Understanding the real objective
"I was absolutely happy with the service we received from Action Planning. The way David handled the workshop was very good. He threw in a few hand grenades and made us think hard about what we needed to do."
DAVID WISDISH, TRUSTEE, HIGHWAY TRUST
Thornleigh Hotel, in Morecambe Bay, was bought in 1973 by the Highway Trust Christian charity, which seeks to give glory to God through offering travel and hospitality. In 2018 the hotel underwent an £80,000 refurbishment, for which Highway Trust tried to secure funding support from various charities, without success. Following these rejections – due mainly to the hotel being a commercial operation – the Trust approached Action Planning for fundraising advice.
Highway Trust wanted expert advice on fundraising to help overcome the obstacle of funders’ reluctance to support a commercial operation. However, on closer scrutiny of the situation, we suggested that the actual need was to put the pieces in place to enable the charity to run a profitable hotel, as that was the best way to achieve their charitable objective. Thus the brief expanded to include governance, marketing and strategic planning.
We ran a one-day workshop for Trustees and senior hotel staff, prior to which David Saint spoke to delegates on the phone to gauge views on the current situation. The workshop walked delegates through the strategic planning process, with elements to work on beyond the workshop; marketing to increase occupancy and perhaps price per head; fundraising strategy; and governance, with the aim of developing and strengthening the board of trustees to bring in a broader range of relevant skills. The tone of the workshop was quite challenging, to encourage delegates to think anew about the way things were being done and to open up to new ideas. But much of the evaluation of the charity’s performance came from the delegates themselves.
In response to the workshop, Highway Trust changed the wording on the hotel website to make it more relevant and began advertising for new trustees. The trustees went through our report at their next board meeting and began to look at some of the governance issues that had not scored well in the workshop, such as organisational purpose and leadership. Overall, they were able to conclude that they wanted to continue to run Thornleigh Hotel in order to deliver their charitable objective, but that they needed to make it pay for itself and, therefore, needed to be more commercial with their pricing.
Our approach to any situation always starts with ‘challenging the brief’ – very often an objective view can identify routes to solutions that are less apparent to those dealing with the issues on a day-to-day basis. In this case it was very clear to us that whilst ‘raising more money’ was indeed necessary, it would be much easier (and more appropriate) to do so by increasing the profitability of what is a lovely hotel in a lovely location, rather than by a more traditional ‘fundraising’ campaign. We were delighted that the trustees were open-minded in their approach to the process, and anticipate that the Thornleigh Hotel will be accommodating highly satisfied customers for many years to come!