Charity. It’s not me, it’s you.

I found this stimulating discussion piece just before Christmas.  Lots to ponder on – from charity, fundraising and mission viewpoints.  A lot of this goes back to our understanding of “why” people are in poverty (or “income insecurity”) and the judgements we make on their situation.  The notion of the deserving and undeserving poor has never left us.  The reality is that when you have a lack of security for basic living resources, the menu of choices you have to select from is a great deal smaller and many of them are pragmatic short-term but poor long-term.  But you don’t have the luxury of always considering the long-term when children have to be fed today.

The question I would pose is how does this affect how we serve others as part of the Church when our default model is the charitable “doing to” rather than  “doing with”?  And how does it affect fundraisers, when there are no neat empathetic phrases?

Great questions to start the year off with!

This is the web reference

And I hope I am not breeching any copyright by posting it as follows:

Charity. It’s not me, it’s you.

I started a bit of furore.

It was all a bit ridiculous. People getting exercised about something I’d said when they plainly had no idea what I’d said. You’d think I’d be sick of it, but I’m revving up for more, and I’ll tell you why shortly.

A bit of context, first: 4 years ago, almost to the day, I looked in the pantry at a women’s refuge. I’d asked first, to see what we could do about food. I was appalled. 50 tins of tomatoes in that pantry, and quite a few expired tins of chickpeas too. And then in another cupboard, more tinned tomatoes. All expired. It struck me then as a bloody ludicrous thing for there to be in the pantry of a house where women were living who were in varying states of crisis and upset,  and I wanted to throw them away. My friend Gloria was appalled that I would think of doing that, so I got some to her and she made the most exquisite spaghetti sauce (which the women ate communally).

On we went, and I decided that we would provide as much food for the women in that refuge as we were able. A givealittle page was started, we went shopping 4 times a year, and then moved on to just making sure the women had access to supermarket gift cards. The evolution, as you can see, was from PROVIDING for the women to making sure they could provide for themselves. Agency, and freedom, at a time in their lives when they hadn’t been used to any for a while. My thinking changed as my work and relationships with them progressed, and I tweaked the systems we had in place, with feedback from Kris, who ran the place, as to what would work best.

They never asked for tinned tomatoes when we went shopping for them, and I never saw many of them cook with them – and I did cooking lessons with them, so I knew what they liked to cook, each one. One of them LOVED cooking with tinned tomatoes, most did not. And certainly none of them cooked at all in their first few days there, if they’d come directly from the violence that had shattered their lives.

So. Was this ever about  tinned tomatoes? No. It was about trusting that people know what they want and need and providing access to those resources for them, so that they get to make their own choices.  And having a relationship with the people you’re supporting so that if you’re ever in a position where they need/want you to provide them with something and not get it for themselves, you know what it is that they’re likely to need/want, and make your judgements on that. 

Either way, the point was this: the person who drives the resourcing should be the person who needs the support, and not the people driving it. 

So how do we change the paradigm? How do we start looking at giving people agency?

Let’s start with the language. Language is incredibly important because the “wrong” language can make people feel even more “less than” than they may already feel. More judged. More of a failure.

At the moment, there’s a lot of buzzwords and phrases around:

  • children in poverty
  • feed the need
  • the less fortunate
  • poor
  • deprived

I’ve been around this stuff for a while now, and I’ve always used the words “living in poverty” but recently, I’ve started using the term “deliberately under resourced”. Because that is, in my opinion. what it is. All the other words/terms are simply byproducts of that under resourcing.
A low wage economy, prohibitive rents, benefits that are set to be deliberately unliveable.

And, even amongst liberals there’s this idea that people are down on their luck. No. No, they’re not down on their luck. For the people I work with, they never had any luck because the system is set to shut them out. Deliberately. There’s no acknowledgement of it, but that’s what it is.

And why are they where they are in the first place? It may be different for a lot of people who are struggling, but for the people I work with, by and large, this stuff is generational, and it’s to do with – not to put too fine a point on it – colonisation. Loss of land, disruption of culture, prejudice finding good jobs and good housing. All of those things which started many many years ago and have continued to this day. And how do you change that? How do you even begin to fix that? You acknowledge it’s happened and you strive to put it right, and in the case of The Aunties, my belief is that we start by understanding that whatever support someone asks for, and we resource them to take advantage of that support, that is what they’re owed. Because most of you reading this will be perfectly comfortable. I certainly am. This is not about white guilt. This is about recognising that the system that has privileged me by dint of the family I was born into, is the same one that has shat on the women I work with. It’s as simple as that.

We can also shift the paradigm by thinking about what charity actually means. I don’t like the word “charity” – it doesn’t describe what the Aunties do, and it’s demeaning to the people we support, and resource. We don’t dispense charity – we are a whānau, a community, supporting and resourcing other members of our whānau. I’ve always said people need shit, we get it for them. But it’s always been a bit more complicated than that. Because you have stuff other people need, you get it to me, and ostensibly I give it to them, who need it, right?  Kind of. What actually happens if that you offer me stuff, and I decide who can use it because I have a relationship with them, or their social worker, and in the cases where I know the person directly, I ask them. Or the stuff gets to the storage unit, and I don’t even ask them what they need anymore. I just tell them what’s there, they come and get what they need or want. There’s no middle person, it’s just them making their own decisions.

Because we’re not in communist Russia. When you go to the supermarket you take what you need, don’t you? And there’s a whole range of choices. Well, the way I work things is that the stuff is there, all sorts of stuff, and you do the same thing. Except it’s free. A number of charities have started doing this with food – they call it the food pantry approach. And some have done a Christmas Loft, where clients get to choose their own kids presents. Because, let’s face it, when someone else has wrapped the present, and put an age and gender on it, that’s a bit shit. And I think that we need to move away from this model of charity where you get what you’re given. It’s disempowering and designed to make the person recieving feel like a piece of poo. Because you have to be grateful.  And here’s one of the other things I want to talk about……

Why should you be grateful for something you never asked for, and that you have no hand in deciding whether you get it or not? And why would you be grateful, even if you do need, say, towels, when they’re not even good enough for a dog? Or they’re not the colour you like, best? Or they’re just a bit threadbare?

No. I say no. Enough.

I’ve always said: give with love. I want to change that up. Gift with love. Resource with intent, and in a specific and client based – hate the word, it’ll do for the moment – way. Bring the focus back to the person who’s getting what they need, and not the person who’s giving it. Because, and here’s something else to think about, there is a huge power imbalance in all of this. You have something they need, they feel the pressure to be grateful. Power imbalance.

I know about this stuff because I get it all the time. I have to stop women from being over the top with gratitude – I’ve started talking to people I work with about their agency. That I understand that I’m bringing/getting them stuff and so they feel like they have to repay me with their story, or opening their lives to me. No. They don’t. And when I say it, they say: but I would tell anyone else this.

I happen to be someone people tell stuff, deep stuff, to anyway, and quite quickly. And if people are comfortable doing that, that’s fine. But when we have the discussion about it, and that stuff is clarified, we can be on a more even keel – though because of who I am and why I initially meet them, that’s still there. I’m always aware of it, and I always have been. So I want to shift that by having this conversation with other people who work in this field. How do you add some balance? How do your clients? For me, it’s about sharing about my life, and who I am.

How about, then, instead of dashing just to resource people – getting them what they need based on what they’ve asked for, and relationships built – we also, as communities of people who make it our business to concern ourselves with supporting other people when they’re struggling , think about that power imbalance, why it exists, and how we can do our jobs in a way that redresses that? Invites people to take back some power and have a say in their own resourcing? Indeed, build them into the very core of our communities. Their voices, and thoughts. Their concerns, and dreams. We can do that.

And I’m not fond of the idea of helping people. Making a difference. Changing people’s lives. Only they can do that. We can support them to do whatever they need us to support them in, but we don’t change their lives. We may touch their lives, we may impact their lives in some way. But that’s all.  This is about agency. Supporting people, in The Aunties case, in a number of ways,  while they still live in, or have left, domestic violence.

We can move from a model of charity where we act as parental, to a model where we act as equals, as much as is possible. Empower people to do whatever they need to do to bring them out of those struggles, if that’s what they want to do.

I know these are new and very challenging ideas to many people. And I know this because even  the suggestion that charities are allowed to say no to donations made people very angry. Completely spun some people out. There was talk of ingratitude. Yes, there was.

And I hear, over and over, what if there were no charities? What if we had a society that didn’t need charities? In my opinion, we will always need communities who help each other out, support each other, and share resources. It is, after all, what it means to be a community. You can call those charities, but I know which word I prefer. Which idea is much more supportive and empowering to people who are struggling, in any way.

So I’m asking you all, for the New Year, to consider my thoughts. Consider them as Xmas gifts to you.  I know this model of charity can work, because The Aunties are already largely doing it. I invite you to join us, whether you run a charity, work for a charity, or support one.

We don’t need our community to be grateful. We just need our community to be okay. All of us. To be okay. We can do that.




Saving Advent from Christmas – Malcolm Gordon

Malcolm comments on the confronting message of advent: the last paragraph sums up the subversive message: “Advent has a distinct gift to make if we are willing to receive it. It is not the gift that many of us want, but it is the gift that all of us need. It is about unnerving settled and domesticated hope, it is about toppling temples that stand for empty religion and being willing to live amidst the piles of rubble trusting that something new and God-given is coming. Instead of rushing ahead in the story, acting as if we already have all we could want, we need to keep step with the saints, like John the Baptist, Simeon and Anna. If we can long for God throughout Advent, we may find that it is God that we truly receive come Christmas time.” This is a must read, especially when we are going through the motions rather than reflecting anew on God’s good news.


I once heard William Willimon lecture at Otago University. He told a story of some students he had taken on a mission trip to Haiti during their summer break. During one of the final evenings of the trip, the students sat around a camp fire and shared their favourite passages of scripture with one another:

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Build it and they will come?

building a churchI am often asked when is the right time to build.  So here are some thoughts I have been playing with …

Churches tell me they have been in building planning mode for years and they are all sick of it and they just want to get on with it. Surely everyone must be on board by now …

There are a couple of red flags in this thinking.  The first is about when to build. From my many years in fundraising I can say that the right time to build is when a clear compelling vision for change has captured the congregation.  We all know that it takes time for people to pick up on a new idea – there are always the early adopters, but it’s not really until the early majority bring the level of support to 50% that you are truly on a change path.


Projects can be successful with less than 50% backing, but the challenge to those early adopter leaders will be to show by example (use of time, money and skills) that now is the time to start.  Few projects will have 100% support so you shouldn’t think that you can’t proceed until it is unanimous.

A project which is going to be successful will have a rising sense of excitement around it.  If the drivers are frustration or exhaustion then this is what is communicated to others.

When the time is right, it will feel right to others.  The right people will be there with the right expertise for the tasks ahead.  People will feel a sense of purpose and rightness.  They will affirm that “the time is now”.  Never is this so apparent as when on a church project I hear someone say “I feel God put me here for such a time as this”.

The other red flag is when planning has been under way for many years and the desire to do something, anything becomes stronger than the desire to wait on God’s direction.

The literature tells us that when a facility is 80% full, it is time to build because programmes will be restricted by the lack of space, or visitors won’t be able to find a seat or a car park.  This is a pragmatic measure, but the percentage doesn’t mean anything until you test whether in fact programmes are restricted (and do they all have to be in the church building anyway?) and whether lack of space is the reason visitors don’t come back.

All building projects are different:  some take a long time and finally the project, as envisaged originally, unfolds.  Others take so long because the vision is not the right one, or it is driven by the wrong questions – church questions, not God questions.  Some appear out of nowhere and gallop to completion as people look back and say “wow, what happened here?”

build a lego church

So, back to the title – of course I would be cautioning churches (especially declining, ageing congregations) not to fall into the trap of thinking they can solve all their problems by building new, shiny and “relevant” facilities; I would rather help them engage in the missional imagination and thinking which helps them see where God is at work in their community and how they can join his mission.  And the building project which might come out of that may not look anything like they expect!

Church & Change (with help from some visitors) – by Martin Stewart

A very sensitive discussion of change and innovation – highly recommended reading!


Here’s an adapted reflection from a sermon I preached at The Village Church, Christchurch on 25 June.  The text was Matthew 10: 24–39.  The context was new buildings coming ready, and some voices wanting to go back to what we once had

As I have thought my way into this week’s reflection I have had a few visitors.

The first was Kobi Yamada and his book What Do You Do With An Idea?  I love the way the book evolves from black and white to full colour as the idea takes hold.  Isn’t that how ideas work out?  They turn up and try to speak into your already fixed view of things.  They are looked at, prodded and poked, often ridiculed, slept on, and either forgotten or picked up.

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Is a social enterprise project for you?

Increasingly, I am being asked to advise on the feasibility or otherwise of a social entersocialEntprise initiative.  These commercial ventures have the ability to either fund church activities, or to realise missional goals.  The key is knowing which initiative is right for you, and going into it with a business plan and realistic goals.

Feasibility for social enterprise projects

Many churches and not-for-profit organisations are developing ideas for commercial activities which make money either to contribute to their operational revenue, or to be cost neutral and achieve missional objectives.

This paper can help you with your investigation and planning.  It is based around a café social enterprise, but the principles readily translate to running a preschool, an opportunity shop, social housing and many other commonly voiced ideas.

The first thing you need to determine is “why” this idea?  You need to be clear what success will look like.  Are you undertaking it to raise money for other programmes and operational costs?  Or do you hope to just break even and achieve missional goals instead?  Clarity around purpose is fundamental, all stakeholders need to be “on the same page” or mis-understanding will threaten the viability of the enterprise.

Before you spend any time or money developing your business idea, you should first do a quick financial feasibility test to find out whether your social enterprise idea is viable.

A feasibility test helps you estimate whether your idea will provide the kind of return on investment (ROI) you need. The following is a quick look at the factors you need to consider when feasibility testing. Once you’ve compiled your figures, we recommend you talk to financial adviser to make sure your findings are as accurate as possible.

Before you dive in, look at the ROI you require to make all the hard work and risk of starting your social enterprise worthwhile and use that figure as a benchmark. And be honest; don’t lower your expectations to help your business idea cross the finish line. If the ROI is going to be cost recovery because the enterprise is a mission strategy, it is important to include all costs to ensure that the costs of the business are not being unwittingly subsidised by other revenue streams.

Why start with an ROI benchmark? Many first-time entrepreneurs let the appeal of their ideas bias them when it comes to testing feasibility. They calculate ROI without a benchmark and say ‘Hey, that’s a good enough start’ without objectively looking at whether all the hard work of starting their own business will be worth it.

Can you make a profit?

Can you make enough profit to reach your ROI benchmark? The way to find out is to look at the unit sales you’d need to reach to do that. This means that financial analysis must be carried out to determine the business overheads (plant set up, rent, utilities, cost of materials (e.g. food ingredients), staffing, marketing etc) so you can determine what prices need to be charged to cover costs and ROI.

Let’s say your ROI is $100,000 a year and your overheads are $200,000. That means you need to generate gross profit of $300,000 to break even and then provide you with the return you require.

Let’s also assume your average price per unit is $5. 300,000 divided by 5 is 60,000 – this is the number of units you have to shift each year to meet your ROI benchmark.

The question now is – can you sell 60,000 food items or cups of coffee in a year? In other words, is it feasible?

To help you answer that question, you need to look at your:

  • Target market.
  • Demand.
  • Competitors.

Do you have an identified target market?

It’s essential you establish the type of consumer your product or service will strike a chord with the most and how many of them there are.

You should also look at the health of the wider marketplace (whether it’s growing or declining, for example, and what opportunities there are in this stage of its lifecycle).

Find out:

  • Who might use the café.
  • Where they’re located.
  • How big the market is.
  • How much customers would pay.
  • How often they might buy.
  • When they purchase.

Ultimately, you need to be able to answer two key questions:

  • Who is my ideal customer?

Define age, gender, location, likes and dislikes, purchasing influences and so on.

  • How many of them are there in my reach?

Use government statistics to find out the population density of your target demographic. This information is freely available online.

Is there demand?

You can’t assume your product or service will register off the charts with your intended audience either, so you need to talk to them or, even better, show them what you plan to sell.

You could run a survey or hold a focus group to find what potential customers like about your offering, whether they’d pay for it and whether they’d buy it.

Surveys are great for quantitative data – facts and figures, like how often a customer visits a shop – while focus groups are good places to collect qualitative data. These are the opinions and emotional responses people might have to your product or service.

Qualitative data is great if you have a prototype or service concept to show focus groups, but just keep in mind people often say one thing and do another – so don’t rely solely on emotional responses.

What will my competitors do?

The next element to establish is your competition. You need to find out:

  • How many there are.
  • Who you will most directly be competing with.
  • Their respective strengths and weaknesses.
  • What they might do once you launch.

Research your competitors online and add questions about who your potential customers currently shop with and why, when you survey your target market so you can get the information straight from the horse’s mouth. Remember that competitors are not just traders in the same community, but others further afield.

Once you have an ordered list of your competitors, you can test them to find their strengths, weaknesses and any unknown factors that could influence your business idea.


  • Developing a checklist first, so you can note down your findings in an organised way.
  • Buying from a competitor to test product/service quality and customer service.
  • Hiring a mystery shopper or getting a friend to go in your place if you think you’ll be recognised in your competitors’ premises.

Do you have a unique selling point (USP)?

A USP sets you apart from the competition. It might be a unique combination of food, or a playground for customers’ children, or a pleasant outdoor environment.  What type of environment are you trying to present – e.g. casual, relaxed, calming, exciting or innovative?  The fit-out, furnishings, selection of offerings and marketing will reflect the desired environment.

You may have built your USPs into your business idea from day one. However, after you’ve talked to the target market and assessed the competition, you should reassess your USPs and refine them so they really stand out and push the right buttons with your intended customers.


Where is the best location for the café?  The more visible it is, the more it is likely to attract passing customers as well as those who are seeking it out.  In this respect signage, initial façade appearance, access, parking and so forth are to be considered.  Ideally advertising will be word-of-mouth, but substantial investment in marketing needs to be factored in, in the establishment phase as that is when patronage patterns will be set.

The locations with the best probability of success are, in order:

  1. Next to colleges and universities, on a commercial walking street
  2. Downtown business district, in a large office building
  3. Neighbourhood commercial walking streets
  4. Heavy foot traffic tourist areas, with great visibility
  5. Airports and large medical facilities (for carts and kiosks)
  6. Strip malls
  7. Inside shopping malls


Analysing the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats to the business is essential to help develop a risk profile and plan a strategy for success.

Legal and local government regulations

The New Zealand Government website was written by a start-up business expert and is well worth a look. The site has free resources, tools and information to help people start, manage and grow their business.

The “Starting up” section has information about:

  1. Business structures;
  2. Writing a business plan;
  3. Managing cashflow;
  4. Raising capital;
  5. Building a promotional plan; and
  6. Getting online.

The Dunedin City Council through its Economic Development Unit is very helpful in guiding prospective business owners through the maze of regulations.  (Other local bodies have equivalent units). Some of the things you will need to consider are:

Resource consent: The District Plan describes what you can do on your property. If you wish to deviate from the rules set out in the plan, you will need a resource consent.

Building consent: The building consent process ensures your project meets the criteria of the Building Act 2004.

Registered premises: Some businesses need a licence or certificate of registration to operate. These include food premises, hairdressers, camping grounds and funeral homes.

Commercial food premises: Guided by the Food Hygiene Regulations Act 1974, businesses offering food for sale must operate to specific standards, so food is properly handled and prepared.

Food safety training: Food offered for sale needs to prepared in line with established rules and guidelines. These apply to food prepared on commercial premises, street stalls and other situations.

Trade waste discharges: Discharges to the wastewater network from trade premises are controlled through the Trade Waste Bylaw, and certain discharges (including from cafes, restaurants and takeaways) will require a consent.

Next steps

Once you’ve established your target market, the potential demand for your product and service, and the competitors you’ll be going up against, you can start to understand how feasible it will be for you to sell your target number of units each year and reach your ROI benchmark.

However, it always pays to have your figures and findings checked by an accountant with experience in your industry.

Business Planning

To start a successful coffee shop business, it is advisable that you develop a business plan that can help you run the business effectively. If you also have the intention to seek external funding or grow bigger, then you definitely need a business plan.

Include also your market strategy and key factors that you believe will make your coffee shop unique and differentiate from every other coffee shop in the area. Though it sounds easier than it is but like in any other business, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

A formal business plan is just as important for an established business, whether small or big, as it is for a start-up. And it serves the following critical purposes:

  • It helps you clarify, focus, and research the prospects of your proposed start-up or expansion idea.
  • It provides a considered and logical framework within which your business can develop and pursue business strategies over the next few years.
  • It offers a benchmark against which you can measure and review the actual performance of your business.
  • It serves as the basis for discussion with third parties such as creditors, investors, shareholders, agencies, etc.

Just as no two businesses are alike, so also are business plans; some aspects of a plan will be more relevant to some businesses than to others. So, it is very important to tailor the contents of a business plan to suit individual circumstances. Nonetheless, most business plans follow a well-tried and tested structure, and general advice on preparing a business plan is universally applicable.

However, your business plan should be a realistic view of your expectations and long-term objectives for your start-up or small business. It provides the framework within which it must operate and, ultimately, succeed or fail.

For you and other entrepreneurs seeking third-party support, the business plan is the most important sales document that you will need to raise finance for your start-up or small business. Although preparing a solid, comprehensive business plan will not guarantee success in raising funds or mobilizing support for your business, lacking one will always result in failure.

Contents of a Business Plan

The structure of your business plan will look like the following:

  1. Title Page
  2. Table of Contents
  3. Executive Summary
  4. Company Profile
  5. Industry Research
  6. Sales and Marketing
  7. Operations
  8. Financials

A note on Financials

There are two key analysed spread-sheeted budgets that need to be included in a business plan.  You will have made a start of these when you investigated the feasibility of the concept and the ability to make ROI.

  1. Capital and set-up costs

The following link gives a good indication of the set up costs:

  1. Operational income and expenditure

Operational income is driven by Sales.  Profit can be improved by increasing

  • the number of customers
  • the volume of goods or services existing customers buy
  • the sales price.

If you have a good marketing strategy in place it will help you increase the number of customers or the amount they buy.

To increase your sales, objectives should include:

  • ensuring as many potential customers know about your business and what you have to offer
  • existing customers are happy with your product or service and want to buy more of it.

A marketing plan lists your key marketing strategies, explains how each one will work, how much they will cost and how the strategies support each other.

Conducting market research will help you identify and define marketing

Separating expenses into categories will help you to calculate your costs. It also helps you to see where they are rising or can be reduced. Expense categories include:

  • cost of goods sold. These are expenses relating directly to sales such as buying stock or components, freight costs if goods are shipped to your business or wages if a staff member works directly on producing an item for sale
  • fixed expenses. These are expenses that stay the same when your sales increase such as rent, insurance, licensee fees, utilities etc
  • variable expenses. These are expenses that go up or down based on the sales you make such as advertising, delivery charges and electricity if you’re manufacturing.

Business structure

What is the best business structure to use for your social enterprise?  You have a number of choices, but getting it right before you start trading is essential.

You can run it though your organization as a trading arm, with designated line entries and even a designated bank account – this is best if the financial transactions are not numerous.

It could be run as a separate Incorporated Society, Charitable Trust, or Charitable Company and a separate governance body will be responsible for all aspects of the business.

See this link for the difference between the difference governance structures:

If you would like to discuss any of the matters raised here, please feel free to contact the PressGo Catalyst, Lisa Wells, telephone 027 4455 723 or

Compiled by Lisa Wells,

11 September 2017