Reconsidering relevance in a much changed world
futures for women
"We chose to work with Action Planning because of David Saint’s track record and what he was offering to do for us: he had the open-mindedness we felt we needed in our situation. He facilitated the away days very effectively and produced ideas that seemed so obvious, yet none of us had thought of them before. We are now more focused on the need."
JO MURRAY, CHAIR, FUTURES FOR WOMEN
Futures for Women, formerly the Society for Promoting the Training of Women, was founded in 1859 with the aim of encouraging women towards economic independence through employment, and went on to achieve numerous breakthroughs in securing new opportunities for highly trained women in the workplace. In the latter part of the 20th century its role was almost exclusively the extending of interest-free loans towards the cost of training and higher education, using interest on its capital. However, with inflation and the introduction of university fees, the real value of the Society’s loans diminished, and the trustees sensed the charity was in danger of becoming irrelevant. After researching various charity consultants, Action Planning was selected to come and help Futures for Women decide the best way forward.
With the charity reaching something of a watershed in its long history, David Saint and his colleague Mark Atkinson were asked to assess the current relevance of and need for an organisation of this kind, and to help establish a vision and mission that would carry Futures for Women forward with renewed vigour and purpose.
The work fell into several parts, beginning with one-to-one interviews with trustees to gain a full and frank overview of the charity’s current situation and its perceived strengths and weaknesses. David then ran a strategic planning away day, at which the strategy, objectives and actions of the charity were examined by the group, before David delivered his verdict on how the charity had become ‘boxed in’ by duty, loyalty and a perceived lack of resource, and needed to break out of these boxes in order to remain relevant.
Following the away day, Mark Atkinson conducted a thorough piece of market research into the current needs to help women to become economically independent, including specific groups with the greatest need, other organisations working in this space, support gaps that Futures for Women could usefully fill, and potential partners. David then organised a second away day at which he delivered the findings of the research and helped the group arrive at some concrete conclusions that would become action points, to be ratified at the forthcoming AGM.
The most radical conclusion to come from David’s consultation was that the charity should start using its capital, as well as its income. Secondly, it should explore opportunities to partner with other charities to deliver the most benefit. And thirdly, it should focus more on addressing the current need among women seeking employment and economic self-sufficiency.
Though these points represented new thinking for the delegates, they were unanimously accepted and agreed at the AGM. One delegate observed how quickly they had come to a consensus over David’s recommendations. Futures for Women came out of its AGM with a firm plan and has now chosen a charity to partner with for two years, and is hoping to encourage two others with considerable overlap to plan some shared projects. Over this time it will use its capital to meet a specific and relevant need, thus building a stronger story to form the basis of a new fundraising campaign.
There are times in every organisation’s history when it becomes stuck in a rut and people loyally soldier on because it seems the right thing to do. Futures for Women is a case in point – the trustees were persevering with the work they had undertaken, whilst becoming more and more concerned that the organisation wasn’t having the impact it once did. Happily they had the foresight – and courage – to challenge the status quo and to ask fundamental questions about their purpose. It was a privilege to be able to come in from the outside and hold up a mirror to them. The trustees very quickly saw not only that change was needed but also what that change should be. It is to their credit, and to the credit of the members at the AGM, that they are following through with that radical change.