CEO Reflections : October 2017
by Eugenie Teasley | October 31st 2017
This month I’ve been speaking to lots of organisations, both for profit and non-profit, who are facing into tight economic circumstances and trying to figure out what to do. Even as a grant-giving organisation, we are not immune to the larger, greyer economic outlook. Our own trustees pre-empted tough financial conversations earlier this year. Over the summer we carefully recalculated our budget based on a projected reduced annual income (ahead of actually reducing our annual income) in order to ensure our own sustainability in the medium to long term. We’ve had some tricky decisions to make. In business—I’ve belatedly come to realise—you survive economic downturns and market changes by reviewing your cashflow and ensuring that you’re going to be spending less than you’re making. It is really simple.
And yet charities rarely do that. First of all, the balance sheet is often flipped. We figure out what our ask will be, and then balance out the budget according to what we are given. Expenditure is at the top, income underneath. Second, we expect to be operating at a loss at some point or other, if not all the time. We believe we’ll innovate, or get lucky, somehow, sometime, just in the nick of time. Third we suffer from a slightly self-inflated belief that if We Don’t Keep On Doing What We Are Doing then people will suffer and the world will break. So we must, we have to find a way to bridge a funding chasm. It’s a moral imperative. Keep On Doing Good.
But what if we used these drops in income or resources as opportunities to reconsider what we do. Radically. Who are we actually serving? Should we be serving them? Are they the same people as we started off with the intention of serving? Are the needs the same, or have they changed? What are we best at doing? Where are we making the most difference? What would it look like if we concentrated just on those things, rather than on the myriad other things that have become part of our work because the charity world works a bit like a series of hoovers vacuuming up pieces that come across our path, whether or not we’re good at them, or they’re good for us? Are we even needed? Is someone else doing what we’re trying to do, and doing it better? What would it look like if we stopped? What would we do if we just rolled right back and did one tiny piece? What piece would that be?
We need to start cutting our own cloth according to what we have, as soon as we realise what we really have. No point carrying on blind and hopeful.
(Hi, Kids Company).
These honest conversations are not fun. But, eventually, there is joy and energy to be found in redesigning things according to what’s available, rather than what we’d like or what we have previously had. Less fear, less night sweats, more focus, more impact. We charities assume that we must keep going, but we should test that assumption, and surface other assumptions we have. The economic boom is going to soon start busting, so the sooner we all start reconfiguring accordingly, the better.
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