The honest way to think about charities and services…
It’s often hard to be genuinely dispassionate and objective, let alone radically honest, when it comes to a charity’s services.
The closer we are to what we do, the more invested we are in the people and the model, the less we tend to see of what others do, the impact they would make if we weren’t around, and what we actually, incrementally, bring to the party… if anything.
So, let’s start by stepping away from what we do, and looking at a very different but very useful comparison: Amazon.
Amazon has had a transformational impact on retail, but even though it’s now bigger than ever, its impact has waned enormously over recent years.
There was a time when it was just about the only large, general purpose online shop in the Western world. Back then, in the early nineties, it was pretty much unique – nobody else came close.
Even when others joined the online space, Amazon was still the leading light for well over a decade, driving almost single-handedly every brick-and-mortar retailer to develop their online stores, shorten their delivery cycles, build in consumer reviews, develop recommendation algorithms, and on and on.
As the mainstream retailers steadily caught up, Amazon expanded into a whole range of niches and geographies – wherever the competition was weak, it moved in.
But now, most of those gaps have closed, even the niche ones. For almost everything Amazon sells, there are a dozen other places online that offer pretty much the same product with the same ease and simplicity.
Amazon’s remaining market relevance, irrespective of its size, is now primarily as the price-setter for mass-market commodities. That’s just about all the “incremental” impact it still has.
In fact, if it disappeared tomorrow, I’d confidently say pretty much all Amazon’s customers would be getting everything they get now, just from somewhere else. Other than perhaps a slight increase in price, within a few weeks they would barely even notice the difference.
Absent any big new innovations, the Amazon store of today is trading on the habits and loyalty of past glory, and quite possibly, coasting slowly away from relevance.
So, with that example in mind, what would you say is the incremental impact of your charity’s services, right now? Where are you honestly on that Amazon continuum?
Is what you’re doing genuinely unique? Is it pioneering a fundamentally different way of doing things, providing outcomes that nobody else can touch?
Or is it leading the market – there may be other players but you’re the one that’s setting the pace, continually driving up standards and expectations, the reference point that everyone else is chasing?
Or are you happily working in a gap or a niche – operating in a space that the Amazon’s of your world haven’t spotted yet; delivering true incremental impact because there’s no comparable alternative, but knowing that you might need to fight for that space as soon as one shows up?
Or are you scrapping it out in a commoditised market, delivering little that the next in line couldn’t do just as well? Be honest. Might you too be coasting away from relevance, clinging to your own past glories?
This is the truly dispassionate, objective way to think about impact – not the difference you might make in a vacuum, but the difference you make in the real world, versus the organisation that just lost out on the bid, or the one that just opened five miles away.
These are the urgent and important questions, especially for those charities struggling to stay afloat, while fighting to deliver services that, if we’re honest, others could do just as well.
Which begs the most important question of all: if that’s where you are now, is it really where you want to be? Or could your time, money, skills, and efforts be used to far, far greater effect doing something else?
Is it time for some radical honesty about your service portfolio?