Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Healthy habits for charities in recession

Watching one of my friends training for running the London Marathon got me thinking about the kind of stamina and determination that charities need to run the marathon triggered by the current recession.

My friend has spent the last few months making time to run several times a week. He is very focused despite the fact that he has many family and work responsibilities. He is determined to run well and to finish the marathon in good time. In a similar way, if your charity is to survive in the current climate - determination, focus, careful planning and strong commitment are a must!

If you are feeling right now that such words make you want to run for the nearest armchair then stop and think again. Although my friend is enduring some hardship and pain - the healthy habits he is developing are likely to improve his health, boost his energy levels and well-being for many months to come. That is true also of charities who, being forced to tighten their belts now, are likely to develop healthy organisational habits that can benefit them whatever the economic climate.

So, what healthy habits can be triggered by the current recession?

1. Losing weight - Evaluating the effectiveness of your programmes and operations and making some tough decisions. How about seeing recession as a time of opportunity for making your charity's programmes and operations more efficient?

For example, should you merge programmes for greater effectiveness? Could you combine operations with another charity doing similar work to lower costs, create economies of scale, or leverage best practices across these operations?

2. Becoming focused - Less time in meetings and in 'the land of indecision' - these tough times can be a great catalyst for taking advantage of low cost opportunities to improve internal operations and make it easier for people to work smarter.

For example, mapping out your charity's critical decision making processes and being crystal clear about the lines of responsibility and decision making can dramatically reduce the amount of time spent on long meetings and discussions. The less time you spend in the 'land of indecision' the more likely you are to stay ahead of the crowd and succeed.

Now might be the time to consider establishing cross-functional teams that make it easier for staff members in different departments to coordinate their efforts, make decisions and share knowledge and expertise. Making time to clarify and refine essential work processes can allow everyone to take advantage of best practices and avoid reinventing the wheel.

3. Going for gold - Finally, if you are thinking strategically about the future now is the time to bring into your leadership team someone with specialist skills that you might have not been able to access in the past. Many people leaving the financial and other sectors are re-evaluating what their lives are about and some of them are looking to engage with the non-profit sector. The challenge is to be clear about the skills mix you are looking for and to make sure that you find the right person for the job.

Please feel free to share some ideas and practices your charity is undertaking to stay focused and committed to success at these difficult times.

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