Your Charity’s Strategy: Reflecting and Refreshing

Continuing our popular breakfast and networking In Conversation Series, we were joined at our recent event by colleagues representing the full spectrum of the UK’s charities.

Many are facing all too familiar and similar challenges of how they will be able to devote the time and resources needed to develop a strategy for their future.

We heard from Diana Crowe, Head of Services at MS-UK who gave us some insight into MS-UK’s real-life experience of going through a strategic review process and developing their next 3-year strategy. Diana reflected on the challenges of getting real buy in from their board, and key stakeholders, which includes senior managers, staff, their members and volunteers.

Then Janine Edwards, Commercial Director at the FSI, gave an overview of the some of the key challenges that we have heard from clients and training participants and the insights we have had from working with hundreds of small charities develop, review and refresh their strategies.

Here are some of the key takeaways from their sessions:

#1. Teamwork may make the dream work – but how much team?

In the initial stages of understanding where you are today, where you want to get to and the likely journey to that destination, who and how to involve your key stakeholders can seem like a massive question. Your choices may seem binary i.e. over involvement – everyone being involved in everything, or under involvement – you operating out of a silo, at worst bashing something out over the weekend for a funding bid! The advice given was to find your position in this spectrum in a way that works for your organisation.

You can bring key stakeholders along on this journey by consciously choosing meaningful involvement and engagement: be transparent, ask open questions, and actively listen to their questions, thoughts and answers.

Maybe holding an away day for all the staff, volunteers and the board may work when you are small. It becomes more difficult to manage expectations, viewpoints and competing priorities when dealing with larger numbers or people located over large geographical area, so holding smaller facilitated workshops or sessions may work better.

This is a great opportunity to get all those ideas out: those great for today, for tomorrow and ‘those if we could do anything’ thoughts, written down so that you can refer back as and when necessary.

Tip: Don’t consult on anything that you are not prepared to change currently – it’s a waste of time and good will.

Useful Tool: You could map this on a simple planning matrix from The Association of Chairs

#2. Wait, you don’t have a crystal ball

In a rapidly changing external world, a crystal ball would be a nice piece of kit in your charity arsenal but, when the “the only constant is change itself”, having a strong, clear strategic plan is the next best thing.

Before launching into a strategic review for your charity, it’s essential to take a step back and look at where you are currently – look at where your strengths are, what works well, and where there is opportunity to build. For those not used to conducting SWOTs or PESTs, try imagining a hot air balloon, What’s the fuel that helps us fly, what are the ropes restraining you (holding you back)? What are the winds that could blow you off course? What do the sunny skies ahead look like?

We are all operating in an ever-changing world, and the while planning for the future is important. Give yourself time to breathe and your organisation space to flex and adapt to changes, new opportunities and setbacks.

A clear purpose and strategy is the North Star of your organisation, that keeps you on course in uncharted waters.

#3. Getting people thinking strategically

Getting everyone thinking strategically and to the longer-term an be extremely challenging when operationally you need to find ways to bring in more income to support your mission, need more staff or volunteers.

Your board have a key role to play in ensuring your charity delivers its purpose both now and in the future, so consider taking time out of ‘business as usual’ board meetings to focus on the longer-term. In smaller charities where trustees need to be hands on, consider how you can consciously shift their thinking to be more long-term, outward looking and strategic. You could make use of an external facilitator to support those creative thought processes.

Give yourself and your organisation the space to develop your eye for your future by holding several meetings starting with the big picture and leading into detail as you drill down.

Setting up working groups may also be a way to divide the labour and focus so that you can eat the elephant one bite at a time.

Tip: Define a clear glossary of terms regarding your strategy that everyone uses, so that when you are having conversations everyone understands. Words like mission, vision, values and objectives might have different meanings for different people. You don’t want the conversations to be like a football conversation between the English (Football), Americans (American Football) and Australians (Rugby), where everyone ends up confused.

Useful Tool: You could use the NVCOs – Tools for Tomorrow

#4. The case of the forgotten plan!

Translate strategy into action

No one wants to have invested time and resource into developing a strategic plan for it to end up on a shelf gathering dust – forgotten. A successfully implemented strategic plan may on the surface look different in every organisation but deep down it contains the same elements.

• Reflects or drives the mission, vision and values of your charity

• Informs ways of working for staff and volunteers and who you’re working with

• Lasts between 3 – 5 years