It’s no longer enough for charities to rely upon the moral purpose of their cause to attract the support they require.
No matter how deserving the cause, the most sophisticated charities now create business models to generate financial surpluses that then get distributed to those they are seeking to help.
It’s about building sustainable surpluses.
A striking example comes from Sense, the charity dedicated to the needs of deafblind people.
Try imagining what it must be like to be deaf and blind. All you have is taste, touch and smell.
We have 500 children in Birmingham living like this and over 4,000 people of all ages with profound and multiple disabilities.
You’d think the profundity of the work of Sense was enough to secure the money it needs for its work.
Sadly, straight-forward donations don’t bring in enough on their own. So Sense for some time has been thinking through its place as a provider of solutions on behalf of the care community.
Birmingham has now been identified by Sense as the first site in England for a new “TouchBase” Centre.
Based in Selly Oak, this will be a £14 million centre pioneering specialist services for disabled adults and children.
It will create 130 new jobs and possible 200 over time. On a competitive tender basis, the necessary land was bought and the scheme is now being worked up in detail.
Notably, there is a revenue model that creates long-term income streams from the provision of a wide array of services.
There will be garden space available to the public with a café. There will be meeting and conference facilities for hire. There will be a bike repair shop run by a deafblind technician. And more.
Savvy charities like Sense have recognised for some time that public spending on welfare and care services has to reduce.
It’s the old adage of the country needing to get more from less.
Numerous studies have identified how a more client-facing view of service delivery can reduce duplication and inefficiencies that “top-down” service delivery misses.
So it is no surprise that the plans for TouchBase Birmingham have already attracted £9 million of the £14 million total project costs, including £2.1 million from the government’s Regional Growth Fund.
The RGF scheme is fixated almost entirely on supporting job creation and its due diligence processes are forensic.
It is testament to the rigour in the TouchBase business plan and the wider economic value/job creation benefits that the project was able to attract RGF funds.
I don’t think there are many, if any, examples of charities winning public economic development funds in this way.
The project will establish an innovative model of care in Birmingham which can be shared with other charities and local authorities.
Very early on, the project caught the eye of Sir Albert Bore, Leader of Birmingham City Council. Sir Albert has said: “Birmingham has been chosen for this pioneering centre highlights the importance of growing our life sciences industry as a way to attract more jobs and investment into the city”.
Increasingly, the visibility of social enterprises (another way to describe the Sense innovation) is only going to increase as part of the fabric of a mature and forward-looking economy.
It’s wonderful for Birmingham that we have been chosen by Sense for this ground-breaking project.
Another Brummie first! If you’d like to find out more and to see how you can help, go to www.sense.org.uk/touchbase
* Jerry Blackett is chief executive of the Birmingham Chamber Group