CEO’s Blog – 26/04/2016

Annus horibilis or Annus mirabilis

It’s the Queen’s 90th birthday year. She has been our monarch since 1952 – 64 years of service to our country. Whether you are in favour of the monarchy or not, that is something of a landmark. But the question many ask is whether our monarchy is needed, and the arguments usually come down to how much they cost and whether they give good value for money. This can, and should also be asked of The Bridge Trust. We are in our 25th year this year – quite a landmark for us too, but we must also ask whether we are needed and whether we also give good value for money. So, as we have just completed our year end its right to not only think ahead to the next year and beyond, but to look back to see whether the Trust has performed well – have we been needed and are we good value for money?

Let’s look first at whether we are needed or not. This is a simple matter of looking at whether there are single, homeless people out there who are in need of our help. During the past year we had 141 homeless people apply to us for accommodation and support and due to our location, most of these were from the local west Kent region. So I think the answer to the “need” question is a big fat “yes”.

Let’s look now at value for money. This can be assessed in several ways. Firstly, the financials. Our (yet to be audited) accounts show that we spent about 75% of our income on charitable activities – accommodation and support for homeless people, but is that enough? Last year there was some (bad?) press about one of the world’s largest poverty charities, saying that it also “only” spent 75% of its income on its charitable activities – shock horror! There must be an appreciation that there is always an “admin” cost to facilitate and support the charitable activities taking place. How else do insurances and leases get sorted out, IT, furniture and equipment, HR and training organised, who would do the payroll or process invoices, negotiate contracts or look after the accounts and don’t forget marketing and PR and of course governance. All this (and a lot more) is necessary for ANY business if they are to survive and grow and it all has a necessary cost to it. If those costs are squeezed too much then the risks of failure become too great. Last year the CEO of a well publicised London children’s charity openly admitted that she chose to spend donations on children, therefore neglecting good management and governance (including not paying their income tax) as the children were the first priority. They went bust in a spectacular and very public way, which now benefits no one! I honestly believe that, measured financially, we have done well with our expenditure on our charitable activities, spending prudently but realistically on administration. However, we can spend all the money in the world on homelessness, but if we don’t actually produce any results then we have failed, so there is more to the story than just the money.

The Bridge Trust is only a small charity, so we don’t deal in big numbers when it comes to helping homeless people (quality not quantity!), and we can only do what our resources allow us to do. During the year we gave accommodation to 40 people, in our 24 rooms, so that stat looks pretty good doesn’t it? Well no, not on its own as our aim is to prepare people for, and then move them on into sustained independence – preventing homelessness re-occurring. If we haven’t been successful in doing that then we are not fulfilling our mission. During the year we moved on 17 people and of those, 15 were a success. Of the 2 who were not, one is spending time at her majesty’s pleasure and the other abandoned their accommodation to go elsewhere. So an 88% success rate is a pretty good performance and, I hope you would agree, indicates very good value for money and that we have had an “annus mirabilis” – a great year.

As I said in a letter to a newspaper earlier this year, The Bridge Trust operates properly. We don’t cold call, we don’t employ “chuggers”, and we don’t pay our senior managers 3 figure salaries (unfortunately for me!). So if you want to donate your money into a safe pair of hands, then look no further than The Bridge Trust. We need your support to continue to help those in such need in our community and we hope and pray that you would agree with one of our own residents who said “they are a good charity”.