Sunday, July 3, 2011

Making sure that your organisation keeps up with your ambition

In my paid work I support community and voluntary groups to grow. More often than not my role is to ensure that people keep their eye on the organisational tasks. Most of us are happy to dream about what our groups and organisations could be like. Probably there are fewer people who are committed to acting to make things happen - like organising a new kind of worship, helping at a social and contacting people who are poorly. And fewer still are interested in getting the organisation right.

What are some of the issues? Sometimes it's about scaling our ambitions so that they are not too small to be insignificant and not too large so as to be unachievable. I am working with one group of people who have been talking for over ten years about how to develop a piece of land. Trouble is that they don't own the land and have no money - so the first thing to do is to set an achievable target for year one. You can keep the big dream - but you must be open to changing this as your organisation develops. The aim of any organisation must be to achieve something however small as this gives encouragement to do a little bit more.

Sometimes it's about getting all the right processes and policies in place. I am working with another group which is led by a lady in her 70s who does everything: manages the money, runs the group and keeps all the supplies at home. It is now growing and she is getting concerned that it all rests on her shoulders. If she, unexpectedly, did not turn up one week there would be no group. So I have supported them all in drawing up a constitution so that they can get a bank account, getting a health and safety policy and an equal opps policy so that they can apply for funding to pay for, amongst other things, some boxes so that supplies and equipment can be stored at the venue, and helped put a funding bid together. They only need a few hundred pounds to set them up for the coming year to enable them to concentrate on what they do best - being together as a group and making craft items. And raising money for the local hospital.

I am also working with an organisation which has had a very successful ten years with money flowing in but they neglected to develop the organisation. The service delivery was excellent and they were well thought of but one thing you can't do as a voluntary organisation is forget that you have to find funding - finance isn't secured unless it is in the bank. Promises from the public sector about funding may be made in good faith but if the financial situation of the public sector changes or priorities change then those promises may come to nought. This is when you realise how useful risk assessments are and understand that someone looking after the business is key to keeping the whole thing going.

It is that old chestnut that you hear from voluntary and community organisations including our own congregations - 'we aren't here to do business'. No we aren't - but we aren't put on this earth to breathe but we have to do it if we are to achieve anything else. So we have to do our business and do it well. We have to ensure that those who do it don't feel burdened because no-one else wants to do it - the work needs sharing around; we have to respect those who do the business and listen to their concerns; and if we live our values then the way that we do business should reflect our ethos - it should for example be collaborative, open, transparent and easily understood.

As we develop and grow as communities we need to be aware that the business side may need to change. We need to ensure that the way that we do business supports the way that we do everything else and vice versa.

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