Ask the Expert - Nick Money

by Nick Money 15/02/2016

What do you think organisations should be doing in the current climate?

The current funding climate for grants and contracts is tough and getting worse in tandem with growing demand. This also means, however, there are opportunities to develop new services and work with new groups of clients or beneficiaries. In this context, organisations must have a clear strategy focused on their cause that everyone understands and is focused on delivering, and be urgently implementing anticipatory actions to manage business risk. In all cases, boards and senior management must prioritise ruthlessly - there isn’t sufficient money or time for distractions in the form of ’nice-to-have’ projects.

What’s your most frequent piece of advice to clients about how they can adapt?

It’s about that clarity, and a focus on priorities, particularly for boards and senior management teams. It’s easy to justify getting stuck into (or just stuck in) operational issues, because that’s ’helping beneficiaries’, but actually it’s often avoidance behaviour. Organisational leaders best help their people when they are navigating a course to the horizon, not when they are pulling on the oars.

What are the most important things to do quickly if an organisation finds itself losing a major contract?

If an organisation has a proper handle on its risks, it will already have an action plan to support unhappy staff that may be leaving and mitigate the impact on the rest of the organisation. Rapid, regular and consistent communication with staff is vital; uncertainty is damaging to people’s wellbeing and therefore also the organisation. There is no place for wishful thinking - don’t waste time arguing with your ex-funder unless you have very strong grounds for challenge.

What are the ‘easiest’ fixes in your view?

You can’t control the external environment - at best you can influence it. But you can ensure that internally the organisation is fit for its purpose, and all colleagues (and volunteers, where involved), are aware of and focused on their role.

What role do you think Partnerships and mergers have in this climate?

All organisations consider they have a 'USP', and concern about losing this is often a critical barrier to considering partnerships or mergers. And that might be the right analysis. But if the alternative is running reserves and the organisation more or less quickly into the ground, maybe concessions are required. In the end, this will be a judgement call for the leadership based on analysis of the evidence and a feel for the future - assuming independence is desirable, is it feasible? Mergers can offer economies of scale and - most importantly - expanded services. Strategic partnerships enable retention of ultimate control in exchange for a dilution of the potential benefits of merger. In both cases, finding a partner with as much cultural and strategic common ground as possible maximises the chances of success. These considerations need to be part of planning when times are good as well as bad - at the point of an emergency it might be too late to find a trusted partner to take on colleagues and services.

What in your view are the critical factors that make for organisations being able to sustain and grow their mission in the coming years?

Three things in particular. 1 - an agreed strategy for delivering to beneficiaries that recognises the external threats and opportunities. 2 - sustained focus on the priorities for action and a refusal to be distracted. 3 - the flexibility to adapt as the world changes.

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