Alex Ramamurthy stood down as head of the Care Workers Charity (CWC) at the end of last year having transformed the organisation in just two years. CHP caught up with Alex at his home in South London to find out how he did it.
“When I was approached by the Board to become CEO they told me ‘you’ve got six months to turn this around or we’re closing it down,” Alex told CHP.
Alex had come to the attention of CWC chairman and Oomph! founder Ben Allen through his launch of a number of successful health and social care start-ups and his voluntary work in the care sector.
“I saw a real opportunity to combine my learnings and relentless drive from my start-ups with a passion for the care sector to turn this charity around,” Alex told CHP.
The CWC was established in 2009 as the Care Professionals Benevolent Fund.
“It had all the good intentions when it was set up but was managed poorly for a period,” Alex said.
“It had been left to be run by a team of volunteers and the level of activity had really dropped, the Trustee Board had become disengaged and the sector had lost faith.”
The charity brought in £16,000 in 2016 with half of that being raised from the National Care Awards. In terms of hardship grants, the charity awarded just around £2,000 in the year.
Alex’s main aim during his first year at the helm was to develop a regular and sustainable income stream and massively grow the value of hardship grants paid out to care workers.
“There was no income stream. We were relying on a generous few,” Alex noted.
“We treated the first few months like a new business in start-up mode.”
Sharing office space in Wimbledon with Oomph! Alex began by firefighting the organisation’s legacy issues.
“There was real difficulty in getting access to the bank account,” Alex said. “There were signatories and names on it from three years prior who had nothing to do with the charity anymore. I couldn’t get in touch with them so the bank wouldn’t talk to me. It was a nightmare.”
Having dealt with the charity’s legacy issues, Alex began preparing a strategic plan and set out to hire two key people to form the core of the company, Rebecca Woolley and Anna Caseby.
“I set out to hire super bright, invariably younger people and invest in their skills and personal development and then give them the autonomy and responsibility to own their work,” Alex said.
As well as establishing his core team, Alex set about utilising the expertise of the charity’s network.
“I was pretty inexperienced and had never run a charity before,” he noted.
“I recognised the abilities of people around me and their potential, and the opportunities they had to offer, and always ensured I added some value back to them in return. For example, having attended a LinkedIn training course hosted by Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank, I put together a key learnings doc and shared it with my network. It’s important to give back and not always take.
“I hadn’t done payroll before so rather than attempt to take that on, I asked Hallmark’s Payroll Manager if they would do it and they kindly took it on.
“I was very lucky in that we were not really selling a product so people were very willing to help. In my first few weeks everyone was very willing to support to us.”
Alex also set out to build contacts with trade publications such as CHP to raise awareness and build its reputation.
“Raising publicity has made a huge difference,” he said.
Thirdly, Alex introduced an entrepreneurial mindset throughout the charity.
This included applying lean start-up methodologies on all projects, including continuous testing of assumptions and making improvements. Team meetings were introduced on a weekly basis to discuss progress, problems and plans with quarterly meetings held to review objectives and key results.
The results speak for themselves. Annual turnover rose to a staggering £250,000 in Alex’s first year, and turnover more than doubled to over £550,000 in 2018. The CWC awarded £66,000 in grants in Alex’s first year compared with £2,500 in the year before.
As of October 2018, the charity had awarded £135,000 in grants and was expected to achieve over £150,000 by year end. It is targeting £250,000 in grants in 2019 and to pilot several new support services for care workers. Around 100 people were supported in 2017 and a further 350 in 2018.
The charity’s Supporters Club has grown to over 60 providers and 10 suppliers, employing 200,000 employees, which has enabled it to increase income and raise awareness amongst care workers.
In return for an annual fee, Supporters Club members are provided with the CWC Badge of Honour, a unique landing page on the CWC website which offers information on its volunteer programme, information and guidance, and how to obtain a grant, and further marketing benefits.
The CWC is aiming to increase its outreach by recruiting a champion in every care home to act as an ambassador. There are currently 70 champions and the CWC has gained a £120,000 grant from the CareTech Foundation to accelerate the programme.
Recent innovations on the charity’s new website includes an Eligibility Test and ‘Chatbot’ which helps save time on failed grant applications by assessing eligibility and navigating users through the website efficiently.
Under Alex’s stewardship, the CWC won a series of plaudits in recognition of its success. It won Change Project of the Year at the Charity Times Awards in 2018, with Alex a finalist for both the Chief Executive of the Year in the Third Sector Awards and Care Personality at the National Care Awards.
When looking back at his two-year tenure, Alex picked out the charity’s major fundraising events as highlights. A cycling challenge in 2017, incorporating five care homes, raised £22,000, and in his second year a Three Peaks walking event, involving over 90 people from the care sector, raised over £35,000. The charity was also a beneficiary of the inaugural Care Sector Fundraising Ball in London in September, which raised more than £140,000.
Having transformed the charity, Alex stepped down and was replaced by Richard Muncaster at the end of November. Richard has been charged with leading the organisation onto its next phase of growth.
While leaving Richard with big shoes to fill, Alex said he was the right man to build on the success of the last two years.
“I’d like to thank all of our supporters as well as the Board of Trustees, my team and in particular Ben Allen, who have believed in me, our renewed vision and joined us on a two-year journey that has seen CWC resurrected and completely transformed,” Alex told CHP.
Alex will be joining the charity’s Board and is providing his support through a six-month transition period in a part-time consultancy role, while pursuing a new start up aimed at solving other challenges in the care sector, which given his track record, will definitely be one to watch.