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Leading impact: Not just about spreading the love

By Sue Wixley 25 March 2015

NPC was excited to welcome leaders from across the charity world yesterday for our second Leading Impact conference. As you’d expect from a day focused on leadership in the charity sector, the emphasis was on the ‘soft’side of things, such as investing in your staff team and building a collaborative organisational culture.

In the first panel discussion of the day Rob Owen, CEO of St Giles Trust’s, argued that a leader’s job is to help your team ‘love their job and to make sure they have everything they need to do it well’. Later on, Nina Copping, Strategic Development Director of National Osteoporosis Society, spoke about culture ‘eating strategy for breakfast’ and the importance of bringing your people with you. And in the afternoon, Julian Corner, CEO of LankellyChase Foundation, made the case for putting your faith in your staff: ‘If you find great people then you need to free them up’.

But this focus on ‘soft’ skills didn’t negate the need for steely resolve to enable your charity to adapt and continue to thrive. Several speakers spoke about facing tough challenges, such as letting staff go after their organisation changed direction. And comments from delegates highlighted the importance of not underestimating the time and energy involved in embedding an impact focus. Matthew Reed, CEO of The Children Society, said in his keynote what’s needed is ‘tenacity and sheer bloody-mindedness’. While, St Giles’ Rob Owen’s analogy of a senior leader having to bite and scratch like a ‘cage fighter’ seemed to resonate with the audience.

Clearly, grit is needed when it comes to making hard decisions—as several of our speakers shared candidly with the audience. In the case of The Children’s Society, this was making the choice to wave goodbye to millions of pounds in government contracts in order to focus the organisation on activities that deliver the most impact.

Paula Sussex, Charity Commission CEO, closed the day with a plea for leaders to consider what might be the toughest decision of all: to close down a charity‘If your charity is no longer making an impact, it’s not okay to keep going’, she said. Our Chief Exec, Dan Corry, agrees: ‘If a charity is failing, it must be brave enough to think seriously about quitting—or maybe merging with another one. It helps no one to carry on regardless, sucking up money and time.’

To misquote Michael Jackson—or Tinie Tempah—you need to be a lover as well as a fighter to put impact at the heart of what your charity does.