Slide 1

Michael Mainelli and Ian Harris

[A version of this article appeared as "Assured of Success" (quality certification), NGO Finance, Volume 3, Issue 2,  (September 1993) pages 26-28.  And as "Reaping the Rewards of Quality", NGO Finance, Volume 3, Issue 2, (June 1993)pages 22-24.]

For several years now, commercial organisations have sought to improve their operations through quality assurance, in particular through the quality standard BS 5750 (the UK equivalent of the international quality standard ISO 9000).

Several charities are now taking an active interest in quality assurance and seeking internal benefits from improved quality, such as:

  • consistency of work (supply appropriate levels of service);

  • improved control (adequate procedures and systems);

  • lower costs (effectiveness of service, getting it right first time);

  • quality culture (emphasis on meeting customers' requirements, customers potentially being both funders and beneficiaries).

The advent of contract culture for Government and Local Authority funded projects, and the competition generated by this market philosophy, has brought external pressure to bear on many charities to consider the quality and effectiveness of their work. As more public sector agencies build quality requirements into their contracts, charities wishing to bid for these projects will need to demonstrate a commitment to quality assurance.

Increasingly, the signals that indicate that a BS 5750 quality programme will be of benefit to an organisation can be seen to apply to charities. Table one below lists those signals and interprets them for the voluntary sector.

Table 1: BS5750 Signals - Voluntary Sector Interpretation

BS 5750Signals

Voluntary Sector Interpretation of Signals

Autonomous divisions, limited central control


many charities seek to devolve responsibility (e.g. to regions or branches) while maintaining central services (e.g. finance, fundraising)-sustaining central control can be especially problematic in large, devolved charities

Systems "carried in the head"


procedures are often informal and undocumented in charities

lack of documentation can be a severe limitation where staff turnover is high and/or volunteer staff used

Customer pressure


donors and funders increasingly seek assurance that charities make economic, efficient and effective use of funds

Central Government and Local Authority funders increasingly seek assurance (through quality systems such as BS 5750) that funded projects have adequate procedures and systems to support them

Competitive pressure


increasing need to consider whether services are cost effective in comparison with other prospective providers:
·contract culture leads to competitive bidding between charities (and with other sectors) for projects
·charities increasingly consider use of external agencies to support their central services (e.g. computer systems, finance)

Rapid growth/change


UK voluntary sector has grown significantly in the last decade

demands on charities with projects located in the UK have increased particularly in the last three years due to UK economic difficulties

Pace setting management


many charities strive to trailblaze aspects of management development (e.g. equal opportunities, environmentally sound management)


This article intends to:

  • provide a brief background to and history of BS 5750 quality assurance;

  • introduce the BS 5750 approach to quality assurance, its benefits, limitations and the main BS 5750 issues for charities;

  • outline the next steps for charities interested in BS 5750 certification.

Background and History

Formal quality process standards began life soon after the Second World War. The US and UK governments devised AQAPs (Allied Quality Assurance Procedures) as a means of standardising and controlling military supplies. This proved to be a very successful means of control and appealed to large commercial businesses as a mechanism for controlling their suppliers. The task of drawing up a quality assurance standard that has universal application proved onerous; it was not until 1979 that BS 5750 was first published. It was written from a manufacturing viewpoint, although it was stated that the words "products" and "services" were interchangeable.

In 1987 BS 5750 was revised, reissued and adopted as European (EN 29000) and International (ISO 9000) standards. There are three parts of BS 5750 for which an organisation can apply, Part 1 being the most comprehensive and Part 3 being the least comprehensive. Table two below shows the various parts of BS 5750 and the equivalent international names for the standards.

Table 2: The BS5750 "Family" of Quality Standards






Interpretation: Selection (indicates whether an organisation should select Part 1, 2 or 3)

ISO 9000

EN 29000

BS 5750: Part 0 Section 0.1


Interpretation: QMS elements (provides guidance on elements of the appropriate system)

ISO 9004

EN 29004

BS 5750: Part 0 Section 0.2


Design, Production, Installation

ISO 9001

EN 29001

BS 5750: Part 1


Production, Installation

ISO 9002

EN 29002

BS 5750: Part 2


Inspection and Test

ISO 9003

EN 29003

BS 5750: Part 3



By the end of the 1980s, BS 5750 was widespread in UK manufacturing and large purchasers began to ask their service sector suppliers about quality assurance. In the 1990s the Public, Service and Voluntary Sectors have begun to adopt BS 5750 quality systems. Most professional bodies (e.g. The Law Society and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors) have now produced profession-specific guidelines interpreting BS 5750. The voluntary sector has not yet produced such a guideline, although a guideline for social care agencies has been published, "Committed To Quality" (HMSO). A management information paper published by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations in March 1993 considers the production of a guideline for the voluntary sector. There is a guideline, BS 5750 Part 8, which is an interpretation of BS 5750 for service organisations and is some help when interpreting BS 5750 for both commercial services and charities. Table three below summarises the current maturity of BS 5750 across sectors.

Table 3: Maturity of BS 5750 Across Sectors



Public Sector

Services (e.g. professions)

Voluntary Sector

Sector-specific guidelines




NCVO suggest action

Require BS 5750 of suppliers




Very Few

Considering BS 5750 or commenced process





BS 5750 certified




Very Few

A well documented example of a social care organisation that has gained BS 5750 certification is Napier House, a Tyneside residential home for the elderly mentally infirm (International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance Vol 5 No 3 1992). In September 1991, Napier House was the first care organisation in Europe to become certified.

The BS 5750 Approach

Q. What is quality management?

A. Several definitions of quality can be used, but they regularly embrace the following theme: "quality is the satisfaction of customer requirements"

Q. How does a charity identify who its customers are?

A. Charities tend to be involved in diverse activities and the definition of "customer" in the voluntary sector is complex. These may be divided into two main categories: direct and indirect customers. A quality system will tend to be of direct benefit to direct customers and indirect benefit to indirect customers.

Q. What does a BS 5750 quality system consist of?

A. The main themes of resource management, service delivery and customer care are overpinned by an overall quality policy. The system is underpinned by procedures, guidelines and standards, which may include legal and regulatory requirements (e.g. the Charities Act and SORP 2).

Q. Can other initiatives be incorporated with a BS 5750 programme?

A. Yes. BS 5750 allows organisations to define what quality means to them, and to specify how that quality will be assured. Examples of incorporating other initiatives that may be of interest to voluntary sector organisations include:

  • equal opportunities and environmental goals as elements of quality policy objectives;

  • Investors in People and National Vocational Qualifications as an element of resource management;

  • outcome measures (the indicators but not the targets) as an element of service delivery;

  • surveys of beneficiaries as an element of customer care.

Q. Why seek third party verification of quality standards (i.e. BS 5750)?

A. Third party verification requires an accepted universal standard (e.g. BS 5750) and a body of credible, independent (third party) assessors. While first party verification has some benefits (e.g. stating "we are an equal opportunities employer"), the benefits are significantly enhanced when the claim is verified by an independent assessor. There is little evidence of organisations achieving the benefits sought without the rigour of the BS 5750 "external examination" as the initial goal of the quality system project.

Q. Who should assess a charity for BS 5750?

A. About two dozen bodies have been accredited to issue and monitor BS 5750 certificates. The National Accreditation Council for Certification Bodies registers the certification bodies. Most of the certification bodies are highly specialised in manufacturing areas (e.g. cabling or cement). Currently there are only about six accredited bodies with suitable skills for registering a charity.

Q. What is the difference between BS 5750 and Total Quality Management (TQM) and can one be introduced without the other?

A. Table four below compares TQM and BS 5750. The table simplifies some quite complex concepts, while hopefully illustrating the main differences between the two approaches.

Table 4: TQM and BS 5750 Compared


BS 5750

Focus all activities on customer needs and improvement

Focus systems and processes on meeting customer needs

Philosophy/state of mind towards best management practice

Systematic approach to implementing best management practice

Not subject to third party verification (even the British Standard, BS 7850, is non-assessable)

Third party verification (BS 5750/ISO 9000/EN 29000 registration)

Tools and techniques mainly relating to measurement (e.g. control charts, customer surveys)

Tools and techniques mainly relating to processes (e.g. service delivery checklists, process maps)

Long programme normally required for TQM to take root (usually several years)

Relatively short programme (8-15 months is sufficient if the programme is planned and staffed wisely)

In charities, there is a high degree of inexact measurement, which increases the difficulty in implementing a TQM programme. BS 5750 can be part of a TQM initiative or it can stand alone. If an organisation wishes to undertake a TQM programme, BS 5750 can be a valuable starting point. BS 5750 can be seen as the systems and processes element of a TQM initiative.

Q. Aren't BS 5750 quality systems complex and bureaucratic?

A. Complexity and bureaucracy are familiar criticisms of BS 5750 systems and can easily occur, the result of ill thought out and unwieldy programmes. The formal quality system should be kept as brief as possible, to avoid hindering the organisation's service and distancing the organisation from the beneficiaries. The system should, however, encapsulate best practice and allow room for change. For example, it may be appropriate to have a policy on response times for answering telephones and to measure performance against targets periodically. The detail of the policy and targets should, however, sit outside the formal quality system. Otherwise, any failure to meet targets would be a breach of the system and any change to targets would require a formal change to the quality system.

Q. Very well, but isn't BS 5750 very costly?

A. There are four categories of cost in gaining BS 5750 registration:

  • time costs of staff involved in developing the quality system, launching the system and training the staff (the most significant element);

  • fees for external assistance;

  • assessment and registration fees with certification body;

  • printing manuals and other peripheral expenses.

Inevitably, the benefits are harder to quantify than the costs. Evidence from other service sectors (e.g. the professions) suggests that a well designed quality system should pay for itself within two years through tangible benefits, such as reduced costs, alone (see "benefits" discussed below).

Q. Is BS 5750 just for big charities?

A. No. The critical element in deciding whether or not to proceed with BS 5750 is the evaluation of cost, effort and benefits of the project. Direct external costs of assessment and registration are low in comparison with the effort involved in the project. Evidence in other sectors shows that there is no direct relationship between the number of people in an organisation seeking registration and the time costs/effort involved. The effort/benefits depend more on the nature of the charitable work and approach to the provision of services than on the size of the charity. Interested charities of all sizes should make a careful estimate of costs, effort and benefits and proceed if the befits exceed the costs/effort.

Q. What are the main tangible benefits of BS 5750 for the voluntary sector?

A. Reduced costs and better control are the most tangible benefits. The evidence from registered organisations is that BS 5750 more than covers its costs as a result of improved productivity and fewer errors and reworks. Table five below shows the main benefits of BS 5750 and interprets them for the voluntary sector.

Table 5: BS 5750 Benefits - Voluntary Sector Interpretation

Bs 5750 Benefits

Voluntary Sector Interpretation Of Bs 5750 Benefits





Define appropriate service leves for the services provided

Deliver those services consistently

Improved control


Assurance to internatl customers and trustees that the charity has adequate procedures and systems to support its services

Lower costs


Review the apporpriateness and effectiveness of services provided

Fewer errors, overruns and reworks

Quality culture


Members of organisation focus attention on customer's needs

Continuouse improvement and increasing effectiveness

Support values programmes (e.g equal opportunities and environmental standards)




Enhance charity's reputation as an innovator in voluntary sector management

Some customers require it


Assurance to supporter network (donors and funders) that charity has adequate procedures and systems to support its services.This applies in particular to central and local government funders

Increased revenue



Next steps that charities should take to achieve BS 5750 certification

Before embarking on a quality systems project, the charity should produce a justification (case/plan) for proceeding.

The case/plan should involve the following steps:

  • evaluate current situation: including the scope or range of services offered and review of current manuals, systems, procedures etc;

  • outline requirements and processes: including the particular benefits sought by the organisation. This assessment is especially important in the voluntary sector, as organisations are involved in such diverse activities and have various objects. The requirements and processes are not obvious without assessment;

  • identify issues: considerations such as gaining commitment, building consensus, interpretation of BS 5750 for the organisation, staff resources/composition of implementation team and the scope of the registration;

  • determine costs, benefits, risks and timescales: based on the assumptions made in the earlier steps (e.g. staff resources dedicated to the project).

Once a recommendation to proceed has been made and a positive decision has been taken, the implementation stage can commence.

In order to succeed:

  • organisations need to devote sufficient resources;

  • management and trustees should be committed to the project;

  • a degree of consensus should be built on how to proceed and resolve the key issues.

With the above elements in place, charities can gain significant tangible benefits through a BS 5750 programme. A BS 5750 project is a major one for any organisation. Charities in particular should consider the issues and plan carefully before proceeding. We believe that well conceived BS 5750 programmes are a solid framework for increased effectiveness in the voluntary sector.