Transforming in a pandemic

Cloth - sHow to take a more radical approach to renewal

Over the last month, more and more charities have started to reach the “biting point” of this pandemic. Many have slowly come to accept that their pre-pandemic operating models will no longer be viable within what they expect to be their post-pandemic financials.

Some have yet to take committed steps, but their clocks are audibly ticking. Others have already taken large, publicly-announced strides to reduce costs, but even they may find they have to do it all again in a few months, if it turns out they’ve “shaved democratically” instead of “amputating strategically”.

The problem with trying to respond to such rapid and extreme changes in financial fortunes, is that we default to the safe course of action. To quote the original form of the threadbare tailor idiom, we think about “cutting our coat according to the size of our cloth”, when what we should be asking is, “do we really need a coat?”

Desperate times may call for desperate measures, but times of great change also create an opportunity to embrace great change in our response. Innovation; thinking differently; these are the keys to using today’s challenges to drive tomorrow’s solutions.

Of course, that could be tactical: from shifting events, commerce and fundraising online; to capitalising on the wave of public volunteering; to building fundamentally different relationships with funders, influencers and social media royalty (who wouldn’t want a Marcus Rashford in their corner right now?)

But it can also be strategic. Thinking innovatively and differently about what your organisation does, what it is for, and how it can achieve its aims, in entirely different ways: thinking transformationally.

If evolutionary thinking starts with your pre-pandemic operation, transformational thinking starts with your post-pandemic aspiration for the communities you exist to serve. It starts by asking what success looks like for them; what life, society, the world realistically needs to become, in order for them to broadly get the outcomes that they, and you, want.

It moves by working out what the building blocks are of that vision: what would need to be true, to be in place, for it to be realised; and it looks beyond the obvious, for alternatives and other means. It might see government funding as a prerequisite, but then it also asks: “What if that doesn’t come? Is there any other way that this could happen? What if…?”

And then it steps back, and looks at all those building blocks and alternatives, and asks: “Which of these are we best positioned to do, to lead or to catalyse? Which of these do we need to lean on others for? What are the alliances and movements we might need to support or instigate get all this in place?”

And finally, having answered those questions, it thinks: “If that is our best, most useful role in bringing about this vision, starting from a blank sheet, what does our organisation need to look like? And how can we turn what we have today, into that?” Transformational change, not driven from behind by threatening necessity, but drawn towards, by inspiring opportunity.

The decisions we face are big ones, with lasting implications, not just for the people who go, but for the people who stay. Just as nobody goes to work to do a bad job, nobody aspires to work in a diminishing organisation, managing a decline, and hoping merely for the return of a more glorious past. We all want to be moving forwards, making a greater difference tomorrow than yesterday. And so, before you take the scissors to your cloth, ask yourself, what is the purpose that you want this new garment to serve, and how can you redesign it to far better serve that purpose?

Because if the organisation you’re envisaging doesn’t give you the scope to make a greater impact and a more profound contribution, if it doesn’t enable you to focus on new things that will take you closer to your vision, you might just have missed the biggest opportunity of this pandemic.

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