It's very tempting when times are difficult to 'do an ostrich' and bury our heads in the sand, isn't it? It certainly is a difficult time for the voluntary and community sector and many organisations are having to work very hard to keep going. Funding from a range of sources - especially local authorities - is in decline and competition from within the sector, as well as from commercial enterprises, is greater than ever. Faced with these pressures we are seeing more organisations who have 'got their heads down' in order to try and stay afloat. This is resulting in fewer organisations taking the time to think about the future because, as one Chief Executive put it to us recently, "I don't know if there will even be a future at the moment".
We believe that, in these difficult times, it is even more important to plan for the future. True, that future may be less certain than ever and the competition for funding may be greater, but that only reinforces the need to develop a plan for a range of contingencies which will allow the organisation to take control of its future - whatever that may hold.
Planning in such an environment does not need to take a long time or cost a great deal. What is key is to involve as many people in the organisation as possible and to develop a plan which everyone feels they 'own'. We would suggest there are a few key steps worth following:
Planning session - get key individuals including staff, Board members and other volunteers together to review how the organisation is getting on (especially against any existing plan), the external environment and options for the future. It can be useful here to get an external facilitator, such as Peter Stone Consulting, to ensure you make best possible use of the session.
Plan drafting - ensure that one or two people are charged with drafting up the plan and budget for the coming period. For many organisations, with so much uncertainty, this period will be a year. For others, where the future is a little clearer, it may be up to three years. A key component of this work will be the consideration of the 'what ifs' - a sensitivity analysis which considers a range of future scenarios to ensure the organisation has a robust response to each.
Plan discussion and ownership - once drafted, the plan needs to be widely discussed and shared so that people can see what their role in delivering it will be. It will usually be a high level document so detailed workplans will also then need to be drafted to support overall delivery.
By taking ownership of the future planning of the organisation in this way you can be sure that, whatever the future holds, your organisation is ready to face it.