It’s often said that the phrase ‘May you live in interesting times’ is more a curse than a blessing. And truly, the not-for-profit sector has experienced its fair share of “interesting times” lately. Navigating strategic and organizational change in this sector poses unique challenges, with limited resources, complex stakeholder dynamics, and a strong focus on mission-driven outcomes. Balancing the need for innovation and adaptability while staying true to the organisation’s values and goals requires careful planning, effective communication, and resilient leadership in these “interesting” times.
The Challenges Facing Not-For-Profit Organisations
I was lucky enough to be able to sit down with the CEO of The Connection at St Martin in the Fields, Pam Orchard, to discuss how she has worked to embed a new organisational strategy there designed to effect real change in the lives of London’s homeless population. All while navigating some of the biggest challenges the non-profit sector has ever experienced:
– Cost of Living Crisis
The rising cost of living is affecting everyone in the UK.
All this has piled on the pressure for charities and not-for-profit organisations. Staff are also affected by rising costs in their own lives and by the impact of increased workloads.
– Staff Burnout
Three in five employees are experiencing stress at work because of the rising cost of living, and this is a particular problem for not-for-profit employers as valuable staff members are attracted by higher salaries on offer in the private sector.
Constant staff churn means an ongoing scramble to fill key roles and plug skills gaps. To ensure delivery many organisations are reliant on expensive agency staffing that drains hard-won funding
– Funding Cuts
To overcome the hurdle of increasing cuts to funding, charities must explore innovative avenues and engaging with potential donors in novel ways. This calls for a collective effort to reshape the future of charitable funding in a manner that is sustainable, inclusive, and adaptable to changing times.
– Talent Shortage
Almost all industries are currently experiencing some form of skills shortage. Training and development schemes have failed to keep up with demand for leadership, digital literacy, and project management skills.
Charities and not-for-profit organisations are finding recruitment and talent acquisition particularly tough now. Flexibility around role requirements, a focus on inclusivity and consideration of candidate experience are all ways that the sector can boost its recruitment potential, but it will require a strong shift in approaches to talent.
5 Ways Not-For-Profits Can Overcome Challenges
Things can feel very ‘doom and gloom’ looking at the challenges facing the sector right now and it can be easy to sink into a bit of despair. But I really feel that with careful handling changes can be affected that will make talent attraction and retention in the sector more effective.
- Establishing a clear purpose and message. If you cannot define what drives you as an organisation then you absolutely will struggle to communicate it properly to those inside your organisation, and candidates who want to come and work for you. A clear purpose centres your organisational goals and gives everyone something solid to work towards.
- Using new tech
When integrated as part of existing systems, technology can really come into its own, automating administrative processes such as outreach, customer service, compliance and safeguarding and, critically, hiring. Giving your team time to focus on value-adding work.
- Embracing inclusive hiring
Different viewpoints mean fresh ideas, greater adaptability, and more opportunities for innovation. Focusing on inclusivity during the hiring process can improve retention, as employees feel more valued and represented and looking outside of traditional talent pools can make it easier to access vital skills and expertise.
- Getting noticed
A strong employer brand sets out your mission, values and culture to potential employees and can be the difference between a candidate applying for a role with, or applying to a private sector role.
Change Management and Embedding a Strategic Plan in a Not-For-Profit Organisation
It’s clear that organisations in the not-for-profit and wider public sector must change their operational and talent management strategies if they wish to succeed in the face of mounting challenges. But while its easy to talk about meaningful change, its much harder to affect it. Which is why it was so inspiring to talk to Pam about her approach to change management in tough circumstances.
“I love a plan! I’m a planning lady. At The Connection our strategy involves putting in place five-year objectives and then every year we have one-year objectives.”
A strategic plan is essentially a roadmap for your organisation’s success. So many organisations fail to create plans that provide clear goals with the surrounding structure of a time frame. Those that do, sadly, fail to follow through and implement them.
“When you go into an organisation where you know a lot of people have been busy doing good things and you ask ‘Why are we doing this? We’re going to do that instead,’ it’s hard for people. It might be that you’ve got legitimate things that you want to address or do differently but it’s important to honour what has gone before. It makes any changes a lot more palatable if people feel like you recognise and value the work that they’ve been doing. “
For Pam it was important to recognise the collaborative nature of running a not-for-profit organisation and the importance of having the support and investment of the whole team when implementing a new strategic vision. This was particularly challenging for The Connection during the pandemic when teams felt isolated from one another.
“We invested in a few key pieces of work that we knew would help strengthen the organisation for the future. One of those things was communications consultancy because we needed to really think through ‘Who are we now?’ Prior to 2017 we were a particular type of organisation. We were already transitioning to a psychologically informed, strengths-based approach. So, the question was, who are we now post-2020?”
No not-for-profit organisation exists in a vacuum. Once the decision had been made at The Connection to re-evaluate how they provided support to the homeless community, Pam brought in a variety of different viewpoints to help develop a new framework for change. This led to a new understanding of the organisations overarching mission and just how they could deliver on this purpose.
“My role as a leader is to give capable people the space to achieve. That’s how I add value. Sometimes you’ve just got to get out of the way and say I couldn’t do that. You crack on. I’ll just do what I can to make it work.”
In challenging circumstances, Pam’s approach to change management offers valuable insights for not-for-profit organisations seeking meaningful transformation. Through strategic planning, investing in necessary resources, and empowering capable individuals, organisations can navigate change successfully and continue make a lasting impact.
To get further insights from my conversation with Pam, watch the entire conversation here:
Pam Orchard draws on over 30 years of experience in the voluntary and not-for-profit sector. As CEO of The Connection at St. Martin in the Fields she has worked to develop a transformational new strategy and ‘Theory of Change’ that draws on psychological frameworks and a strengths-based approach to provide people with both the physical means to make a change and the right mindset to maintain it.
Founding partner of Morgan Law, David Morgan is responsible for strategic development and involved in all areas of the business. With over 20 years’ professional experience as a specialist public and not-for-profit sector recruiter, he ensures Morgan Law’s expert teams continually provide excellent recruitment experiences for both clients and candidates across both sectors.