Aligning your organisation around purpose with the Charity Model Canvas

Building a charity that’s fit for a rapidly-changing world begins with aligning the entire organisation around your core purpose. Bringing together senior stakeholders from across the charity to revisit purpose and the key factors which contribute to its fulfilment can reveal valuable insight and point the way to successful strategy. We’ve launched a new tool to help guide you through the process: the Charity Model Canvas.

What is the Charity Model Canvas?

The Charity Model Canvas is based on Alexander Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas – a tool that’s been used extensively and successfully over the last decade throughout the private sector to document, discuss and invent a wide variety of business models.

The idea behind the Business Model Canvas is that you bring a group of key stakeholders together to fill out nine different building blocks of your business, covering infrastructure (resources, activities and partners), offering (value proposition), customers (including channels) and finances. Through the process of completing the canvas, trade-offs become apparent, suggesting ways to better align the activities of different parts of the business.

The Charity Model Canvas takes the same basic approach, but has been tailored for the third sector by allowing for a distinction between customers and other audiences to which a charity has to deliver value. It’s also incorporated a couple of other elements suggested by our research for the Future Charity report.

We think revisiting a charity’s purpose is critical to charting a path through the decades ahead, and so we’ve made that the headline component of the canvas.

We’ve also introduced measurement as one of the elements, forcing participants to think about how to measure the impact of their organisation against its stated purpose.

And we’ve incorporated space to discuss in more depth the other organisations operating in close proximity to, or in competition with, your organisation, so that opportunities for partnerships and mergers have the chance to stand out.


How to use the Charity Model Canvas

The Charity Model Canvas can be used in different ways. You could use it with people across your organisation to build a picture of how people see the organisation and its opportunities, which might be different at different levels of the organisation or in different business areas.

This could be used as a starting point to bring people together in a discussion that builds consensus, or to create priorities for your own internal communication needs.

It can also be used to build consensus on a single representation of you as an organisation. In this scenario, it is best used in a facilitated session involving key stakeholders from your organisation. Each of the major functions and audiences should be represented, while keeping the group small enough that meaningful progress can be made over the course of the workshop. Print out the Charity Model Canvas so that it’s large enough to accommodate sticky notes from contributors in each of the boxes – or draw it on a large whiteboard.

It might be that even with this approach, you start with small groups, discuss the differences between each group’s canvas and then come together to create a consolidated one – this is where facilitation to get to the desired outcome really makes a difference.

If the purpose of your organisation is contentious, some preliminary work may be required on defining it before you’re ready to tackle the canvas. You could try coming up with variants of your purpose and testing them with your different audiences through a series of workshops and focus groups.

In fact, this approach could work for each of the boxes on the canvas, with a separate session on each, involving the most relevant stakeholders, before bringing them all together in a master session to look at the canvas as a whole.

The building blocks of the Charity Model Canvas


This section is for describing the purpose of your organisation and the needed changes it exists to bring about.

Key Activities

What are the most important activities your organisation carries out as part of delivering value to beneficiaries, supporters and other stakeholders?

Key Cause Differentiators

What makes your organisation unique? What distinguishes it from other charities and commercial organisations operating in the same space?

Key Challenges

What stands in the way of your organisation carrying out its key activities and delivering value to your stakeholders?


How are you measuring your success at delivering against your purpose?


Existing Partnerships

Who do you currently partner with to help carry out our key activities?

Desired Partnerships

Who has the resources to help you carry out your key activities, but isn’t currently a partner?

Key Competitors

Who’s competing for the time, attention and resources of your audiences?

Potential Mergers

Who could you merge with to carry out some, or all, of your key activities more efficiently or effectively?


Who are your most important audiences? This might include supporters, beneficiaries, researchers, volunteers, fundraisers etc.


What do they need from your organisation? How does your organisation benefit them?


How do you reach and engage them?


Top Income Streams

What are your most important sources of revenue and how have they performed over the last three years?

Cost Structure

What are the main costs associated with your current model?

Getting started

The process of completing the Charity Model Canvas will be an illuminating exercise. You’ll almost certainly be surprised by some of the information that emerges, or at least by the different opinions held by people working in different parts of the organisation. This is an opportunity to reconcile those differences and align your entire organisation around a uniting vision, guided by a concrete purpose.

If you’re still not sure why such a thing is needed, read our report on the Future Charity. The product of extensive research into the major challenges facing charities in the UK, including extended conversations with people who work in the sector, it describes those challenges in detail and provides suggestions on how to overcome them.

If you would like help facilitating a Charity Model Canvas workshop, get in touch with our experts for more details.

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  1. james says:

    I would love to give back to charity through my business, but the cost to link with a better know chairty would be crippling! Any suggestions how I could deal with working a way around it?

    • Gemma Reeve says:

      Hi James, thank you for reading our blog post and getting in touch. There are Charity networking events organised via sites like Meetup.com that you could attend and speak to charities directly about your proposition, and understand if there’s an opportunity to help one another.

    • Gemma_Hactar says:

      replying to a very old comment here, but worth a shot. James, have you seen https://workforgood.co.uk? It’s a platform that links businesses to charities, so you can support them with one off or regular donations without the faff.

  2. Fiona Kirton says:

    Hi James
    The cost need not be crippling there are many networks about and just things like sponsoring an event can be helpful see https://www.swidn.org.uk/ and http://www.smallcharities.org.uk/ to find examples of small to medium charities you may be able to assist.

  3. […] The Charity Model Canvas is based on Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas template and it has been adapted to fit into a charity by an organisation called Manifesto. […]

  4. […] The Charity Model Canvas is based on Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas template and it has been adapted to fit into a charity by an organisation called Manifesto. […]

  5. Peter Hardcastle says:

    I am providing Service Design support for a local Food Bank as part of a community project and will be using this version of the Business Model Canvas to help the organisation focus on strengthening their value proposition and building an integrated service model with other local support services and referring agencies. Thank you for making this available.

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