Removing the shackles of raising unrestricted income

Prison Fellowship

"David and Emily were professional and insightful and they made us feel they were on our side. Consultants aren’t always good at that – they can be a bit other-worldly – but they really got us. So I was prepared to listen to them and that will affect our ability to take this forward."

Peter Holloway, Chief Executive, Prison Fellowship

Prison Fellowship is one of the largest of over a thousand charities operating in UK criminal justice sector. Its mission is “To show Christ’s love to prisoners by coming alongside them and supporting them.” The charity used to receive a significant amount of state funding but this was withdrawn following a change in funding policy. Rather than pursuing major contracts and further state funding, the board chose to diversify its fundraising streams in order to maintain its independence and follow its mission. Since then they have been closing the funding gap but wanted to move faster, and so began to look for an external consultancy that could offer insights different to their own. They chose Action Planning.

The exam question for this project was, “How can Prison Fellowship increase unrestricted income to grow funding from circa £500k to £750k+?”

The project was managed by David Saint with Emily Petty providing detailed research into the operational aspects of Prison Fellowship’s funding streams. David met the charity’s Chief Executive Peter Holloway and studied documentation to gather a good understanding of the charity from the inside.

While the additional income was required to cover core costs, the charity already received solid restricted income for some popular projects. This posed a challenge in terms of ‘selling’ fundraising campaigns from a charity that already appeared well funded.

Given the structure of the charity’s finances and current reserve levels, we proposed spreading the objective over four years, which helped to make the fundraising target much more feasible.

We also proposed repackaging some of what had been classified as ‘core costs’ - eg Letter Writing and Chaplaincy Support - as projects. On this basis, we wrote a headline fundraising strategy detailing targets for each project and projected income from the various funding streams over four years. 

We recommended leveraging the charity’s substantial volunteer network to help generate income. This is no easy task, as volunteers tend to have very particular ideas of their role in the organisation – which don’t usually extend to raising money! However, we have seen before that by approaching the subject in a considered and sensitive way, volunteers can be brought on board and will remain supportive for years to come.

Emily’s detailed analysis of the funding streams and our recommendations for increasing income over four years were presented to Prison Fellowship in a 26 page report. 

Peter Holloway received the report with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Having read it through several times, however, he found that it provided him with a clear understanding of the next steps. He said it was very useful in affirming what the charity was already doing while also pointing out that there was a need for improvement in certain areas, such as detailed targeting and contingency planning.

Recognising a need to break down the planning process even further, Peter set priorities to take the budgeting and planning for the next financial year to “another level”, to carry out “a really good piece of work” around full cost recovery and to re-engage local volunteer groups in fundraising.

Consultant’s insight:
This was quite an interesting exercise because in the first instance the challenge wasn’t a fundraising one, but an accounting one. Once we had got to grips with designated and ‘free’ reserves, and once we had clarified the definitions of ‘core’ and ‘project’ costs, the shape of the fundraising need changed dramatically. It then became a case of building on existing fundraising strengths, rather than the need to create something revolutionary.

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