Mind the Gap – How to Resource Effectively in the New Normal
7th May by Mark Astarita
At AAW we’ve been thinking a lot about what a post COVID 19 charity could look like. And as all three of us have been leaders of big and small charities in a variety of Director and CEO roles, we always try and imagine what life in your shoes is like at the moment. As with everything we do, the foundation of our advice and in turn the joint planning we do with you, comes from a place of real life experience. Of being there.
We aren’t agency folk who have shaped our businesses around charities. We are all leaders who are completely imbedded in the sector and who have built careers on ensuring that in all our roles, whether that’s in governance, fundraising, programmes or communications, we have the biggest impact on those we seek to serve.
But of course… this is different. Whilst there are many similarities with let’s say the financial crash of 2008 (or for some of us who are old enough to remember it, the crash in the late 1980s/early 1990s), this crisis and the long, long tail its impact will have, is fraught with ambiguity, uncertainty and huge disruption. I am afraid this isn’t likely to end any time soon. But the worse thing any leader can do is sit still and let events take over. As difficult as it is, you must make decisions. And it’s our role to listen and help guide you to the best solution.
In my conversations with so many of you this past few weeks, your resolve and passion to do the right thing for your mission and people has been frankly awesome.
We know that March and April were very hard months and just getting through the hours each day, let alone thinking about what the next week looked like, was tough. But I think May is now the time for reflection and re-imagining a future and June will be the point when you start to implement actions that will impact on the longer term.
It isn’t rocket science to surmise that retail operations, events and community programmes and face to face acquisition will be the biggest immediate causalities of the crisis. And with the end or at least the ‘winding down’ of the current furloughing scheme expected imminently hard choices will need to be made in these areas. And decisions will need to be made very soon. But from our conversations, the most effective leaders aren’t just thinking about cutting and giving a sigh of relief on having made some significant savings, they are thinking about saving and pivoting investment into other areas.
A Bridging Solution
Balanced with the immediate savings that you can make, there needs to be a hard look on where you can make investments. Cutting and just satisfying Boards of Trustees that net income will look OK in three months’ time really isn’t leadership. If you want your organisation to survive and thrive, you need to be brave and you need to take risks.
And that’s where interims or freelancers come into their own.
Your board will want you to test things so that you all feel comfortable or at least feel less anxious about making big decisions on staffing, structure and strategic investments. Getting in freelancers and interims could make all the difference to your ability to form a long-term plan. And give you the breathing space to think a little more strategically about the future, instead of just firefighting operational matters. And this is where I can help you.
- INTERNAL TALENT Yes you may need to look outside, but if you haven’t already, start with your back yard. Identify those people you already have who are best suited to manage change, prepare and engage. Repurpose them soon to be ready, trust them to deliver, support them with a coach. As someone who has had the privilege of ‘growing my own’ within the charities I led, this is something I am passionate about. So if I can help you brainstorm a few thoughts or help coach a few staff members, give me a bell.
- DIGITAL The sector has dragged its heels here for far too long and I am afraid this procrastination and lack of transformation is going to cause pain. Our commercial brothers and sisters are so far advanced of us thanks to investment, priority and foresight that they can be front of the game. For many, the crisis has highlighted the funding fragility and the long overdue overhaul needed.
- But the good news is that you can fast track this area. The gloves are off so any internal fight that you may have needed to have had in the past is surely now dust. This is the time to be brave and move things fast. If you don’t have the skills internally, give me a call. Not only does AAW now have a digital fundraising agency as part of its family who can offer some free advice in terms of what you need to do immediately, we’ve also been focused for some time on building up a roster of talent so that we can bring you the digital skills in house for implementation. AAW’s philosophy is about self-reliance – we don’t want you to be dependent on consultants and agencies. We never wanted this when we were in your shoes. This is where bringing in interim technical skills can be transformational.
- BID WRITING: We all know there is money out there, but your ability to secure it will rest on the talent of your Trust/Foundation/Bid Writing team. Yes - the foundation upon which every fundraising department is built, the bid developers and proposal writers who remain our most precious and scarce fundraising resource. We have built a brilliant pool of talent in this area. Take a look at what you have got and if it’s lacking the wow factor in terms of talent (and it really needs to be WOW at the moment), please contact me.
If you need some talent to come in and reshape for the future, call me. If you’d also like some help with a team member that needs some support to develop to the next step of leadership, please also give me a shout. Meantime, I am always happy to have a chat to talk through any of your current challenges and offer any advice I can.
We are moving into the long haul, but we are all in this together.
However long it takes to weather the storm and however high the waves get and terrible we all feel, there will be a moment when you will feel some calm and clarity. At that point, I promise you, you will know that you did in fact make the right decisions. I’d like to think I’ll be on hand to help you get there.