No more small change: A ‘how to’ for charities

Recently we discussed what changes we see for charities over the next year as they transform in the face of their current challenges.  This is explored in more detail in our thought piece No More Small Change.

Relatively speaking, understanding what needs to change is the easy bit. Getting it delivered, that’s tough.  In our view the stakes are even higher now as the scale of the change needs to be transformative, and will involve challenging some fundamentals of the organisation.

There is no simple answer to this that would apply equally in all charities.  However, in our experience successful change projects that do deliver on their ambitions share the following four characteristics.

How to do it

1) Start with a ‘vision’ and mission.

There is no point looking solely at efficiency if you haven’t understood what you are trying to achieve, and importantly, which services truly have the most impact.  As we said recently much of the change needed may rationalise the number of services that are offered by the charity.  Crucially, the vision and mission must be articulated in a way that genuinely shapes the way the charity will work.

2) Understand the potential of digital within the organisation’s ambitions rather than a separate strategy.
Our view is that a charity’s strategy should have opportunities from digital running throughout it. A charity should not a have stand-alone digital strategy, but an overall strategy fit for the digital age. This doesn’t mean introducing wholesale the products and language associated with technology firms into charities, but having an understanding of how the advances in digital can work for a charitable organisation. In our experience, this works the best when digital is used to enhance and improve the user experience, the staff’s ways of working and the modernisation of corporate behaviours and activities – not simply the introduction of new systems and kit.

3) Have an overall ‘blueprint’ or operating model for how a charity’s people, resources and assets will be organised to deliver the outcomes.

The blueprint, operating model, however it is described – all organisations have one. But they are not usually written down in one place. They are contained in a mish-mash of materials from induction and training courses, to business cases, service plans, and often most insight sits in the heads of the people working for the charity but isn’t written down. This isn’t about having a series of glossy diagrams but having real clarity, and leadership buy-in, on how difficult decisions such as how geographical, service and customer-focused activities are managed. The key is for charities to have a way of working that makes best use of the extraordinary talent that exists in these organisations across the UK.  

4) Be relentlessly focused on the benefits (and these are not only financial).

Too many change programmes don’t understand the starting point, and what success looks like. This includes baselining where the charity is now and asking the difficult questions. It also includes setting up the way of tracking how the measures have been achieved. This is particularly important where investment in new technology is needed. Our experience in working with charities shows there is real benefit in making early visible signs of change to get momentum going for any programme.

The need for change in charities has never been greater. A perfect storm of funding challenges is hitting at a time that charities are taking an ever larger part in the delivery of services to us all, across the country. As a result, we will see even more ambitious change programmes in charities of all sizes.  We will continue to see a shift from charities pursuing incremental change in individual services to true, organisation-wide transformational change. 


David Gimson | Senior Manager, Consulting
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James Bowman | Director, Consulting
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