12 priorities for 2024
Find out the top tips that emerged as we asked Action Planning Associates to complete this sentence with charity leaders in mind: “As you begin the new year, don’t forget to prioritise…”
The airlines wisely encourage us to fit our own oxygen masks before anyone else’s, for the simple reason that we can’t be of any help to anyone else if we pass out! In just the same way, we must ensure that our own wellbeing is as good as it can be. Charities in particular attract people who are charitably minded and whose first instinct may be to look after others, but all too often we come across excellent people who have so much still to give, but who are so burned out that they can give no more. So first, look after yourself; that way, you will be in a much stronger position to look after others.
In a sector that's all about working for the benefit of others, counter-intuitively, healthy life-giving leadership is only possible when we make the time to care for ourselves. Try setting a day a month of work time when you do something life-giving – that's not selfish, it's the best gift you can give to the people you work with.
Your existing funders
Remember, they have the choice to give to any charity, so help them to choose yours! Put yourself in their position and consider what would persuade you to carry on giving. Times are hard for most people, so try to make your charity the obvious choice by telling them how they are valued, how important their support is to the work of your charity and – above all – treat them with respect.
It's easy to fixate on the next application and expanding your pipeline. In other fundraising disciplines this would be called donor acquisition and it's always known to take longer and to yield smaller donations (in the short term). It's the same with Trusts and Foundations. Look – if they've funded you before and you've delivered what you promised, then you have the start of a relationship. You have a track record with them; you've shown them that they can trust you to help them deliver their objectives. Of course, you are going to make sure their objectives (and criteria) haven't changed, and then you have an opportunity to build that relationship with your next application.
At the start of every new year we are encouraged to make changes, think what could be different and set out on a course of action, whether that is fitness, a new job or new hobby. In all that drive for change, it is easy to jump on in and forget to take a step back and form a plan. Plans don’t need to be long nor complicated, but by at least pausing to think about what we want and how we might get there, it is more likely that we will indeed achieve our aim.
Many charities are currently struggling with diminishing income streams, governance crises and staff turnover, which is making them primarily reactive rather than proactive. This is unsustainable long term for the charity as well as its staff, Trustees and volunteers. So, once you return in the New Year, rested and refreshed, prioritise setting aside some away days to come together and think strategically. What is happening more broadly? What should you be doing now to prepare for later? What are your goals and key milestones? Get back on track with longer-term planning and you’ll be able to move away from short-term, reactive thinking.
Don’t let it be an afterthought. You can have the best product, idea, vision or plan, but if you’re not communicating it well – internally and externally – then it will never reach its potential. How you communicate determines how you’re seen (and judged) by those who matter most. It isn’t administration, it’s inextricable from the mission itself.
Your charity's 'gripping narrative’…
…Describing clearly what you do and how your services make a tangible difference to people's lives and society. While this is the bread and butter of fundraising, it is all too easy to lose sight of it, without concentrating on the context in which you operate, why you do what you do, the value you offer, the progression and effect you have, and your future plans to continually adapt to your beneficiaries' changing circumstances. Your 'narrative' is intrinsically linked to your charity strategy and transposes from a case to a support across all your operations and especially your communication mechanisms, from your annual report and accounts to your website, your funding bids and more.
As you start the new year, don't forget to prioritise people! Collaboration is key – by seeking out others’ views and fostering creativity, you demonstrate trust, value and respect. Not only does this promote innovation but it also builds stronger relationships. By communicating clearly and concisely, you can create a workplace culture where everyone feels heard and supported. Remember, successful organisations are those that recognise the value of their people and empower them to contribute to collective success – a priority in these challenging times.
The wellbeing of your employees
According to the Mental Health Foundation, some people might be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) with symptoms of depression that come and go in a seasonal pattern and are usually more intense in the months with lower daylight. Things that are known to be good for aiding mental health, such as exercising and spending time in green and blue spaces, are harder to do when the days are short and nights are long. January can also be a difficult time for some people financially, and so they may be anxious about this. Therefore, as an employer, it is imperative that you check in with your employees. The prospect of a new year can be overwhelming – ask them how they are doing, offer them the space and time to talk, and appreciate that the greatest effect you can sometimes have is to listen.
Every charity has them – the staff who just don’t seem to perform as well as they should. But tackling the underperformance takes time and energy and sometimes it’s easier just to try and live with the situation and hope that the performance problem will magically resolve itself (or the employee might resign). In your heart of hearts, you know that probably isn’t going to happen but you are not sure where to start and you are worried about making sure that you follow the right process. Don’t worry – Action Planning has an HR support service which provides pragmatic advice and guidance that will help you effectively manage the situation. So get your 2024 good intentions off to a good start by getting in touch.
It's easy to keep doing the same thing year after year, and to be so busy that you don't stop to evaluate if you are spending your time in the best way. The new year is an opportunity to evaluate the things you do without even thinking. For example, how much do you spend on your charity magazine a year, including staff time (often a forgotten cost)? Would you get almost as much benefit if you reduced the frequency? And how many people actually read it? If you had that money back again as a gift to your charity, how would you spend it? And what if we think about doing them differently? Would those magazines articles work better as a monthly podcast?
Listening to your end users
My main 'day job' is running a national Christian charity called Linking Lives UK. Our focus is on addressing loneliness and social isolation among older people. As part of our regular training for volunteer home befrienders, we emphasise that they are not mainly in their role to be 'interesting' – rather they need to be 'interested'. I always try to apply the same principles in all business (and personal!) relationships. This is particularly true of consultancy relationships as our clients will be expecting us to spend a good amount of time listening to, hearing and understanding their circumstances before providing a measured response and following this up with continued listening. This leads to satisfied clients and good working relationships.
A new office chair
2024 promises to be different to 2023. Our house project is complete and we are now living in it. This leads to different priorities emerging, not least of which is a new office chair. A new chair will have to be:
- comfortable, as the best ideas emerge from a comfortable work station.
- pre-owned, as the best ideas are reworks of previous ones (either delivered or viewed).
- environmentally friendly, which is partly covered by being pre-owned, but it needs to be made from wood/leather.
- durable and robust, as the second priority is for there to be less of Andrew as is currently the case.
Annoyingly, my local furniture reuse shop had exactly what I wanted and I did not respond quickly enough. So, another priority is to keep my eyes open!
Want to communicate better with your supporters and end users? Need advice on managing your people? Would you like to be more strategic in your planning and fundraising? Could you do with a little more time for you? Talk to Action Planning and get 2024 off to a flying start.
(Alas, we don’t supply office chairs.)
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