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Feature: How to build sustainability into your charity

Sian Edwards, director of The Christian Initiative Trust, has some vital tips on creating charitable projects that will last ...

With charities in the spotlight for a myriad of funding and spending related issues, the issue of using funds wisely and effectively on sustainable projects has never been more important.  

Here, Sian Edwards, Director of The Christian Initiative Trust (CIT), discusses how to identify such projects and why sustainability and replicability are so important when choosing recipients of grants in the CIT Awards.

"The vision of The Christian Initiative Trust today remains rooted in that of our founder Cecil Jackson Cole back – namely to support great ideas that have the potential to inspire and make a difference, whilst identifying the leaders capable of implementing those ideas.  

"We provide seed corn funding at or near the beginning of an initiative’s story and focus on those that we believe have the greatest potential to work at scale to increase their impact.  

"Sadly, all too often powerful ideas languish and fail to secure the guidance and backing to enable growth to any significant scale. Whilst a charismatic social entrepreneur may have the passion to kickstart a project, they’re not always sufficiently equipped with the experience to allow the model to take root in other areas or to garner the support necessary for growth over the longer term.   

"From our experience, taking a good idea to scale requires skilful strategy and coherent vision, combined with the ability to marshal resources and support and identify the key points of leverage. That in turn demands formal structures and methods to persuade potential backers.

"Making a charitable initiative sustainable unfortunately isn’t as easy as identifying a ‘one size fits all' formula. Each initiative will have its own requirements but there tend to be two clusters of factors that are essential to sustainable growth.

First off is an environment that provides effective demand for the model: public agencies willing to provide commissions or contracts; members of the public willing to pay for services; charitable funders willing to provide subsidy.  

Secondly is the capacity to grow; this requires effective management, money, leadership and governance. This means not only finance and the right personnel, but also the ability to harness support and manoeuvre in different sectors.

An inability to learn from experience and being prepared to make improvements accordingly can scupper a charitable initiative as it seeks to grow and replicate.  This sometimes means that founders, whilst the most passionate advocates for organisations, may not be ruthless enough about the changes needed for growth.  

That said, the best founders will recognise this and consequently think through how things are going to be replicated; will have built strong management and governance teams around them; and will constantly make new networks and alliances.  

The CIT Awards seek to support Christian organisations that offer a simple solution to a real and identifiable problem. The winning ideas will be those that add something new to existing approaches and which, with a little investment, can be easily implemented.  

The winning proposals will also have clear plans, realistic budgets and a level of professionalism that makes us believe that winning really will help set you off on the road to greatness!

Entries to the CIT awards are welcomed until Tuesday October 6 and an application form can be accessed on the website.  

Entries need to consider the following entry criteria

  • Addressing a need
  • Passionate leader that can make things happen
  • Realistic plans and budget that tackle the problem
  • Potential of the initiative being able to grow or replicate
  • Originality and innovation
  • Wow factor

Pictured above: Stephen Addison of Box Up Crime – a previous winner of a CIT Award. Stephen is pictured top receiving his award from MP Stephen Timms.

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