Look inside to do better outside

Peter Gilheany, director at Forster Communications, writes about why charities need to pay attention to the connection of external and internal impacts. 

There’s a lot going on, isn’t there? I am sure this is true of all points in history but right now we seem to be full to over-brimming with issues, crises and controversies at every level, from international relations to local communities.

Lots of people, maybe you, certainly me, try and fail to keep on top of as much of these things as possible, with FOMO (Fear of Missing Out for those of you who inexplicably have better things to do than stay updated on acronym developments) being a relentless worry. So, the last thing you need is someone telling you that you have to be across yet another thing, as we did recently at Forster Communications, producing a report urging charities to do more to invest in their methods as well as their mission. Don’t groan though, because it is precisely because there is simply too much going on in the world that this is an issue you need to be across. To succeed in its mission, a charity needs to be as robust and sustainable as possible, able to withstand whatever circumstance throws at it, and a key element is a thriving, values-driven and socially responsible culture and practice. Luckily, it doesn’t mean you have to know and do everything about it.

I think I’m on firm ground when I state that no charity leader wants a disconnect between the external impact their organisation has and how it delivers that impact internally, but it occasionally does develop, as the recent severe fall-out at Amnesty illustrates. The circumstances that lead to that disconnect will vary, but two likely reasons are a relentless focus on the external impact and a desire to use limited resources as effectively as possible. It can be exacerbated when senior leaders don’t have the time or the inclination to regularly examine the health of their organisations internally, from the systems and processes in place to the general outlook and culture of staff, trustees and volunteers.

It needs doing but it doesn’t require new, expensive and heavy machinery to be put in place. Like many things, it comes back to good, inclusive leadership and communication. The people who work for charities don’t want the internal/external disconnect either, so give them the permission and opportunity to play a role in making sure that isn’t allowed to happen. You can start as an organisation by asking and answering the following questions:

  • Do we have someone who is responsible for looking at our corporate responsibility?
  • Do we regularly survey our staff on our working culture?
  • Do we have an environmental sustainability policy and programme of action?
  • Do we have a strong and supportive whistleblowing policy and practice?
  • Do we regularly engage our key external audiences on how we are operating?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, then you need to take action, and that is the collective you. As a leader, you need to empower and support your wider team to build a stronger and more sustainable culture and approach, to give them the freedom to use their skills, knowledge and personal passions in service of doing so. It’s where Communications 101 comes in – highlight your commitment as an organisation to be progressive in how you deliver your work, be open about the shortcomings and what you are doing to address them, urge people to speak out, and, miraculously, that more sustainable approach will take root and bloom, without you having to be an expert on every single aspect of it. That will free you up to get on with learning all those new acronyms.

You can read our report and the more detailed recommendations here.

Photo by Serrah Galos on Unsplash

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