‘Mission drift on the rise as charities go where the money is’

NGOIndex boss says some financially-stretched voluntary organisations are taking on projects without the necessary expertise or management structure

An increasing number of small charities have been displaying mission drift in an effort to secure funding in more challenging economic conditions, according to the chief executive of NGOIndex, a company that evaluates the accountability and transparency of charities.

Richard Grassby-Lewis told Third Sector he had observed an increasing number of instances when community-based charities in particular have started to drift into service areas they did not originally intend to cover.

“Where charities have been financially stretched, I have seen them go where the money is,” he said. “They see where there is money and adapt themselves accordingly.”

He cited examples including a health charity that started a social enterprise project and a regeneration project that started up a number of youth and employment projects.

He said that in some cases this may work but he had seen it cause problems when the organisation did not have the management structure in place to sustain a number of projects at once.

“If management is stretched over wider types of project it is less able to deliver a coherent service than if it is focused on a narrower field,” he said.

Grassby-Lewis added that it could also lead to an increasing overlap of services between charities and that sometimes charities did not have the expertise to be moving into these new areas.

He said the sector should strive to be more focused with less duplication, and that charities should work more in partnerships to achieve this.

Cath Lee, the chief executive of the Small Charities Coalition, said it had recently sent out a survey to its members to ask them how they are intending to respond to the cuts.

She said she had seen anecdotal evidence that some were planning on changing direction. She added that although there might appear to be a lack of formal partnerships, there was a lot of informal collaboration among smaller charities occurring.

Kevin Curley, the chief executive of local umbrella body Navca, said: “The long-term decline in grant funding has forced local charities and voluntary groups to seek alternative methods of funding. Alongside this there has also been a push to get these groups to be more entrepreneurial.

“I am not surprised that as a result of this there are examples of mission drift and wasteful duplication from local charities.”

A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said that during the economic downturn it had urged trustees to look at whether the charity is focusing on the right things, and to ensure that it does not drift into activities that are outside its core charitable purposes.