A source of much relief for charity CIO Marcus East

As the nation looks to cut its deficit, it must also operate efficiently otherwise we will slip backwards towards further financial hardship, and nowhere is the pressure greater than in the public sector.

The pages of CIO have been filled with analysis and comment on the demands placed on public sector IT and also the wastage of funds through inefficiency in procurement, poor sharing and collaboration.

CIO columnist Jerry Fishenden, for instance, was involved in a government IT inquest, and now leads public-sector IT change in the Cabinet Office Efficiency and Reform Group.

The charity sector, sometimes dubbed the third sector, is often cited for its similarities to the public sector.

Charities need to ensure that the greater part of their income, which comes from donations, goes to the cause people are donating for, whether it be to relieve pain and suffering or protect wildlife and the environment. So the back office operation of charities has to be ultra-efficient and as small as possible.

One charity that is achieving this balance is Comic Relief and its CIO Marcus East shared with us how that is being achieved.

Golden rule
It’s hard to believe, but Comic Relief has been with us since 1985 when it was founded by Four Weddings and a Funeral writer Richard Curtis and comedian Lenny Henry in response to the famine in Ethiopia.

Famed for its biennial Red Nose Day and the alternating Sport Relief spin-off (which kicked off in 2002), the charity is notable for its principle that every pound donated is a pound spent on charitable relief in the UK and overseas: this is known as the Golden Pound Principle.

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As a result all operating costs such as salaries and IT operations are paid for by the charity’s corporate sponsors or by the interest earned on its banked funds.

Supporters of Comic Relief include national institutions like the BBC, BT and Sainsbury’s, but the charity has been criticised for these relationships because some feel that the power of BBC support in particular denies other charities publicity.

The next Sport Relief event takes place from March 23 to March 25 next year, and as East explains, the challenge for the organisation is that over this short period there will be masses of individual fund-raising events taking place, and all will need the support of the Comic Relief organisation and with it its IT infrastructure.

East reveals that Comic Relief has a diverse and complex IT team and infrastructure to support its goals.

The IT facility consists of a platforms division for its BI, CRM and financial systems, a team of architects, web developers, a web donations technology team to support transactions, and the future media and technology team.

“There are 76 people in IT in total across the five teams. It is large and that is because we are dependent on IT,” says East.

Comic Relief has learnt valuable lessons from the commercial world with East playing a part in the senior leadership team of the organisation and reporting to the COO. As IT leader he is part of the senior management team and its operational meetings. As a charity there is no executive board, as charities must by law have an independent board of trustees.