(This is the text of my ‘Bottom Line’ column that appeared in the Brighton Argus on 16th August 2011).
In my working life I am involved in two very different organisations which share a common objective: the provision of specialist services for those in the greatest need. But in spite of the common objective, there are fundamental differences in expectations of my role in the two organisations
One is the charity, Brighton Housing Trust (BHT). The name itself is misleading. We don’t just operate in Brighton (and Hove), but also in Eastbourne, Hastings, St. Leonards and other districts in East Sussex. We do a lot more than housing, including legal advice and representation, mental health services, services for those with alcohol and other drug addiction, work and learning activities, etc.
The other organisation is BHT Enterprises Ltd., a profit making company, operated on a commercial basis. BHT IT Solutions and BHT Design are just two of the businesses within the company. The profits generated by BHT Enterprises are gift aided to the charity, BHT, to support its charitable work, for example, at First Base Day Centre.
First Base provides services to some of the most vulnerable men and women in Brighton and Hove. For example, we provide early morning sessions for those who have slept out. We ensure that the causes of their homelessness are addressed, and help them to secure and maintain accommodation.
The Centre operates at a loss of about £100,000 per annum, but because of the high “Mission-fit”, the charity chooses to support the work of First Base from our own funds and donations we receive from many very generous supporters.
Being a charity doesn’t stop us making difficult decisions, such as changing terms and conditions of employment for staff three or so years ago. And we have recently had to make a very difficult decision in BHT Enterprises.
It is not a charity and takes a commercial view on its activities. One of its business streams, the highly respected Blue Rocket PR, staffed by four very talented PR specialists, has in recent times struggled in the challenging economic environment in which it operates.
BHT Enterprises Ltd. has no room for sentiment, for considerations such as “Mission-fit”. With my fellow Directors we felt that the outlook for Blue Rocket PR was not positive, in spite of the expertise of its staff, and we have made the decision to shut the business.
Of course on a personal level I am sad to lose Blue Rocket PR from our wider ‘family’, but as a commercial enterprise we could not wait to see if its prospects would improve nor could we subsidise its business activities from charitable funds.
It takes different mindsets to run charitable and commercial organisations. But in each, tough decisions have to be made if we are to remain true to our purpose.