Action Response is a London-based charity dedicated to providing fast responses to critical situations throughout the world. The charity receives requests for cash aid usually from an intermediary charity and looks to process the request quickly and provide funds where they are needed, when they are needed. It was founded to provide relatively short-term aid for small projects until they could obtain funding from larger donors. Generally, Action Response is regarded as one of the success stories in the charity world. The consensus of opinion is that it has filled an important gap in aid provision to relatively small scale recipients.
Susan N’tini Chief Executive of Action Response explains the background. “Give a man a fish and you feed him today, teach him to fish and you feed him for life, its an old saying and it makes sense but, and this is where Action Response comes in, he might starve while he’s training to catch fish.”
Nevertheless, Susan does have some worries about how parts of her enterprise are managed. She faces two major issues in particular. First she is receiving complaints that funds are not getting through to where they are needed quickly enough. Second the costs of running the operation are starting to spiral. She explains. “We are becoming a victim of our own success. We have striven to provide greater accessibility to our funds, people can access via the internet, by post and by phone. But we are in danger of losing what we stand for. It is taking longer to get the money to where it is needed and our costs are going up. We are in danger of failing on one of our key objectives: to minimize the proportion of our turnover that is spent on administration. At the same time we always need to be aware of the risk of bad publicity through making the wrong decisions. If we don’t check applications thoroughly, funds may go to the “wrong” place and if the newspapers gets hold of the story we would run a real risk of losing the goodwill, and therefore the funds, from our many supporters”.
Susan N’tini held regular meetings with key stakeholders. One charity that handled a large number of applications for people in Nigeria told her of frequent complaints about the delays over the processing of the applications and they felt there was a danger of losing the key purpose for which the charity was founded. A second charity representative complained that when he telephoned to ascertain the status of an application the ARAPU staff did not seem to know where it was or how long it might be before it was complete. Furthermore he felt that this lack of information was eroding his relationship with his own clients some of whom were losing faith in him as a result. This was affecting the other work the charity was doing; ‘trust is so important in the relationship’ he explained.
Some of Susan’s colleagues, while broadly agreeing with her anxieties over the organization’s responsiveness and efficiency, took a slightly different perspective.
“One of the really good things about Action Response is that we are more flexible than most charities. If there is a need and if they need support until one of the larger charities can step in, then we will always consider a request for aid. I would not like to see any move towards high process efficiency harming our ability to be open-minded and consider a request that might seem a little unusual at first.” (Jacqueline Horton, Applications Assessor)
Others saw the charity as performing an important advice and counselling role.
“Remember that we have gained a lot of experience in this kind of short-term aid. We are also often the first people that are in a position to give advice on how to apply for larger and longer term funding. If we developed this aspect of our work we would again be fulfilling a need that is not adequately supplied at the moment.” (Stephen Nyquist, Applications Assessor)
The Action Response Applications Processing Unit (ARAPU)
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