Why donations towards staff salaries can be a lasting charitable legacy!

I joined Guideposts two years ago. Just in time for the barrage of accusations and assumptions that I was, “another greedy fundraiser, squandering public donations & celebrity/political endorsements on a fleet of gold-plated Jaguars and exorbitant executive salaries for a profligate charity!” Ouch…!

Since the backlash against some very poor behaviour by a few charities, the whole Sector has worked hard to prove that we really do value and respect every supporter’s help, donations and privacy. We are a way towards a much improved, more trusting relationship. And my ulcer has improved!

Not that donors want to know about my gastro-intestinal health. They and charitable Trusts & Foundations in particular, simply want to know that we are using their money wisely and investing it in the most beneficial and appropriate way. Therefore, I can see why some grant-givers are reluctant to make a donation towards Guideposts’ operating costs staff salaries within a project, as the most appropriate means of achieving “positive outcomes and lasting benefits.” Very often they prefer to help procure a new piece of equipment, or a building annex.

I understand this perspective and, indeed, two years ago I shared it. I recall my anxiety when I realised that a donor’s generous legacy gift might be spent on our staff salaries. I thought, “Surely this donor and his family, expected to buy something solid and tangible – and memorable? Proof that the money went to good use?” I guess that is why, in general, Trusts and Foundations prefer to donate towards things that can be seen, counted, photographed and inventoried within annual accounts and included in an impact report. They want to know that theirs will be money well-spent. Which means: on something good, with a positive outcome & lasting legacy. I get it and I agree!

But here’s the rub. In the Social Care, Disability & Mental Health support spheres, we are dealing with people. And here, good things, positive outcomes & lasting legacies are seldom delivered by money, equipment or buildings, but by skilled people. Good people with altruism and empathy, certainly; but people with expertise. People with an expert understanding of the situation and challenges faced by vulnerable clients and with the skills to plan a safe, effective, progressive intervention strategy to comfort, support and guide them onwards. It is not without reason that we describe our approach as “person-centred & person-led.”

Hence the title of this article. You see, all my service delivery colleagues are experts in their roles. They are steeped in an understanding of the health, wellbeing, practical and emotional challenges their clients and clients’ families face. They are capable managers, shrewd authors of health, safety, risk, training & quality management plans and inspiring leaders of their colleagues and volunteers. But above all, they are empathetic and skilled practitioners. They deliver impactful interventions in support of people and families affected by a range of challenges, including dementia, learning and/or physical disability or mental health issues. It is their empathy and expertise which is fundamental to our work. The age and quality of their equipment, or our premises is seldom a key issue.

Take my colleague Pemma, who is a Guideposts Music Therapy practitioner. You may recall an earlier post of mine in which a dementia client’s wife described their shared Alzheimer’s journey being ….

“….like a walk into the woods where it gets darker and darker and scarier, the further you go. You feel lost and afraid but then, suddenly, there can be a shaft of brilliant sunlight coming through the trees and you sigh with relief and feel reassured. Now you can see where you are, look back and see where you came from and know that you are not, after all, completely lost. Our Guideposts Music Therapy sessions are this shaft of light in our shared walk into the woods.”

Pemma plays violin, piano, guitar and a great many other musical instruments. But our client’s wife talks about how Pemma taught them to tap out rhythms on the kitchen working surface and sang familiar folk songs to her client. Put simply, as a skilled practitioner, Pemma having met this man and his wife and started their case-file, then went on to develop and deliver a person-centred support methodology. She doesn’t really need a superb piece of musical equipment, or a purpose built room. She can clap and sing in a kitchen and still summon up that “shaft of brilliant sunlight” to relieve and reassure a dementia client and his anxious wife.

And it doesn’t matter whether those shafts of sunlight are being summoned by Pemma in a kitchen, by her Horticultural Therapy / Forest School colleagues in a scrubby garden allotment, her Learning Disability support counterparts in a public venue, or her peers at the “HERE” call-centre: creating a beacon of light to guide people through a confusing UK health & social care landscape. It is the skill, knowledge and expertise of our people which delivers the therapeutic effect and positive outcomes for other vulnerable people and carers. Not even the most flashy-washy “app” – fresh from “an innovative and disruptive tech start-up company” – can deliver anything meaningful, if it lacks carefully curated knowledge and human expertise. Sorry!

Civil society journals and Hansard records are littered with tales of money poorly spent on projects, concepts, equipment, buildings and uniforms (Emperor’s new ones?) acquired in haste, which failed to deliver results. Largely because they were procured by people who lacked the expertise & experience (or perhaps simply the time) to fully consider the problem and incorporate “kit” into a successful strategized solution.

So I conclude, with a plea. Charities like Guideposts operate in a space where empathetic human interaction counts and where expertise costs. Sustaining that human interaction and retaining and developing that expertise, costs money. So please, donors of all size and ilk, help us to generate more “shafts of brilliant sunlight.” I grant you they are harder to count and log, than guitars, spades, buildings and annexes. However, when summoned by our skilled and valuable staff, they transform the lives of vulnerable people and build respite, communication & coping strategies for them & their loved ones. Creating some beautiful shared moments. I assure you that donations spent on our charity staff really is money well-spent: delivering good things, positive outcomes and lasting legacies in the daily lives and memories of a great many people!