Strategy implementation in times of change
24 April 2023 6 minute read
Adapting understanding of a charities place in the system
As the focus on understanding the external environment grows, organisations are increasingly contemplating their place in a wider ecosystem. Many have open conversations with other charities, funders, or stakeholders during strategy development about potential collaboration. This can be new partners, or part of ongoing conversations with existing close stakeholders. One leader said ‘As the maturity of the organisation is greater, [we recognise] mission is more than your own organisation. We shouldn’t think that the only things that are good come from us’. There appears to be a growing desire to collaborate, from partnership to shared advocacy, from volunteer passports to systems mapping, however, competition for resources remains. Charities also have tough choices to make about prioritisation, as one leader said: “the trick is to understand what, out of this massive environment, is relevant to this charity, but that is easier said than done…”
Traditional power dynamics within organisations can metamorphosis, as a more adaptive strategy approach is implemented. This has ramifications for good governance and leadership at the senior team and board levels, as well as reporting to funders.
To be more flexible and responsive, charities need more flexibility in their funding. One leader spoke of “trying to weaken the annual budgeting cycle, so you don’t have to wait to secure funding to act”. Many charities are exploring a separate unrestricted fund within their budget to facilitate in-year changes of direction or new action. Others spoke of the challenges of traditional, restricted grant funding holding them back and distracting them from impact. One leader went so far as to question why they needed to employ “a team that just reports back to funders” when resources could be focused instead on creating impact for the cause.
As more and more charities implement adaptive strategies, many are debating questions like ‘how do we provide strategic clarity for our teams without dictating direction?’ and ‘how will the board know that the organisation is on track for successful strategic implementation?’ Whilst trustees will continue to have legal and moral responsibilities in steering their organisation’s fiscal competence, legal compliance and impact, many are starting to reflect – perhaps privately at this stage – that, as one leader succinctly put it “trustees will need to get comfortable with more uncertainty than they are used to.”
How can NPC help?
We invite you to join our ‘leading with an adaptive strategy’ event on 16 May 2023, the next in our Leading Impact seminar series. We also convene a regular Strategy Peer Network for people leading strategy to share learning together – we would love to see you there.