Charity conference attendees

Taking on the leadership challenge

By Tris Lumley 3 February 2014

I’ve previously written about the challenge of impact leadership, and highlighted the need for leaders to demand that their organisations focus even more on achieving their missions and making the greatest possible difference. If we’re to overcome the barriers to useful, meaningful impact practice in the social sector, then demand should come from leaders, rather than from funders, which can lead to charities complying with measurement requirements in order to access funding.

In other words, as a sector we need to focus on both the demand and supply sides of good impact practice—on leadership and culture, as well as tools and good practice. While it’s easy to look at the supply side and develop technical solutions to impact and data challenges, the demand side is often overlooked, and this must be addressed if we’re to make progress.

For example, the Inspiring Impact programme will launch in the summer of 2014 an online platform packed full of helpful guidance, tools and support on impact practice. The Measuring Up self-assessment tool, developed by CES, will help charities and social enterprises get to grips with where their impact practice is strong, and where it might need further attention. The Resource Finder (working title), developed by Substance, will help anyone looking for impact measurement tools, systems or guidance, to find it in one place, sorted, searchable, and reviewed by users. I’m really excited to get these excellent resources out into the public domain.

But these technical solutions are worth little, or nothing, without the demand to put them into practice—without  charity leaders pushing for better impact practice. So we’re working on the demand side as hard as the supply side with Inspiring Impact, and focusing heavily on comms to make sure there’s real interest when they burst into life.

Last week’s Impact Leadership Conference provided fantastic insight into where the field is currently at. Morning sessions explored the need for leaders to push forward our practice (and our organisations) as well as the challenges we all face. And then the afternoon drilled down into some of these challenges in more detail—managing risk, engaging our boards, and finding the right tools, to name just a few.

My biggest take away came from the inspirational Astrid Bonfield, Chief Executive of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, and previously Director of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, on the subject of dealing with boards. She made the excellent point that in order to encourage boards to take risks and adopt the kind of dynamic, ambitious and strategic leadership that’s really required we need to hold out to them the potential prize we can win if we succeed. For example, if we want our board to entertain the possibility of strategic collaboration, or even merger, with an organisation that’s working towards a goal we share, we need to communicate to them the benefits if we succeed—the payoff of collaboration.

In the quest for ways to stimulate demand for greater focus on impact, perhaps we need to be clearer about the prize. And that is, for most of us, the ultimate prize—achieving the goals that we set out to achieve, but that often appear as impossibly distant ideals we will never quite reach.