Change and Charitable Purpose

Change is something that affects our lives and organisations pretty much constantly. In this article I suggest a way to explore the impact it can have on your charity.

Every charity has purpose: the reason it exists and what it strives to achieve.  When did you last review your charitable purpose and how change affects it?

The Charity Governance Code recommends that ‘The board periodically reviews the organisation’s charitable purposes and the external environment in which it works to make sure that the charity and its purposes stay relevant and valid.’

So this is important to maintain focus on strategy and performance and doing this work has many benefits. It deepens understanding of and commitment to the charity. It inspires people involved and creates new momentum behind the work of the charity.

How to Explore change

We live in a fast changing and complex world which will impact on your organisation.  If you take a structured approach you can build understanding of the impact of change. Some areas to explore are:


The speed of change in technology is astonishing and affects the way we all live and work. I am fascinated by what I read about the current and likely future potential of technology. You can use information available to understand the possibilities from technology such as 3D printing, biotechnology and nanotechnology, among others. How will future technology affect your organisation?


Here, explore what types of beneficiary your organisation has and how their needs may change to ensure that your charity remains relevant. What is known about the beneficiaries of your charity and what don’t you know?


The people who work for your organisation are vital to achieve its purpose. So even though they are not part of the external environment, explore the future people needs of the organisation and how these may be met.  What will the people who work for your charity need to be able to do and how will this change?


The economy is likely to impact on most charities. So, for example, is fundraising for your charity affected by change or uncertainty in the economy?  What are the possible impacts for your charity from economic changes?


There will be future regulatory or policy change that will affect how your charity can achieve its purposes. Some of these changes may have less impact than others and often adapting to change takes more time and effort than  anticipated and results in additional costs.  What new regulations/policy changes will affect how you work?


This is clearly unique to the current time and the change or impact will vary for different organisations. It is so significant that I felt it deserved its own heading here.  There are still many unknowns here but I am sure you will agree that you can prepare through exploring scenarios.  What impact will Brexit have on your organisation?


Change in the political climate can have an impact whether it is at a local, national or even international level. So, what are the implications for your charity from political change?


Some organisations are affected by their environment.  For example a charity responsible for the preservation of natural habitat or historical buildings. So, what implications are there from environmental change?

When you explore these areas and others more specific to your organisation involve stakeholder groups such as beneficiaries, funders and employees. In the work look at what is known and what is not known along with both positive and negative aspects. It is a great way to understand your charity’s operating environment and the impact of change.

Making sense of change

After this take a step back and look at the information you have through the lenses of:

  • The opportunities it presents
  • What it means for the strategy of your organisation
  • The implications for sustainability in its broadest sense
  • How will you continue to deliver public benefit

Then make decisions about priorities and actions you will take. For each objective, set out what you will achieve and how this can be measured in terms of outputs, outcomes and impacts.

In years gone by this type of work was done maybe for a five-year period.  I believe that now, real value comes from this work when it is done with a flexible time horizon.  Additionally, the ability to respond to what actually happens is vital as change is unpredictable. As we know from nature it is the ability to adapt to change that is most important.


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