Strategic Reviews and their importance to your organisation.
Here at The Clare Foundation we like to bring the pressing needs of charities in to the spotlight and occasionally provide some guidance thoughts on the better running and operation of the charities sector. Planning in these turbulent and very uncertain times is certainly tough, but the necessity should never be overlooked.
Martin Gallagher, CEO at The Clare Foundation, shares his tips for knowing when and how to conduct a strategic review.
The Charity Commission is clear that there is a need to ensure the charity you run or are involved in is running for the purpose it was set up and is using its assets as effectively as possible is a legal requirement for charities. However, when and how to do such a review is not prescribed and falls normally to the trustees to monitor and review on a regular basis. But beyond this general overarching requirement the guidance falls away pretty quickly.
Rosie Niven wrote a very interesting piece in The Guardian Newspaper about the need for a strategic review process in the charities sector in which she highlighted that in the last 12 months a very large percentage of UK charities had reported they were undertaking a strategic review. Many were prompted by the funding crisis the charity sector perpetually fights with but not all.
So when should you conduct a strategic review and how should you go about it – I have 5 tips to help with this...
1. Frequency – we have a regular review process here at the Clare Foundation and have a process to review our operations and assets every 5 years in a running cycle – this helps us to fulfil our obligations to our purpose and to review changes in the sector and how we can best practice this. We set a cycle purely so that these issues drop drift into merely being prompted by events. I recommend you should diarize a regular review not longer than 5 years in duration.
2. External advisors – we all know the running of a charity is tough going on occasions, arduous at the best of times and it is all too easy to become too close to your subject, to let your passion for the purpose overtake the efficiency of your operations so we advise bringing in fresh eyes to look at your strategy and how you are building plans to achieve it so that your own myopia doesn't crowd the thinking. It also helps to get others to come it so you can it and talk through the plans and have them cross check your thinking.
3. Write it down – yes, we know that sounds remarkable obvious but read on. We all write a strategy document, don't we? A reference bible if nothing more than to refer back to can help to check we are on budget and headed in the right direction; correct? Sadly, we know these documents frequently go in to a back drawer as all too infrequently get pulled out and reviewed... having a written review planned in means you will definitely have a different cognitive approach to the thinking – the written word has a way of focusing the mind beautifully. It also stops us from ploughing on the with the tough day job and having our faces close to the grind stone we miss opportunities. When did you last read your written paper on strategy?
4. Start from scratch – don't merely polish your thinking, challenge the very way you go about achieving our stated purpose. Start as if from fresh and build upwards – many things will no doubt still stay the same but with the changes in technology, big data access and research your original thoughts and approach might benefit from a improvements that have passed you by in terms of integrating them in to your thinking.
5. Think the unthinkable – as Alan Lawrie from the Directory for Social Change advises – thinking longer term and creatively are very hard to do. The Charity sector needs to adapt to survive and thinking whether what you are doing is the best possible means tearing down some of the thinking that got your organisation to where it is today. Only by thinking and considering the unthinkable will you find any real creativity in your approach to fulfilling your purpose. So lead from the front if you are the CEO and challenge ever part of your plans to pressure test them for future success.