October/November 2013 Profile: Winning the Battle

Winning the Battle

With a rise in income of 11 per cent last year, Alzheimer's Research UK has bucked the trend of the economic environment. But that is only one success amongst many, finds Andrew Holt

Winning the 2013 Charity Times Awards Charity of the Year with an income between £1million and £10million is a high mark in excellence and Alzheimer’s Research UK has shown onmany fronts why they won the award. The solidity of its work can be seen on the last year alone, with the charity measuring its work against four key and well achieved objectives.

These were: an increase in funding for pioneering UK-based dementia research; an increase in outreach to the public to improve understanding through health information dissemination, communication and media; forge stronger links with government and its departments to influence public spending on dementia research and the direction of publiclyfunded research programmes, and finally, increase charitable income by 5-10 per cent through investment in fundraising, marketing and communications functions. That is some list.

From this, the evidence of success is all here: the funding of research in the past year reached a new record high of £5.5million. Alzheimer’s Research UK’s current dementia research portfolio has passed the £20million mark for this first time, with over 140 projects taking place at leading institutions across the UK and is now the second leading funder of dementia research in the UK, behind the government-funded Medical Research Council.

Alzheimer’s Research UK is also the second largest charity funder of dementia research in the world. On the second point, Alzheimer’s Research UK has increased its dementia information activity, including securing and retaining the NHS. It also disseminated leaflets on dementia to every UK GP surgery and a huge number of nursing homes and libraries to improve public understanding.

Thirdly, Alzheimer’s Research UK has campaigned on the singular issue of public dementia research funding over the past few years. It stands as its greatest policy success that the launch of the Prime Minister’s Challenge on Dementia in March 2012 announced a doubling in research funding to £66million over the next three years.

Fourthly, and possibly most impressively, charitable income for the past financial year was £9.12million, up over 11 per cent on the prior year, a remarkable achievement given the challenging economic environment. Its spending on charitable activities increased by 17 per cent over the prior year, including record investments of £5.5million in research and over £1million in
information, education and advocacy which have helped boost its profile and contributed to the vast improvements in public spending on dementia research.

Prudent investment
The success of these objectives are indeed impressive. Which was the most difficult? Rebecca Wood, Alzheimer’s Research UK CEO, reveals: “Given continued uncertainty in the economy, and against the backdrop of many charities experiencing falls in income, our bold target to increase income was certainly the most ambitious for the year.

“Beating our income target with a 11 per cent increase on the prior year has been achieved through prudent investment across the organisation, not only in fundraising, but also in communications and policy work, so we can work harder for our donors and make a stronger case for research investment.”

Why in particular then, were these four objectives chosen? Wood explains: “Dementia is our greatest medical challenge, affecting over 800,000 people today with a greater economic impact than heart disease and cancer combined. When you’re dealing with an all-encompassing health issue like this, you have to be bold and seek to make major steps in improving the environment for research.

“We are playing catch-up with other disease areas, with dementia 20-30 years behind cancer both in terms of research understanding and stigma. We can’t afford to take 30 years to close the gap, as this period would see dementia become a socioeconomic as well as a medical crisis in the UK.

“We are being ambitious, and our objectives are testament to that: drive hard for growth to increase our own funding for research, as well as leveraging a better response from public funders.”

The charity has also secured major corporate partnerships, including three consecutive years of support from Iceland Foods worth over £1million per year and making a major contribution to research. A highly successful corporate partnership team of just two people have also secured a £200,000 partnership with the Page Group, the recruitment specialists, who are funding young research scientists entering the dementia field. The charity has also secured successful partnerships with Royal London, PWC, Nikon UK and Capgemini Consulting.

There are also plans to work with Insight Investment, who are funding projects around brain imaging and innovative research. “Our corporate fundraising function has gathered pace since its inception a few years ago. We try to approach partners who share our ethos of ideas and innovation — both central to effective dementia research, “says Wood.

“Shortly after we rebranded to Alzheimer’s Research UK in 2011 (from The Alzheimer’s Research Trust) we began working with Iceland Foods who have a philosophy to invest in a charity to which their contribution could make a meaningful difference.

“As a small but growing charity, Iceland’s year one contribution of £1.2milion formed a sizeable proportion of our income and has funded a truly pioneering study into early-onset of Alzheimer’s disease, affecting people in their 50s, 40s and even 30s.”

Its new Research Strategy, launched in Westminster, won widespread and cross party support. With Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt endorsing it at the launch, and Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, who also spoke at the launch.

The strategy will see the charity concentrate on fast-tracking research towards patient benefit, help unite academic research with pharmaceutical industry resources and introduce more funding partnerships at home and overseas as advised by its newly formed international scientific advisory board of international experts.

Dementia affects 820,000 people with an economic impact of over £23bn to the UK, most of which is met by unpaid carers: husbands, wives and children who struggle to meet the emotional and care demands that dementia places on their family.

This impact dwarves other serious conditions, posing a greater cost to the UK than cancer and heart disease combined. “Twelve times more is spent on cancer, which has brought real breakthroughs in treatment. Our work could not be more important,” says Wood.

Wood notes that a charity with fewer than 40 members of staff can have impact scientifically to the benefit of people with dementia, in its fundraising and through influencing public spending. “We represent exceptional value for money to our donors and we believe further growth in this financial year and subsequent ones is achievable, and we are investing in growth to achieve this.”

On the Big Society, Wood has an interesting angle. “The Prime Minister’s Dementia Challenge is an intriguing case study for the Big Society, with big opportunities for the voluntary sector to help deliver improvements for people with dementia by working at the heart of government and through engaged volunteers.” However, she notes, with a carefully worded caveat: “Any bottom-up collaboration needs to be met with top-down funding.”

So given such impressive growth, where will future growth come from? Wood says: “People can expect further big things from Alzheimer’s Research UK in the coming period, and we have some big research initiatives to announce in the coming year and beyond, all of which are focused on delivering benefits to people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other causes of dementia.

The new projects will provide an opportunity to re-invigorate our fundraising and push on to the next major milestone.” Dementia, adds Wood, isn’t going away, it is set to increase as our population continues to age. “Our challenge will be to battle the nihilism around dementia; it isn’t an inevitability of age, it is caused by diseases that we can and will beat with the right research. “

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