What can charities do to get stronger, more effective and fit for the future? Flora Craig and Lisa Friel from the Garfield Weston Foundation highlight 3 key focus areas for strengthening your organisation’s resilience
We are living through a period of unprecedented change. From the constantly evolving political landscape through to massive technological transformation, the environment in which charities operate in is full of hurdles they have to overcome.
Charities must be resilient and sustainable if they are to support people through such disruptive times. The better prepared charities are, the better placed they are to deliver the support needed. It is quite literally a case of ‘adapt or die’.
So what exactly does your charity need to be thinking about if it is to become resilient? Here are three things that should be top of your list:
1. A sensible Plan A
A good business strategy sets out where you are now and where you want to get to, and identifies the route you need to take in order to get there.
Part of this is about understanding the risks and opportunities you face so that you can develop a plan for approaching these. We advise that charities involve their whole team when devising their strategy to get a full spectrum view of the strengths and weaknesses of the organisations.
Many issues are foreseeable. For example: do you anticipate a demand for your services? Do you have an ageing workforce? What does this mean for skills in your organisation in the future?
Proper planning is essential to set you on the right path. Some organisations struggle to find the time to start this process but change has to start somewhere, and you will be in a much better place for investing that time in a sensible Plan A.
2. A plan B (for when things don’t go to plan)
Of course, not everything can be planned for. Shocks and crises come out of the blue sometimes and the truly resilient organisation needs to know how to react – be it internal problems or challenges to arise out of the wider external environment.
Think about what procedures you have in place that will help you cope during a crisis. Who is responsible for what? Who talks to the press? Who talks to the staff? What flexibility is built into budgets?
A crisis strategy doesn’t need to identify the exact source of an issue but it needs to set out responsibilities and policies, so everyone involved knows how to react in the face of an issue.
3. A strong financial position
The charities we work with overwhelmingly agree that funding is their biggest challenge. In recent years, we have seen charities expand their trading and investment strategies as a way in which to build resilience and ensure a reliable and regular flow of funds.
Conducting an audit of your current income streams and understanding what money is coming in, when and from where can be a helpful activity in understanding how sustainable your finances are. How diverse are those income streams? How long does it take to write a funding application and for the money to find its way to your bank account? Are you dependent on one or two big pots of money and what would the impact be of these being cancelled or not renewed?
Looking at the above focus areas from a fresh perspective can be a challenge. However, those charities that take time to understand their business models, identify challenges and opportunities, and create plans to respond to those, are better able to cope with what life throws at them.
Flora Craig is grants manager and Lisa Friel is grants assistant at the Garfield Weston Foundation. Each year, in collaboration with Pilotlight the organisation holds the Weston Charity Awards, helping charities to plan for sustainability, development and growth