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What the Flying Yoda can teach charities

  • Richard Sved, founder and director at 3rd Sector Mission Control, is a charity consultant specialising in fundraising, charity strategic planning, governance and communications.

    There’s been a lot of excitement this week about the new Star Wars film. But this blog is not about that, although it is about Yoda. Yoda and charities.
    OK, let me explain.

    I want you to walk with me around London’s Trafalgar Square, let’s say at around 10 on a weekday morning. What do you see? A bit of a crowd of tourists about to head into the National Gallery maybe? Some others taking selfies by the fountains? Maybe an artist has begun a chalk drawing on the pavement?

    Sure, but there’s something you may have missed. It’s in this picture. The foreground, not the background. Easy to look straight past, eh?

    But these trollies contain the gear that keeps Yoda flying in the air. If you hang around, you can watch them gradually building the structure. Eventually he looks a little like this:

    Flying Yoda is pretty impressive, and there’s a few of them around now. In fact, I took this picture of him in York. 

    But why am I writing about flying Yoda in this blog about charities? Well… Flying Yoda has a few things to teach us.

    Let’s be clear about what keeps us flying

    Like this Yoda, all charities need a support structure to make it look like we’re flying. But I wonder whether we’re not selling the general public a line that we’re ‘all about the flying.’

    At times we exaggerate – or at least over claim – the benefits of what we do, or the numbers of people we’re reaching with our services, potentially to our detriment. It’s very rare that one organisation’s services provide the ‘magic bullet’ that solves all issues.

    Furthermore, if we need to provide administrative or support functions to be as effective as possible, let’s be clear about how integral this is to our processes and to achieving positive outcomes. Otherwise we are doing a disservice to ourselves and to our sector.

    The unseen also has great value

    We need to be clear why our organisational costs (whether they’re office costs, overheads or staffing) are so important, not just in providing our services but in keeping the show on the road in so many different ways. Similarly, I worry that we are often in danger of undercharging for, and consequently undervaluing, so much of what we do.

    We are not circus acts

    And this is the most important point. Do you think anybody in Trafalgar Square actually thinks they're witnessing magic? Isn't part of the fascination in wondering how it's done? We, as charities, need to shatter the often held perception that should be able to perform our miracles for free. We need to explain why we’re the right people to do the job.
    We need to be clear both about the benefits of what we do, and the expertise we bring to finding the solutions.

    We are professionals. What we are doing is so important. Let’s stop hiding it beneath a long cloak.

    May the force be with you.


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