How-to for charities: Building a business case
So, you’ve got a great idea for your charity, but you need to get buy-in from your board. The finance team is concerned about budgets, and the operations team about staffing. And Covid’s making everyone jittery about risk…
Where do you start to make your idea a reality? By building a business case, so let’s take a look under the bonnet and see what they’re all about.
First up, what is a business case?
There are fancier definitions available but I’d describe a business case as ‘a proposal to solve a business problem, supported with sufficient detail, to arrive at a good decision as to whether to go ahead.’
At its simplest, a business case maps a journey of how to move from an idea to reality along with the resources required. Meaning if you’ve identified a problem or created a vision of what could be better, your business case evaluates if the benefits justify the resources, be they human, financial or both.
It could be a simple idea, like deciding to take three members of staff on a sponsored hike. Or more than likely, it’s a bit more complex – for instance, deciding whether to invest £100,000 in a new customer relationship management (CRM) system.
How to write a business case
Whatever the issue, in my opinion, these following three essentials apply:
1. Consider your audience
You need to think carefully about your audience: who the decision makers are, and what they’re looking for.
If you’re talking to charity trustees, you’d want to tie in your proposal to the mission and purpose of the charity. For the operations team, you’d focus on the ‘how’ – what people would you need, with what skills and equipment?
To the finance team, you would lead your presentation with the return on investment – in terms of profits or customer benefits. And importantly, you’d demonstrate that you’d done due diligence.
When I’m responding to an invitation to tender, I’ve no shame in saying I’m pretty pedantic! I look at the list of questions and take care to answer every one based on what the buyer wants to know…rather than what I might want to say – it’s easy to get caught up in your own inspiration and miss out details.
Also bear in mind that your audience could be representatives from numerous departments. So, you need to make sure your business case acknowledges the interests of each one.
2. Strike that golden balance
It’s key that you demonstrate you’re aware of risk and how to evaluate and mitigate it. That’s why I choose to do a RAID analysis (risks, assumptions, issues and dependencies) as it’s a handy template that encourages me to think more widely than the idea itself.
Say we’re building an IT system – one of the common risks here would be budget overspend caused by changes. I’d need to set out ways we would manage change requests to reduce the likelihood of overspending, as well as action we’d take if it happened.
Naturally, you can’t know all the answers. That’s why it’s called a plan! Things inevitably change and good ideas often follow a meandering path before they mature into a solution. However, if you can present to your audience as balanced-a-view as you can, show an understanding of pros, cons and risks, they will recognise that you’ve done your homework and this will help build your idea’s credibility and their trust in you.
3. Make sure it’s affordable and beneficial
You and your team are probably brimming with ideas, but whether your charity can realise them successfully is another matter. Critically, you need to ask: is there actually a demand for this?
You should talk to the cost-benefit in terms of service delivery and the number of customers who will benefit. Context is everything: where does this fit in with your organisational goals, and what customers want and need?
How can Connect Assist help?
Our philosophy is not just to sell ‘stuff’ but rather to think about approaches to solving problems and create best-fit solutions – regardless of whether they might need our services or not. This non-partisan agenda in our consultancy arm plays an important role in supporting managers in other organisations who’ve got a good idea but are struggling to make it happen.
We can analyse needs, nail the proposition, and bring together a solid, structured, informed business case. We’ll draw on the expertise of our colleagues (subject matter experts in technology, operations, marketing and so on) to ensure the business case meets the needs of all your audiences and decision makers.
For example, a charity contacted us a year ago asking for out-of-hours support. We turned it down, as the volume of calls was so low that we weren’t confident we could offer a good return on their investment.
They came back recently after failing to find anyone else prepared to help. So, we worked out seven service scenarios to send to their CEO, ranging from an entirely outsourced service to a fully automated one, plus several options in between. We’ve not driven them down a particular path: we’ve simply supported them in evaluating solutions and building an internal business case.