Charity Digital – Topics – How to minimize bureaucracy

Bureaucracy is big in the charity sector, to the extent that government taskforces have been appointed over the years to try and reduce the administrative burden.

When it comes to regulations and paperwork generated by grant funders or local government, charities don’t have much choice but to meet regulatory requirements.

But what about the internally generated bureaucracy? Imagine what the sector could get done with less unnecessary processes, bottlenecks, and admin!

Bureaucracy is a source of stress and frustration for staff in the sector. Tara Honeywell, Head of Commercial Ventures at Barnardos, who has recently started working for charities following a career in the commercial sector, says: “I’ve encountered so much‘ process in the way of progress ’and yet also experienced so many departments execute‘ work arounds ’that the whole point of the process… is null and void! ”

There are particular areas where bureaucracy seems to be concentrated. By reviewing these areas, charities could begin to switch the balance from process to progress.

Flatten hierarchies

Hierarchical structures can slow down the process of approvals and decision-making. If every decision or piece of work must be passed all or a significant way up the hierarchy, everything takes longer.

A flatter structure can help to save time as approvals and decisions have a shorter distance to travel. Flatter structures can also increase diversity in decision-making and protect staff from managing conflicting opinions between senior decision-makers.

Sign offs

Who really needs to approve and sign off a piece of work? The most valuable input comes from people with relevant expertise and the end-users. It’s impossible to know what your audiences will think of something you’ve created if they only ever experience a watered-down version of it.

Often, testing new ideas and evaluating them after they are live rather than before will help speed up learning and progress.

Review processes

Ask staff to share which processes take the most time and cause them the most stress.

Visually map out troublesome processes to help identify any problem stages. Using the map as your guide, begin to question why the process is necessary and how each stage could be completed more efficiently or eliminated entirely.


If we’re entering a new era of work where staff often work remotely and asynchronously, are ‘time off in lieu’ forms and procedures still necessary?

TOIL is tied to the idea of ​​a 9-5, Monday-Friday week. The pandemic has demonstrated that when organizations had to trust staff to manage their own time in order to meet their goals, many were even more productive.

Appraisal processes

Performance management can be stressful when there are performance issues to work on, but the process itself shouldn’t be the source of manager and staff frustration.

Could you use a checkbox system for staff and managers to assess performance against job description tasks and competencies? Or a way of capturing achievements and areas to improve at each 1-2-1 so that lengthy year-long assessments don’t need to be completed at each appraisal.


The legal requirements for keeping a record of expenses are that the date of the expense, the reason, the amount and (if relevant), the receipt are recorded. If a line manager can sign off to say that the expense was necessary and a finance team member can check that all the necessary information has been recorded, the expense can be reimbursed.

If your process to do this is taking longer than 2-4 weeks, question whether there are unnecessary steps or restricted access to tools causing bottlenecks.

Invest in tools

Investigate digital tools that might help to automate and speed up some of your processes.

There are many tools being created specifically for the charity sector as well as tools like Zapier and IFTTT that create micro-integrations to help automate information sharing between digital services.

Jo Warner, Director of Sales & Marketing at Engaging Networks, says: “If you invest in the right tools to get the job done, you empower people to take ownership and accountability for their results.”

Change your approach

Bureaucracy is a real source of stress. Perhaps it stems from applying the procedure-driven approaches that are important in service delivery across the entire organization, or from the need to protect reputation and manage financial risk.

It may seem more cost-effective to run a process cheaply, but that’s a false equation if the value of staff time spent on the process is excessive.

“Bureaucracy often stems from a fear of being blamed for someone else’s decisions, or a lack of focus on purpose. So it’s about changing culture, not just process, ”says Nicola Upton, CEO, Age UK Sutton.

Charities must question when they are creating bureaucracy when trust is all that’s required.

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