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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

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Charities can’t afford to risk too much

This opinion piece is over 8 years old

Paula Karlsson explains why planning ahead and managing risk should be a significant function of any charity

Paula Karlsson
Paula Karlsson

If I asked you what the most important thing is for your charity, what would you say?

Are you there foremost to serve and protect the vulnerable groups of people, animals, forests and flowers (whichever category your charity falls into)? If that is your answer, I want to disagree and take you on a short mental journey.

I would argue the most important thing for a charity should be to plan ahead. Perhaps this is similar to any business but in a charity there are vulnerable groups relying on your service. You may be their last resort. If you (or your charity) don’t exist, you cannot help these vulnerable groups. By planning ahead, you can make sure that you have at least made a really good effort because you may be able to hinder negative incidents impacting on your charity and staying in business longer.

The majority of charities out there manage risks on daily a basis

I am of course talking about managing risks in your charity. Now don’t stop reading just because you think this is one of those boring “here is what you must do” talks. I won’t tell you how do manage risk, or how you should set up a whole new function for risk management in your charity, or preach as to why you should manage risk (any more than I have thus far).

I think all charities can manage risk, regardless of the size of the charity. And many already do – perhaps they even mention risk in some of their documents – but the majority of charities out there (just like any individual) manage risks on daily a basis. You make choices based on informed and considered alternatives. All I call for is that when working for or running a charity you think about risk just that little bit more.

You might ask how far ahead you need to plan. I might reply how long do you want to stay in business? What kinds of incidents should you plan for? You should make plans for those things that could stop you doing business and helping those most in need. If you are thinking of launching some exciting new product or innovative service, consider what could go wrong, who could get hurt, what impact would this as a whole have on your charity?

Your charity exists to serve certain groups, but those you serve also bear a risk to you. Those who work for you are a risk to you – but they are also a resource. Those you partner with provide an opportunity, but also a risk. All the decisions that you make have a ripple effect on something else. Don’t let yourself be the biggest risk to your charity.

I ask you again, what is the most important thing for your charity?

Paula Karlsson is a PhD student in Glasgow School for Business and Society at Glasgow Caledonian University. Her PhD is entitled Co-governance of risk in new partnership models for public service provision: Comparative study between Scotland, Finland and Sweden.

Follow Paula on Twitter @researchingrisk.



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