6 ways to challenge the ''change conundrum'' in the Third Sector

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6 ways to challenge the ''change conundrum'' in the Third Sector

In a recent article for the Institute of Fundraising I explored how the dialogue around change is failing the not-for-profit sector.

We paint the future as a distant utopia and charities as behind the times. While, at the same time, we ignore or misunderstand their resilience.

The result? Change is seen as too big, too costly, or plain out of reach. Charities struggle as they try to do everything at once, or they just put it off until another time.

This is the change conundrum

The challenge is clear.

How can charities find the right pace for transformation when the commercial urgency isn’t always there?

And how can they maintain or grow their traditional fundraising operations without neglecting their progress towards future goals?

Priorities likely include better experiences for supporters; an increasing focus on digital; and a diversification of fundraising products (or a combination of all three).

Not to mention a likely scenario where large scale investment either needs to be justifiable to donors, or isn't an option at all.

It's a conundrum. But, fundraisers, fear not!

We've used our experience working with charities on this exact issue to create a process that will help. Six small, but significant, steps that will help your organisation to better manage big change.

1. Predict your future - then own it.

Don’t worry, you don’t need a crystal ball for this - just a good data analyst. Project what your next five years will look like, based on your current trends. You’ll need to simplify, and there are sure to be assumptions made, but write it all down and own it.

What is it that you see?

  • Is individual giving going up or down? By how much?
  • How rapidly are costs increasing?
  • How is your net income changing?
  • How is your audience mix changing over time?

Many charities have huge growth targets, but at the same time they’re looking for significant cost savings. This is in a context where their resilience means there isn’t a commercial urgency to drive large scale change at pace. This is a dangerous position to inhabit, leaving charities stuck in the change conundrum. 

Solid analysis will offer you the first key to driving change. It’s about understanding how sustainable your current approach is, and not assuming that a complete transformation needs to be immediate.

From there, it’s a case of working out the scale and speed of change that’s right for your organisation. Base these goals on your new insights, otherwise you could face a bottomless pit of potential costs.

2. Define your purpose - where are you going and why?

Your analysis will start to paint a picture of the type of change needed at your organisation. But change in and of itself shouldn't be the goal. The purpose for the change must be an intrinsic reward for the charity - usually the potential impact on beneficiaries or supporters.

Your purpose should articulate this benefit, and it should also serve two important purposes:

1. It should paint a picture that inspires passion in people to help you get there. 

Passion goes hand in hand with success on both an individual and a corporate level. Your purpose needs to give people something to believe in and get excited about.

2. It should have a profound effect on the silos that can slow down change. 

Silos can be particularly damaging given today's challenges, few of which fit within one directorate. A solid, high level purpose doesn’t just remove silos, it plain ignores them. Your unifying purpose should focus your teams and give them the clarity they need to understand their roles and work towards a common goal.

3. Take your first step. Then another. And another…

When you're trying to define the perfect plan it can be far too easy to get bogged down in details - sapping the fun and speed out of the change initiative. The truth is, in the complexity of today’s world, there is no perfect plan to address your big challenges. 

Some will say it’s all about digital transformation. Or perhaps investing in brand, or becoming supporter-centric. The reality is that you’re going to have to make progress across all these fronts. While, of course, also still delivering your ongoing BAU.

So, this step requires you to cast aside your ‘master plan’ and instead focus on just moving forward. Keep your purpose firmly in mind and try something. It almost doesn’t matter what you try (within reason), the point is to see what happens and revaluate. The step will either take you closer to where you're aiming, or further away.  Bear in mind, if it takes more than 3-6 months to understand the impact it probably isn't the right step - at least for now.

These test results will be the life-blood of your change programme (and they don’t even need to be positive!) Anything that you can learn from is good, as long as you analyse your failures as well as your successes.

4. Assemble the right ingredients - people, processes, tech and tools. 

Change is multi-dimensional, so when assessing your approach it’s helpful to ensure you’re covering off the three areas below:

1. The right people. 

Combine experience and expertise from the charity and agency partnerships. Multiple viewpoints (when aired in a collaborative environment) usually provide the best results. Getting the right people in the room from the start enables a much faster pace (you can deal with any objections nice and early too).

2. The right processes. 

Any action must be supported and facilitated across the whole organisation, with clear ways to move forward. This will allow you to adapt and improve along the way, creating a culture of curious, fast learners.

3. The right tech and tools. 

Make use of what you already have available, while also laying the groundwork for future progress. Adoption of technology is not the end goal, but it often helps to serve the desired outcomes. It should never be a barrier to change.

Confused? It's likely that finding the right partners for one or more of these areas will be helpful for you. Look for those who can flex around your existing capabilities, plug immediate gaps, and help you build for the future.

5. Look back, as well as forward - simplify your old world to create space for the new.

Something that is difficult one year should be streamlined and simplified for the next. This applies to change initiatives, but equally to your BAU activity - something that is taking charities more and more time and resource to fulfil. It’s not unusual for teams to deliver the same campaigns year in, year out. Even senior leaders in charities are spot-buying on print production.

But technology is there to transform outdated processes into simpler and more effective ways of working in the present, as well as helping you to embrace the future. Then you and your team can do what you’re best at - thinking, planning, strategising and imagining.

6. Stay positive - we’re living in exciting times.

Finally, and to an extent most importantly, change should be fun. It should enable your teams to feel excitement about their work like never before.

There will be times when it’s hard work, but it shouldn’t be a burden. This isn’t just a nice-to-have sentiment, it’s good business sense. 

Ultimately, your organisation will thrive when - and only when - your people thrive.

We're currently working with a number of charities to help them drive large-scale change forward in a manageable way. If you want to have a chat about your goals, or just find out more about the change conundrum then drop an email to Mark at [email protected]

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