How can charities use business skills to overcome obstacles?
It’s tough to imagine how any organisation could have prepared for the unpredictable and quite frankly unprecedented impacts of COVID-19. Periods of lockdown have been particularly testing as the strict measures put in place create complex operational barriers for organisations who must answer to their stakeholders. Towards the end of the first lockdown, in May, CAF released a report which highlighted that 36% of charities experienced an increase in demand for their services - However a survey ran by the Chartered Institute of Fundraising illustrated that 89% of charities surveyed range from ‘somewhat’ to ‘very concerned’ about their ability to deliver services, whilst 78% endured concerns about their ability to raise funds during this difficult time.
This presents an interesting question for charities: How can a charity mitigate the risks of circumstances which they cannot control? Whilst it’s impossible to predict the future, it is possible to prepare for very possible risks posed by circumstances we cannot predict, or control: such as COVID-19. Beyond a business plan, which equips charities with the framework to deliver the services and run the organisation in the best of times, charities need to be prepared to tackle problems such as loss of income, an inability to deliver services, loss of staff/volunteers among other complex risks. This requires some level of operational expertise and more importantly, business acumen to develop strategies and contingency plans as well as considering business related issues such as income streams and other important aspects of running a successful charity.
In an article published on Third Sector, the headline claims ‘it’s time for revival, not survival’ - which rings true for many charities as they try to adapt to a difficult situation. But will band aid solutions be enough? Considering that we are now nearly a year into the COVID crisis, with no end in clear sight, the simple answer would be ‘no.’
“Organisations need more responsive structures to get through these times as traditional operating models are changing forever.” In the article, Janina Vallance, a change management expert across multiple sectors claimed that “there is no point doing more of the same, hoping the world returns to normal at some point. Your people, culture and processes have adapted and modified during lockdown; continue with the momentum to embrace the many opportunities.” This suggests that charities would be best served to embrace change, as difficult as the challenges that come with it are.
How can charities embrace change?
“With the world around us changing, digital innovations happening all around us in our day to day lives, we cannot afford to sit back and let those transformations direct us.” This quote from Dr Paul Jarvis, Director of Business Development at St Ann’s Hospice in Greater Manchester captures the complex nature of business development and strategy, which seeps into every aspect of how a charity operates, covering key areas such as:
- Digital innovation
- Fundraising (events, campaigns)
- Internal innovation
It’s clear to see that it’s worth investing in business planning and development for charities, however investment alone is not enough. “A change mindset is more important than a change model. By instilling the right culture, you can make sure that teams are invested and informed, and ready to move from one way of working to another.”
Investing in business development and planning can allow charities to be more flexible and accountable by constantly looking inward. However, this requires ongoing investment of resources into planning and strategy. “Charities deal with money donated for use in a charitable way, and a business plan helps a charity to ensure this happens by mapping out how that money can be best put to use. The plan helps to ensure that objectives are clear and that everyone within the organisation is working towards a common goal.” By being proactive, rather than reactive, and regularly assessing their business infrastructure, charities can ensure they are more flexible and therefore more sustainable. This can include investing time to focus on
- Diversifying income
- Maximising current resources
- Exploring new business opportunities/partnerships
Whilst funding plays a huge part in a charities ability to be proactive and forward thinking, flexibility is about more than just money. One charity faced a tough choice when their chief executive was forced to order the closing of their charity shops: “She could opt to furlough charity shop staff or she could put them to work on alternative projects – bolstering helpline teams, taking on development work or tackling organisational projects.”
I’m sure situations like these resonate with many charity leaders, particularly given the current circumstances. At Ethical Angel, we know that charity leaders have to make some difficult choices right now. That’s why we developed our virtual marketplace for charities to discover and order the support they need. We curate projects to help charities in all areas from business strategy, development and change management to other needs like fundraising, social media and design. Our technology then matches your needs with business employees who have the skills and passion to help, ultimately saving you time, money and energy. We want to empower you to invest in the business development and strategic skills you need for free!
One charity was estimated to have saved over £250 by using Ethical Angel to get support with business planning. Check out our top 5 business related projects below!
- Needs assessment
- Business continuity plan
- Diversification advice
- Change management advice
- Business development mentor