Monday, 21 October 2013

What we pay, how we provide, social media and proving our worth!

There has been some debate in the media and in the voluntary sector press about how much CEO’s of voluntary organisations and charities are paid. Huge 6 figure sums have been mentioned. Ratio’s between highest paid and lowest paid scrutinised and talk of replacing paid staff with volunteers. I have a personal view about highly paid CEO's and not just because I am not one of them as I believe I am paid adequately for the job I do and that 6 figure sums are unnessessary for anyone, let alone those in the voluntary sector.

However, I think that the discussion should be at the other end. RfA provides front line, autism specialist services and I have been very proud that we have had no need to mention the London living wage, also much in the news, as we have always paid our lowest paid staff more than this for the amazing work they do. We have nearly 300 staff, most very part time and I am under pressure to cut the wages of our hourly paid staff to the minimum wage. Local authorities who buy our services say that we pay our frontline staff too much. The minimum wage used to be something people were slightly ashamed to be paying. Minimum is not the same as average and yet now it seems to be the bench mark for wages in the care sector.

If we believe that our service users deserve to get the very best in care then we must be prepared to pay for that and to pay the cost of good training to support our staff and to offer promotion prospects to help encourage the best staff to stay with us. We must also be prepared to get rid of staff who do not come up to the mark, good conditions of employment come with responsibility and expectations. Our values should permeate everything we do including how we treat our staff.

The best care is not cheap care and talking of money, we have managed to remain pretty unscathed by the huge cuts that many other organisations have experienced but that is not likely to continue. The 6% cut in our Birmingham income, for example, has been managed without any reduction in service but the talk of a 25% cut in the coming year will not leave services undented unless we really up our game in new and innovative fundraising. Personalisation has hit us hard with many families unable to meet the full cost of services from the money they are given. It will fall to ‘unrestricted’ funding to help us keep things going and even better help us to continue to grow and manage our waiting lists.. We are hoping to access more corporate support, more individual donors and more externally organised fundraising events. We have little capacity to organise in house events, which are costly and often do not bring in the money to cover those costs but events organised by individuals to benefit us such as marathon running, coffee mornings, cake and skills sales can be supported and are hugely welcome. It is a competitive world out there and everyone is feeling the pinch (well almost everyone!) so we have to be more imaginative, more fun and more willing to just go ahead and ask.

We are clarifying our priorities and making sure that we can measure our impact so we can prove that as an organisation we are both helpful and necessary. That may seem obvious but the onus is on us to prove our worth and goes hand in hand with the competitive nature of fundraising. It is also useful for us internally to continue to monitor how effective we are. Our goal is to improve the quality of life for individuals, families and carers and the services we provide along the way to that goal have to be shown to genuinely help lead to an improvement in quality of life. To say that a 2 hour group once a week leads to an improvement is not enough as that is full of assumptions. We have to be able to show what the effect of not having that group would be and why life is better with it. This may be obvious to us but not necessarily to those requesting evidence of impact before agreeing to fund us or when considering extending funding.

Communicating what we do is a tool in showing impact and RfA are now using social media more including Facebook and Twitter and we are just developing our YouTube presence. All this is a challenge to an old lady like me but I am enjoying it and very much appreciate the help provided by Kavita from Pimp My Cause and Gideon one of our Autism to Autism volunteers in dragging me into the 21st century. Please do engage with our public face and help spread the word about what we are up to.

So, my tasks for this autumn are to maintain and improve all our services, defend our employment practices and prove to the outside world that we really are the very best provider and what we do makes a real difference to people’s lives. Your help in all this is greatly appreciated! Please do let me know your thoughts, reactions and ideas.

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