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  • 12 Apr 2016
    I want to tell you about my right knee. Have you got a minute? You see, I had surgery to reconstruct my Anterior Cruciate Ligament a couple of months ago and have been recovering since. Don’t worry, I won’t show you my scar, though it’s really cool. Next time, maybe. No, instead I want to tell you about the lessons I’ve learned while recovering, lessons that I think can be applied to charities. So, please read on. Balance patience and impatience I’ve learned that I need to be patient. Time is the greatest healer, and all that. Getting better will take a while. And yet I need to be impatient as well. I need to push it along a little, try exercises out, make it hurt a little in order to improve. And I’ve found balancing these two contradictory mindsets quite tricky. I’ve realised that we face this issue all the time in charities, particularly with fundraising. We need to think about long term goals while at the same time trying for ‘quick wins’ and doing the painful smaller jobs that will push us along the way. We need to have both sets of targets in our heads at the same time? Be patient and impatient. “Good leg to heaven. Bad leg to hell!” Stairs are a bit of a killer after knee surgery. As you’d expect, I suppose. But there’s a mantra that has helped me to remember the best way of tackling them. Start with your good leg if you’re going up, and start with your bad leg if you’re going down. Simple, but effective. But how is this applicable to charities? Well, leading with your ‘good leg’ and focusing on your strengths when things are on the up makes sense, doesn’t it? What is more counterintuitive is that when times are tough we need to focus even more on what’s not working so well. How can it be strengthened? Think about regression to the mean Sometimes, I’ve noticed that my knee pain on an afternoon, say, is greater than it was a few hours earlier. And this can be upsetting, until I remember that generally, things are a lot better than they were a week ago. In other words there are repeated blips but I need to focus on the overall trend. This is what is known as regression to the mean, and I think charities do not account for it enough. We tend to focus on short term blips, and think they indicate a broader trend. They don’t. Let’s ensure that our analysis has some decent longitudinal basis. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be paying attention to sudden peaks or troughs, but we need to ensure that what we infer from them is correct. “Don’t limp like House!” Hugh Laurie may have scared us all silly in The Night Manager recently, but I wanted to talk about a previous character of his, House M.D. Remember how House limped with his walking stick? When I progressed to a single crutch, my physio was quite clear in his instruction: “Don’t limp like House!” In other words, again counterintuitively, I learned to hold the crutch on my good side, rather than leaning into it on the other side. This was a general lesson to me, and I think for charities too. Our weaker areas grow stronger not when we lean into them or overly support them, but when we think about our function as a whole body. If a fundraising initiative isn’t working well, for example, assuming we can see potential and want it to grow, let’s consider how it fits into the work of the department and the organisation as a whole. How can we draw strength from our constituent parts? So there you have it. That’s what charities can learn from knee surgery recovery, all courtesy of my physio. Four simple… erm… steps to think about, and you’ll be up and running in no time. Found this blog post useful? You may also like:   5 free tools to share your organisation's story by Nisha Kotecha The Refugee Crisis: make a difference on your doorstep How Charities can tap into the hyperlocal by Zoe AmarBig Strong Heart: Tips for your Charity Challenge   
    6019 Posted by Richard Sved
  • 27 Feb 2017
    Lessons for charities about cost and value So there I was, almost in tears, lost in reverie, alone in a crowd on an airfield just outside Newark in Nottinghamshire. But what had happened, and why I am I telling you about it in a blog about charities?  You see, I was at this airfield to attend an antiques fair (I know what you’re thinking, my weekends must really fly by), when I came across a table of old football programmes. Now, forgive me, but it’s my affliction to be a lifelong Arsenal fan and a season ticket holder for the last 22 years. And what I found, after a few minutes of flicking through the piles, was the programme of the very first match I had attended. It was on Saturday 20 October, 1979, but I remember the game like it was yesterday. A nil nil draw versus Stoke City, but for this seven-year-old, it was all high-octane excitement. Hands trembling, I bought the programme for the marked price: £1.50. But for me it was worth so much more than that. And this historic memento is now framed and displayed for posterity (in my downstairs loo). Think about the difference between cost and value But what can charities learn from this somewhat particular experience? Well, I think it’s a particularly appropriate illustration of the distinction between cost and value, which charities should pay greater heed to. The programme would have cost 20p in 1979. I ‘bought it back’ a few decades later for £1.50. But what was its value? The significance of it to me emotionally, and the way it was a gateway to a formative experience for me meant I would have paid much, much more for it. This is because cost and value are rarely the same. In fact, for charities if the value of our work wasn’t greater than the cost of doing it, are we the best people for the job? Shouldn’t a funder be doing it themselves in that case? What added value do we bring? Inputs, outputs and outcomes Or, putting it another way, we need to be clearer about the differences between inputs, outputs and outcomes. So often, I’ve seen charities cost up their work in their project proposal, assuming that the outputs of the work, or what they’re planning to do with funds raised, is the most important aspect of the proposal. It isn’t. The vital element of your plans is what will change as a result of what you’re planning to do. It’s not the cost, it’s the value. If the work you’re doing will increase the chances, for example, of your beneficiary earning themselves a decent living rather than being unemployed, how much money is saved in the long run from your ‘intervention’? You need to be able to prove your value, and if it’s not greater than the cost, then, quite frankly, you shouldn’t be doing it. And what about the value from a funder’s perspective? And there is another element of the cost/value distinction that I believe charities also neglect, and that’s in our fundraising. Applications to charitable trusts are rightly normally focused on asking to cover a project’s costs. But this leads me to two questions that I think we all need to consider: Have you made it clear, even so, what the value of the work will be? This is what will lead to donors and supporters, in effect, investing their money in you. Have you reflected the full costs of your organisation doing the work? There should, after all, be an added value in your expertise and management, otherwise, again, the funder would be wise to consider “cutting out the middle man.” Proposals to companies, on the other hand, ought also to take into account the value to the company of associating with our organisations. Are we fully aware of the power of our brands? Do we under-sell ourselves? Remember that wide-eyed seven year old But there’s a final, and arguably more important, lesson from my airfield story. It’s about my willingness to part with my money for a reminder of a special moment in my life. What does that tell us about the importance of memory, emotion, and excitement in reaching our supporters? For me, it’s got something to do with understanding them and their identity. My somewhat blind faith in a football team is part of what defines me as a person. And likewise, we need our supporters to get to the point where their allegiance to our cause is part of who they are. Now that is value. Richard Sved, founder and director at 3rd Sector Mission Control, is a charity consultant specialising in fundraising, charity strategic planning, governance and communications. Found this blog post useful? You may also like:    Do you have the courage to let your supporters own their story? 7 digital tactics for small charities in volatile times  
    4622 Posted by Richard Sved
Tips & guides 5,219 views Oct 27, 2015
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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