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The 5 Habits of Forward-Thinking Charities

Chris Houghton Posted on 30th Sep 22 by Chris Houghton

Discover the most effective techniques used by tech-savvy teams and learn how you can adopt them into your charity

What is the difference between a charity that builds massive support and affects significant change, and one that is floundering, always feeling “left behind” and playing catch up? Unfortunately, there is no single answer, but there may be a number of factors at play.

In this article we’re going to drill down into 5 practices used by the most digitally-effective charities. It is our hope that the knowledge we share here will inspire you to adopt some of these habits into your own team so your charity can dramatically deepen its impact. Let’s go!

Habit #1 - savvy charities are always seeking to improve the way they operate

A common feature of the third sector is a lack of adaptability. Unlike their private sector cousins, charities are not incentivized by profit so keeping up with the latest ROI-centered technology is often not seen as such a necessity. But this first habit, the impetus to always improve, is foundational. It is the first and most critical habit to adopt if you want your charity to thrive into the future. Here are some topics to initiate the conversation within your team:

  • What feels like something that has always been done a certain way? How might we shake things up?
  • What qualities do we look for in new recruits? How might we seek forward-thinking staff and volunteers?
  • How have things changed around us in the last 5-10 years?
  • Where do you see ourselves in the next 5-10 years?
  • If we had £1m to spend on improvements, what changes would we make?

These are powerful questions to ask because they can shake you from your comfort zone. They help you to visualise how things could be, that anything is possible. By always seeking to improve, you avoid stagnation, which is fundamental to our next point...

Habit #2 - progressive charities are solution-focused

There are so many ways of doing things these days, especially where technology is concerned, that it can feel empowering to do nothing. In the worst cases, good ideas are shot down before they even get the chance to take flight. This can be incredibly damaging over the long term.

The most effective charities are not just adaptable, but they are always seeking the best solutions to their problems as well. Adaptability alone doesn’t cut it - you need to be able to ruthlessly strip away the wrong stuff, revealing the best options for you. Here are a few tips for achieving a solutions-focused mindset:

  • Don’t let past mistakes weigh you down - focus instead of how to avoid similar problems in the future
  • Build on other people’s ideas rather than criticize right away
  • Attempt to see the positive in all situations

Whatever challenge you’re facing, the situation can be instantly improved by seeking solutions over problems. Many people focus on the negative, the blockers, and as such they struggle to move forward. Look for answers and you’ll create forward momentum.

Habit #3 - prosperous charities aren’t afraid to invest

It can be easy to see everything as a cost - staff, premises, equipment, software - but this is a false economy. The most effective charities invest in all areas of their operation. They recognise that mindfully spending money and streamlining in the right places is what enables them to do great things. Here are some ideas to think about:

  • Your staff probably don’t need the latest MacBook Pros, but they shouldn’t need to chug along on ancient laptops, either. Invest in good hardware.
  • There are plenty of training programmes and events taking place in the third sector - encourage your team to attend by covering their costs.
  • Enlist the help of professionals where you don’t have in-house expertise - marketing, data management and bid writing are all common areas of investment.

The phrase “spend money to make money” applies to the charity sector as well, so don’t shy away from investing in the right areas.

Habit #4 - effective charities break everything down

What’s the most inefficient way of working? By taking on too much and becoming overwhelmed. Analysis paralysis sets in and you can’t move forward. Smart teams know that to meet lofty challenges, such as developing a new website or moving to a CRM, you need to break things down into bite-sized chunks that can be devoured easily. A few ideas to get you started on this:

  • Use software such as Trello to itemise and catalog your todo lists - this makes managing your projects easier.
  • Separate your planning from your doing - figuring things out as you go can have value, but it has the potential to overwhelm.
  • Ensure individuals on the team take personal responsibility for aspects of your charity - too many hands on the wheel at any one time can lead to a crash!

You don’t need to be a national charity with hundreds of staff members to be smart about delegation and process management. By drawing on our first three habits, of seeking to improve, looking forward and investing, you can break everything down and build in a way that best supports your goals.

Habit #5 - the most attractive charities let their purpose shine through

Without a doubt, charities whose intentions are clear enjoy the widest appeal. Not just in terms of donors, but to volunteers and staff, too. They achieve this by establishing a rock-solid purpose and connecting every activity to it. They never do things “just because”.

By contrast, ineffective charities which struggle to gain traction engage in activities for the wrong reasons. For example, they might set up a TikTok profile because they’ve seen others doing it, but they don’t establish their own clear goal for doing so. Time and money is wasted. Here are some tips for avoiding vanity or misguided projects and letting your purpose shine through:

  • Make sure your charity has a clear mission statement that every member of staff is privy to and aware of.
  • With every piece of comms you put out there, ask “who does this help and how?”. Everything should relate back to your core mission in some way.
  • Don’t focus too heavily on what your partners or competitors are doing - do your own thing, based on your own mission.

When your reason for being is clarified and makes immediate sense to everyone inside and outside the organisation, you’ll have reached an elite level within the third sector which will put your charity in a strong position for growth.

Growth is an ongoing process

The 5 habits outlined here might require an intentional change in the way that you and your team operate. To make these ideas work for you, and to practice them frequently enough so that they become habits, you’ll need to set aside time every week for deliberate development. But don’t let the thought of this investment hold you back - engage your team and bring them along for the ride! In time, your charity and all its stakeholders will benefit.

Ready to make an investment in your comms? Book a Beacon demo to find out how we can help transform the way your charity operates.

Chris Houghton

About the author

Chris Houghton heads up the team at Beacon. He's focused on using data and technology to empower nonprofits to do more good.

Want to talk about charity CRM? You can connect with him on LinkedIn.

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