On 1st August 2017, I will be starting a new role as CEO of the Small Charities Coalition. I cannot wait to start but I am also appreciating having the time to reflect on what I would like to achieve when I do. There are a whole range of issues facing small charities, however, I have identified three key themes that I would like to remain mindful of as I embrace this new challenge.
The House of Lords Select Committee’s Report, published earlier this year, highlighted many of the benefits that digital technology can deliver to the charity sector. Digital technology provides small charities with solutions that can make everyone’s lives easier. Yet the charity sector is yet to wholeheartedly embrace the opportunities that digital technology can provide. The Skills Platform’s Charity Digital Skills Report, revealed that only 9% of charities have been through digital transformation and embedded it. The gap between the potential opportunity and the current reality is an obstacle that needs to be overcome.
The world has changed so much since the mainstream adoption of computers, the internet, and smart phones. I believe that if the charity sector is going to grow successfully then we must embrace digital technology. It reminds me of the quote from ‘The Leopard’ by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa,
“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change”
Having previously worked for a tech company, and supported many charities in adopting new technology, I am all too aware of how challenging it can be for organisations to adapt to the digital world we are living in. I am sure that I will face many of these challenges when I take up my new role at the Small Charities Coalition. But I would like to tackle these issues head-on and share with the rest of the small charity community how we manage to use digital technology to enhance the efficacy and proficiency of the work that we do – as well as sharing solutions that other organisations have found.
I have seen how many small charities grapple with the challenges of wanting to look after staff and volunteers while limited resources mean that everyone is working at (and often beyond) their full capacity. Staff and volunteers push themselves hard. They are driven by the passion and dedication that they have for the work their charity delivers but this can result in stress and exhaustion. It is difficult to find the head-space to look at the bigger picture when the needs of your beneficiaries are so immediate.
As a Trustee of Mind in Mid Herts, it is important to me that I lead an organisation that supports the mental health of my team and everyone we interact with. At a selfish level, I know that through supporting mental health I should have a happier, healthier, and more effective workforce. I want to lead an organisation which understands that we need to look after our body and minds if we are to operate at the highest level. However, my motivations are wider than this.
This is something that I would like us all to be able to talk about openly. I look forward to hearing how other small charities manage and sharing the lessons that we can all learn. With the variety of challenges facing small charities it is important to have the headspace to be able to respond. 
When I was younger I was obsessed with The Little Mermaid. There is a great line in the film when Sebastian the Crab is trying to get the Prince and the Mermaid to kiss each other. Seeing the couple failing on their own, Sebastian declares,
If you want something done you gotta do it yourself
He then sets to work creating a scene to get them in the mood for romance. At the start of my career I interpreted Sebastian’s wise words to mean that the best way to achieve results is to do it personally. I would track my success through the quantitative results I was achieving – how much I had raised, sold or how many tasks I had ticked off my list. I reached a certain point in my career and stopped getting promoted. I was frustrated – even though I might have been achieving some of the highest personal business targets in the team I wasn’t advancing. Thankfully, I was working for a very supportive organisation who gave me an external coach to talk through the challenges I was facing. The lightbulb moment with my coach was when she shared the following African proverb with me,
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
I realised that throughout my working life I had always been going fast – I was proud of raising more money than others in record time. But I had reached the ceiling of what I was able to achieve on my own. If I was going to advance, I needed to build stronger relationships, work in partnership, and be willing to sacrifice short-term personal gains for long-term shared success. I learned that asking for support and advice is not an act of weakness, but of strength. I realised that there is always so much more to learn from other people’s experience.
When I revisit the guidance of Sebastian the Crab now, I interpret his words to mean that sometimes we need to take the reins in bringing people together to achieve the outcomes that we all desire. This is what the Small Charities Coalition was set up to do – and that I intend my leadership to build on.
I would like us to be known as an organisation that wants to achieve great things through working collaboratively with other organisations and individuals. I now know that everyone has something valuable to contribute so I look forward to listening to YOU and getting to know YOU as we embrace this exciting challenge together.