Running a charity, different from running a business?

3 years ago

Sage One customer Vashti Seth of DekiMeet Vashti Seth, CEO of Deki. She started Deki in 2008 as the UK’s first person to person microfinance charity. We’re proud to say Deki are Sage One users and have invited Vashti to share her adventure on our blog.

How different is it running a charity or not-for-profit than it is to running a ‘traditional’ business?
What are the similarities and where do the two most differ?

Deki.org.uk’s charitable mission is to empower people in the developing world to work their way out of poverty. We face similar challenges to a traditional business in that we still need to work to strategic plan, build a strong team, focus on marketing and hit targets but we’re not selling a commodity or service or aimed at making a profit. Instead, we’re creating an opportunity for people to change lives and providing a social return on investment.

How simple is it to start a new charity?

The initial concept was the simplest aspect. I set up Deki in 2008, after being inspired by a Tibetan refugee called Deki Dolkha. Aged four years old, Deki Dolkha was put on the back of a donkey cart by her parents and sent to India in the hope that she would have a better chance at life. She ended up in an orphanage in Dharamsala where my father met her and sponsored her through school.

Sadly my father died in 2006 but in his will he left me £2,000 with the instruction to ‘do something good’ so undecided as to what that might be I went to visit Deki in India.

Once Deki had finished school, poverty and a lack of opportunities forced her to return to her estranged family in remote, rural Tibet. There, she had little chance to put her education to good use. Around this time I heard about the concept of microfinance and crowdfunding.

I knew I wanted to mix technology with international development to help people like Deki break the poverty cycle. After winning an award for ‘Best Social Enterprise’ at Bristol University West England I managed to acquire seed funding from the university to set up the first Deki.org.uk.

A person who has been helped by the charity DekiIn 2008, Deki.org.uk officially became the first website in the UK to raise loan capital via crowdfunding through lenders and donors to go towards microloans and training for people in developing countries. It took me until 2010 for Deki to become a fully registered charity. I always knew I wanted the concept of the charity to be that it was transparent and guaranteed that 100% of the money people lent went directly to their chosen person.

Taking it to market and growing the organisation was a real learning curve. Getting people to buy into ‘Deki’ and our mission through fundraising and marketing has been challenging, but rewarding. Growing Deki from an idea, with me as the initial founder and only employee to a full working team has been an interesting and long road, but it’s been worth it.

We recently made our 3,000th loan and have lent over £520,000 in loans to developing world entrepreneurs, impacting the lives of over 20,000 people across 5 countries in Africa. It hasn’t been simple but I can’t imagine doing anything else.

We’re delighted you have chosen to use Sage One cloud accounting to manage your charity’s accounts. What are the most important things to you when it comes to managing Deki’s finances? 

As a charity that believes in being financially transparent we rely on an accounting system that is as responsive as we are. Sage allows us to produce to the minute, real time reports which are essential for running Deki.

How about marketing and communications for a charitable organisation? How have you approached this?

Our marketing and communications are all designed to make people aware of our mission and to encourage them to get involved – loans start from £10 and take only a minute to action.

Another person who has been helped by DekiOur messaging is key. There are two main things that make us stand out from other charities – firstly that you can choose exactly who you lend 100% of your money to and secondly that you have the option to have it returned. It’s a great concept as I find many people have become distrustful of charities.

As a tech-based charity with a small marketing budget we have had to be clever, so we’ve approached our communications strategy by making it digitally focused, this includes investing in our website, then telling the story though emotive content marketing via emails, social media and blogger outreach.

We have also focused on driving presence in the national press featuring in the Daily Mail, The Guardian, Observer as well as Marie Claire. This has helped introduce Deki.org.uk’s vision, mission and values. We also find ‘word of mouth’ is key as many lenders get involved when hearing about us from family and friends – everyone loves the concept and wants to share it.

Forming strategic business partnerships are also important to our funding. Deki guarantees 100% of the money you lend goes towards your chosen entrepreneur thus we rely on donations and business partnerships to fund our core costs. To do this we’ve introduced creative ways for businesses to get involved like our Deki Tenner Tournament Challenge.

This provides team building days with a difference; staff undergo a half-day team bonding, business and entrepreneurial training similar to our entrepreneurs. They then have four weeks to turn their £10 loan into as much money as possible which they loan back through Deki.

What would you say the top three qualities of a charity founder should be?

  • Resourceful – Like starting any venture from scratch you need to be resourceful, enabling you to use your available funds to their maximum potential.
  • Motivational – You’re motivating people to buy into a new concept that has a social return as opposed to a financial return, and being able to motivate your team or staff and volunteers who are often working hard on a small budget.
  • Resilient – Not being fazed by knock-backs and being able to pick yourself up and focus on your mission.