in need of their help as possible.

If you think we can be of help your organisation, please do get in touch to find out how we can help make a difference. You can learn more about our management consultancy projects and sign-up for free HR advice and updates on our website or email us at We’re also on Twitter @CranfieldTrust – follow us to hear about our latest news and free masterclasses exclusively for charities.