NOVO-K at eWorld – Tips For Successful Procurement in the Charity Sector

At the recent eWorld event, Kavita Cooper and Rohan Yoganathan (previously Head of Procurement at Barnardo’s) ran a hands-on workshop aimed at those working in and around the charity sector. Cooper is an ex procurement practitioner (see our article here), who now runs consulting firm Novo-K which supports charity sector clients in procurement performance improvement and related areas.

I sat in on the first half of the session, and it was good to look at some of the issues facing procurement folk in that sector, issues which are subtly different in some ways at least from those facing professionals working in public or private sector organisations.

One factor that may be unique to the sector is that there is in some quarters almost an “aversion to commercial acumen” as someone put it during the session. Either it is seen as being “not nice” to negotiate with or challenge suppliers too hard, or some people working in charities naively believe that suppliers will always give them a good deal – simply because they are charities.

We might be more cynical and suggest some suppliers probably do the opposite because they see that commercial naivety, but in many case there is every reason for charities to develop strong procurement skills to make sure they are using their money as effectively as possible.

Perhaps less unique to charities, there are issues with budget holders who just don’t know how to specify properly, leaving procurement with an impossible task. Maverick buying is another challenge; again not unique to charities, and a similar remark applies to bureaucracy, which in some organisations gets in the way of effective buying. Charities also tend to be risk averse, perhaps like much of the public sector, and afraid of bad publicity. Data is often poor, and “procurement can be perceived as having its own agenda”.

So after all that faintly depressing background, how can procurement in the sector move forwards successfully? Clearly, procurement has to provide evidence of the value it can add, and to do that, it needs to put itself in the shoes of key internal stakeholders – indeed, that was one of the exercises the delegates in the workshop were asked to do. Think about what would make a charity CFO or a head of fund raising interested in the procurement agenda, was the very good question.

Cooper then suggested there are four keys that can help procurement become more successful in the sector.

Become more visible, with your colleagues; work with integrity to gain their trust, become a business partner and form internal strategic partnerships in business. Get the key people engaged, and explain the strategy for procurement. That will help you demonstrate the value you can add.

Improve internal PR – you must connect with the correct people at the correct level in the organisation. They developed eight key themes at Barnardo’s which formed the basis of the procurement approach and the message to stakeholders.

Seek early involvement  in the sourcing process, working to be involved from the earliest budgeting phases of projects and operational costs. Identify how procurement can help and get savings embedded in budgets.

“Fund-finding” – see what opportunities there might be for involving suppliers in fund-raising or using procurement’s commercial skills on that side of the organisation too.

Actually, substitute “sales-finding” for “fund-finding” and that’s not a bad list for any commercial organisation. And if any charities reading this want to take the discussion further, you can contact Cooper and the NOVO-K team via their website here.

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