After strategy blog 6 lots of readers contacted me with other examples of aspects of charity strategy they don’t like. So here are some readers’ suggestions on where charity strategies go wrong.
Having a word salad of language or jargon
There is no doubt that charities do love a good bit of jargon and to mangle the English language in the process (though to be fair its not just charities who do that). Here are some examples from strategies I have read. This is one from an international agency: ‘Focus on risk-informed humanitarian and development nexus programming across all contexts, contributing to crisis prevention and preparedness, building strong, resilient systems and strengthening social cohesion and accountability to affected population’ I have no idea what nexus programming is (and I have Masters Degree in Development Studies). Here is another from a health charity: We’ll continue to support the peer support movement and provide somewhere safe to give and receive peer support 24/7. I get that support is important – but 3 times in one sentence is a bit much.
Using motherhood and apple pie values
Charities do love a good sprinkling of values in their strategies. Nothing wrong with that. But too many inform us that they have values which are the strategic equivalent of saying that dogs have fur, or that poverty is bad. One simple test of a value is whether any organisation would claim to be the opposite. No organisation says they aren’t caring, or says that they are timid rather than authoritative. A better route to using values is spell out how they will work in practice (see strategy blog 7 and the awards on values). For example if a value is caring what does that mean for how you will treat staff.
Generic digital transformation
I have lost count of the number of strategies that set out some kind of digital transformation. Usually these goals are fairly vague and often also caught up with a fair sprinkling of jargon: ‘our transformative action will be to embrace and integrate the necessary culture, structures, and technology to support a root and branch digital transformation’. How will anybody know when that has happened? Another in this vein of vague aspiration: ‘use technology to connect people all over the world to
help strengthen this global community’ and a final example ‘Delivering improvements in central services to better support our main areas of work e.g. through new financial systems and better use of information technology’.
With objectives like these is it any wonder that the charity sector has found it so difficult to embrace fully the power of digital to change the sector’s services, fundraising and communications.
Hubris – setting out radical transformation in just a few short years
Charity strategies have a fine balance to tread between presenting a big aspirational inspirational goal and the reality of making it happen. Its fantastic when charities aim high with their goals – but they absolutely need to set out in detail how the goal will be achieved. Its no good having a goal that the trustees and senior team dreamt up in an awayday, but which just makes the staff team who have to deliver it open-mouthed with incomprehension. Staff and volunteers need to be believe that a goal is possible in order to get behind it.
For this reason, senior management need to spend a lot of time explaining how a big goal is possible, they need to listen to concerns, and set out detailed plans to show how it can be done. Here are two big goals which need really good explanation to be convincing. The first from a children’s charity and the second from overseas development: ‘every child is safe online. Together we’ll transform the online world, so it’s safer for every child to go online’ and ‘in the toughest and most fragile places on Earth, we’ll tackle the life-threatening vulnerability caused by conflict and the climate crisis’.
Big goals are easy to set out in a strategy the real challenge is making them happen. To quote Sir Francis Drake ‘There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory.