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8 February 2023    |    Blog

Building resilience in turbulent times

CforG member and director Leah Selinger considers what we can do to help voluntary sector organisations navigate the choppy waters of these turbulent times.

There’s a lot going on at the moment – economically, politically and socially. The cost of living crisis and inflation increases; the revolving door at Number 10 and ever-changing roll call of ministers of state; the legacy of Covid-19 and the fall out from Brexit; and rising awareness of the need for equity, inclusion and diversity. Whew! These truly are turbulent times.

It’s not an easy time for anyone in the midst of the mayhem, but the third sector is really feeling the pain. Nearly two thirds of charity leaders are worried about generating income and achieving financial sustainability, whilst a third are concerned about meeting demand for their services[1].  The impact of increased inflation – both the real-term values and numbers of donations and grants – is beginning to exert an uncomfortable grip, with Pro Bono Economics forecasting a 6% fall in real terms values, and a 7% drop income overall to the charity sector[2].

So what can we do as consultants to help the voluntary sector organisations we work with to navigate these tremendously choppy waters? How do we support resilience-building and better ways of working? Here are two approaches I’ve found helpful.

Floating, not drowning

If you’re a charity cast adrift with limited options, grabbing the first thing that floats past is clearly a tempting option – but it’s a pretty big risk.  Chasing funds or particular people on the basis of ‘something is better than nothing’ may well turn out to be a false economy.  Following the first bright shiny prospect can actually lead you further into choppy waters, not to the safety of the shallows. It can be uncomfortable, but sometimes you just have to cling on instead of getting in deep.

As consultants, we can often see clearer than the clients we work with, after all we’re not the ones at risk of drowning. We can offer insight, guidance and sometimes just moral support, to allow organisations to stick to their guns and hold off for the right opportunity, even when the temptation to head off in a new direction exerts a powerful pull. Knowing the strengths of an organisation is at the heart of our work – being an external pair of eyes lets us see our clients’ strengths (and weaknesses) clearly, and our external perspective is useful for helping clients navigate towards a safer place.

Embrace flexibility

Working on a project which doesn’t go to plan is every third sector consultant’s burden and privilege. We all know what it’s like to plan to deliver A, B, C but end up doing X, Y and Z. Yep, that’s consultancy life!

But in times of change and challenge we have to accept that changing tack is going to happen for our clients, and when they’re hit by stormy conditions, it’s likely that their plans simply MUST change. Too bad then if your offer isn’t right for the client any more. Yes, you might have needed or wanted that work, but if what you were originally offering is no longer right, you need to let go.

Change can be good for both you and your client, and flexibility is essential. Perhaps you can you work with other consultants to offer a better solution to a current client challenge, or maybe even completely change your approach?

Building an organisation’s resilience is about recognising what’s needed NOW– and adapting is the best way to meet that.  As consultants we can create opportunities, space and accountability for this to happen.  Let’s weather this storm together. See you on the other side…

 Leah Selinger 

[1] https://www.cafonline.org/about-us/publications/charity-landscape-2022
[2] https://www.probonoeconomics.com/news/rising-inflation-what-do-charities-need-to-know, https://www.probonoeconomics.com/second-wave-charities-and-the-spring-statement-2022