Steady as she goes or sinking ship - how an organisation like Oblong keeps afloat in difficult financial waters

Have you ever thought how small charities like Oblong survive? Where do they get their money from? What money do they get?


As with all things, it isn’t simple.


Only five years ago nearly all of Oblong’s income came from grants. We knew then that that wasn’t sustainable. We needed a strategy that would move us away from grant dependency and towards a diverse range of income streams.


We still have a large chunk of our grant income, mainly from the Big Lottery, though this is about to come to an end in April this year. But grant funding has become increasingly difficult to obtain. The impact of the world wide economic crisis, current government strategies towards local authorities, the third sector and the outsourcing of public sector work have forced many larger charities to chase grant funding that they the previously ignored. It’s a tough environment for small organisations like Oblong, our income or growth just doesn’t give us a buffer when times are hard.


So what do we do? Well, we diversify. We try to do a range of things that bring in an income and spread the risk.


Part of our long term strategy was to obtain a more secure base for the organisation, we’ve done this by obtaining Woodhouse Community Centre. The centre, however, didn’t come free. When we took it over the centre needed a lot of work done to it and we needed to create more spaces within it to make it financially viable. This came at a cost and now we’re re-paying a large loan. Currently we need to repay £44,000 a year back in loan repayments and we currently generate around £50,000 in income from the building. It barely covers the cost of the repayments never mind the the staff to run the centre. We need more people using the centre more of the time to really make the most of this resource


One of our great successes over the last year or so has been the growth of Head Space, the short course that shows how positive thinking, assertiveness skills, creativity, exercise, diet and making plans for the future can help people get back on track during the difficult times that happen to all of us. Head Space has grown from us delivering a handful of courses a couple of years ago to us being commissioned to do over 40 this year.


We also have a lot of people volunteer their time to help run the centre and deliver the services we provide. The contribution these people make is invaluable to an organisation like Oblong.


Grant income, Head Space and volunteers have been essential to our sustainability but they are not enough.


We are aware that as a resource Oblong staff have lots of experience in facilitating learning, so over the next twelve months we are looking to develop a range of training sessions that we can deliver to individuals and organisations. We believe that this is an opportunity to develop a income stream as strong as our Head Space training


I’m not sure that many people consider making a donation to charities like Oblong. To be honest, it’s not something we’ve really pushed in the past. However, we’ve been really lucky to recently be given our first large donation. We’ve had small donations in the past but this is our first 5 figure sum. It’s made us realise that we need to raise awareness that local charities like ourselves do accept donation. We’ve now developed a simple system for people to make a single donation or regular contribution through our web site. When you see those large charities on TV asking a contribution of £3 a month it’s because that money, especially if it’s gift aided, soon adds up.


So there it is. Surviving, for a charity like Oblong, is a constant challenge to keep the centre busy, applying for grant funding and seeking out new opportunities to create income. We may look calm and collected on the surface but under the water line we’re paddling like mad.


If you would like to make a contribution to Oblong then please visit our web page and fill out the form