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Contributed by
The Welcome Centre

Overview

The Welcome Centre is a local charity in Huddersfield, offering food bank services and more.

The Chief Executive and Trustees of the charity share the responsibility for ensuring that they deliver the best value service for the benefit of their donors and service users.

In order to do this, they make extensive use of management information and data that allows them to:

• Monitor the day-to-day operation of the charity

• Identify longer-term underlying trends

• Alter service delivery to further benefit service users

• Examine the effectiveness of any changes that they make

Recipe status

This recipe has been in use since January 2014.

We are not sharing this recipe as the perfect solution to a problem, but we believe The Welcome Centre’s learnings could be very useful to other organisations.

Users and needs served

  • As charity decision-makers, we need to understand how best to support our service users and ensure that we offer a sustainable service

Software and tools used

Foodbank Operations Manager software system

This is a bespoke software system. Foodbank Operations Manager is integrated with a Microsoft Access (or SQL Server) Database, with Microsoft Excel for report output and Microsoft Word for client and referrals document output.

The Foodbank Operations Manager client is built using Microsoft Visual Studio 2019 (Community Edition).

Foodbank Operations Manager (and the underlying source code) will shortly be available via GitHub. In the meantime, charities may be able to replicate some of the process with an advanced CRM software, although they should be aware that this will not replicate all the functionality of Foodbank Operations Manager.

Cost

Foodbank Operations Manager is free to use and will soon be available via GitHub.

Microsoft Visual Studio 2019 (Community Edition) is free to community enterprises.

Heavily discounted licences for Microsoft Office are available through the Charity Digital Exchange. Pricing depends on the tier of subscription. You can view pricing information here.

Heavily discounted charity licences for Microsoft SQL Servers are available through the Charity Digital Exchange.

For this recipe, the charity used an SQL Server database as they have 6-8 simultaneous users of the system. However, an acceptable level of performance could be replicated using a Microsoft Access Database. Pricing for Microsoft SQL Server offers a range of different versions and editions for cloud and on-premise. You can find more information on non-profit licences here.

Considerations

As bespoke software built around one organisation’s specific business requirements, Foodbank Operations Manager might not be suitable for the needs of all organisations.

The integrated system allows users to hold all operational information in one place, limiting the uncontrolled use of multiple spreadsheets.

The system requires IT systems knowledge to develop and maintain. This relies on the level of enthusiasm and commitment of the volunteers within the organisation

The system is restricted to desktop environments. It is not possible to use it with mobile devices.

Recipe steps

1. Define your processes

Take time to understand the operational processes that your charity relies upon. A successful charity will implement sustainable organisational processes that can be delivered repeatedly.

It is important that these processes are properly embedded and fully understood by operational staff and volunteers before any analysis is performed. It will be difficult to gain the proper insights from the analysis if these processes are still in their infancy.

2. Determine what management information your charity requires

A charity will typically require management information to draft impact reports and demonstrate efficacy to stakeholders (such as funders and donors), as well as to understand how the resources available to the charity are being directed.

This information can be used to measure growth in demand or improvement in efficiency, and resources can be redirected accordingly.

Management information should also be used to show how the charity is meeting the purposes described in its objects.

3. Work out what data you need

Work out what data is needed to create the management information, and decide how to record this information. Assess what data can be collected at an operational level and whether this data is useful in understanding how services are operating.

4. IT Procurement and Development

Without some kind of IT support it is unlikely that sufficiently reliable data can be consistently recorded.

Every charity differs in scope and size. The levels of IT required to support operations will be determined by the requirements for specific management information.

Guidance

The switch to using management information to inform strategic decision-making does not happen overnight. It is a long process and one that consists more of evolution than revolution. It is a series of small steps, each of which improves your understanding of how you operate and how you can deliver better value to your service users.

Risks

Wasted effort: Management information can be a very important strategic tool. But many other things have to be in place before it can be gathered and used effectively, such as repeatable processes, IT infrastructure and well-trained staff and volunteers. If these elements are not already present within your charity, it is difficult for this higher-level information to be collected, analysed and acted upon. In this case, it would be better to focus on more basic recipes like introducing a repeatable service delivery model.

Wasted money: The collection, storage and analysis of management information represents an overhead which diverts financial resources away from front-line service provision. There is always a trade-off to be made between the costs and benefits of this type of data-led approach to strategic decision making.

Points of contact

For further information about this recipe, you can contact:

Andrew Tomlinson – Welcome Centre Trustee with responsibility for IT and data

Thanks

Many thanks to The Welcome Centre for contributing this recipe.

Licence

This recipe is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.

That means you are free to copy, redistribute, and build on the text of this recipe, but only for non-commercial purposes (if you want to use it for commercial purposes, get in touch with us at [email protected]). You must give credit to both Catalyst and The Welcome Centre and link back to this page. If you build on this recipe then you must share your version under this same licence.

Recipe published on March 30th, 2021. Last updated April 1st, 2021