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How can I adapt my leadership style for a half-remote world?

This series shares some of the challenges 12 long-term leaders have been exploring together over the past 18 months, in regular sessions facilitated by our co-founder Director (and long-term leader himself) Ben Cairns. Convened by Pears Foundation, most of the group have been in their senior leadership post for 10 years or more, and many are also founders, or were instrumental to the founding of, their organisation.

 

The group started meeting before the Covid-19 pandemic, and then continued remotely, so their discussions spanned both pre- and post-Covid contexts. And while this series explores questions that were raised by long-term leaders, we believe that many of their considerations will resonate with all social sector leaders and professionals.

This blog series forms part of our work on Leading in uncertainty

How can I adapt my leadership style for a half-remote world?

 

Many have been grappling with new styles of leadership and questioning how best to support and lead their teams remotely. Holding teams together without the ‘richness of the chitchat’ is a real challenge. How do you maintain the glue? How do you replicate and sustain ‘unplanned relationship building that would usually take place by the coffee machine’?

 

As we all begin to transition to a blend of ‘in-person’ and remote working, we share a number of approaches and features that people have experimented with:

 

  • Decisiveness: one leader ‘moved from being more democratic to having to make decisions early on during Covid’ as they had a clear vision for their interim strategy and took a more prominent role at a time when there was a need for reassurance and speed.
  • Visiting the team in person: one leader spent a week cycling around London to have one-on-one conversations with their team: ‘This changed the game for me – I felt less anxious about other conversations that I needed to have’.
  • Renting a space for team meetings: one team met in an office space designed for social entrepreneurs: ‘Having our first in person team meeting was a real lift for everyone’.
  • Explicit lunch hour: between certain hours, one organisation won’t ring one another (unless essential). This encourages staff to use the time to be absorbed in a task away from emails, or to have time outside exercising in daylight.
  • Distinguishing between a team meeting and a tea break: making sure not to blur the two. ‘Coffee conversations’ are short and frequent at one organisation, and they are clearly labelled to avoid confusion.
  • Showing the workings out: being more intentional about this for new members of the team. For example, having more informal calls and sharing screens to work through a task together.

 

Different working styles

Leaders reflected on their teams’ preferences or working habits while remote. Home working may have been ‘exposing’ for some team members whose ‘performance is very related to the day-to-day relationships in the office’. The group spoke about the challenges of assessing how well people have managed in this strange environment, and the need to avoid ‘penalising’ people for not being able to step up, into a place that they’ve not had any expectations or preparation for.

 

Legitimising working preferences

There were conflicting feelings about returning to an office working style: ‘What is it that everyone wants to maintain, what do we miss and then let’s come up with some kind of formula’. All team members need to be included in those discussions so their preferences are being listened to. The group acknowledged the different working environments across teams, and felt it is important to ‘legitimise the school pickups and being trusted to get the work done’, even if this means moving away from the ‘old world strict working hours.’ One leader questioned whether there will be an ‘unconscious pull back to a more traditional model where people judge non-work daytime activity’. Some leaders in the group discussed the dangers of inbuilt expectations on themselves – ‘to work the maximum at breakneck speed’ – and the importance of trying to unlearn certain habits. Flexible working practices need to be formally acknowledged and endorsed – ‘let us know your working preference’. As one member of the group said: ‘this isn’t school, there’s no bell’.

Are you leading in uncertainty?















Join us for some time to pause, reflect and share, connecting with other charity leaders who are adapting to and coping with prolonged uncertainty. 

We provide  free and facilitated peer support sessions for voluntary and community sector leaders to share what’s front of mind in the current context of sustained uncertainty. During these online sessions, we are listening – so we can learn about and make sense of the live challenges leaders are facing, and help funders to understand how they can best respond. 

Find out more

What does succession planning mean, and how can you become ‘successor ready’?

This series shares some of the challenges 12 long-term leaders have been exploring together over the past 18 months, in regular sessions facilitated by our co-founder Director (and long-term leader himself) Ben Cairns. Convened by Pears Foundation, most of the group have been in their senior leadership post for 10 years or more, and many are also founders, or were instrumental to the founding of, their organisation.

 

The group started meeting before the Covid-19 pandemic, and then continued remotely, so their discussions spanned both pre- and post-Covid contexts. And while this series explores questions that were raised by long-term leaders, we believe that many of their considerations will resonate with all social sector leaders and professionals.

 

This blog series forms part of our work on Leading in uncertainty.

What does succession planning mean, and how can you become ‘successor ready’?

 

 

Experiences of succession planning amongst our group ranged from fears of the Board ‘catastrophising’ the Director leaving (‘so, the only way I could leave would be to literally throw myself under a bus’), to having open and explicit conversations with trustees about future plans for the organisation, and encouraging them to question ‘how can we wean the outside world off the Director?’.

 

 

Being intentional, deliberate and purposeful about becoming an organisation that could flourish and thrive without its founder/long-term leader is a critical ingredient of becoming ‘successor ready’. A ‘succession plan is about a succession culture’, so what is passed down (beginning at the recruitment and induction stage for new staff) is the ‘spine of the organisation, its essence’, with the aim of organisation not being dependent on its leader for sustaining the culture.

 

 

Elements of building a succession culture might include:

 

  • Opening up Board meetings to staff members (as part of an acculturation process) – although, for some, this raised concerns about unintended consequences: ‘how much should we expose staff to the financial security of the organisation?’.

     

  • Encouraging staff to work at multiple levels and be intentionally exposed to different elements of the organisation’s ways of working. Those with more positive experiences of ‘dealing with the challenges of long-term leadershiphighlighted the importance of an ‘enabling Board that is not terrified of change.

     

  • The Chair’s role is critical – they can choose to encourage and enable, or avoid and deter conversations and actions around succession.

 

Succession planning during Covid-19

 

The pandemic has thrown everyone’s plans into disarray, and disrupted some leaders’ hopes of reducing their hours: ‘pre-Covid I was thinking about whether I needed to leave. The pandemic has created so much uncertainty … I’m at peace that I’ll need to stay for five years to get us through this patch and to leave a legacy in this thing I’ve created’.

 

 

Covid has also altered our perspectives on many different aspects of work, and succession planning is no exception. Despite it being ‘hard to judge in current circumstances’, some have ‘enjoyed the space away from everyone to think about it’. And the benefits of co-leadership have emerged clearly in response to emergency: ‘dividing roles, all pulling from the front, lifting that weight’­. Ultimately, though, ‘leaders still play this nodal role in organisations – we carry that burden in a way probably no one else does’, and actually there can be a sense of ‘satisfaction to be in it for the long haul’.

Are you leading in uncertainty?








Join us for some time to pause, reflect and share, connecting with other charity leaders who are adapting to and coping with prolonged uncertainty.

 

We provide  free and facilitated peer support sessions for voluntary and community sector leaders to share what’s front of mind in the current context of sustained uncertainty. During these online sessions, we are listening – so we can learn about and make sense of the live challenges leaders are facing, and help funders to understand how they can best respond.

 

Find out more

How do I know if I’m staying too long?

This series shares some of the challenges 12 long-term leaders have been exploring together over the past 18 months, in regular sessions facilitated by our co-founder Director (and long-term leader himself) Ben Cairns. Convened by Pears Foundation, most of the group have been in their senior leadership post for 10 years or more, and many are also founders, or were instrumental to the founding of, their organisation.

The group started meeting before the Covid-19 pandemic, and then continued remotely, so their discussions spanned both pre- and post-Covid contexts. And while this series explores questions that were raised by long-term leaders, we believe that many of their considerations will resonate with all social sector leaders and professionals.

This blog series forms part of our work on Leading in uncertainty

How do I know if I’m staying too long?

 

This question (and the associated ‘Who will tell me if I’m staying too long?) is one that many of us can identify with. But the flipside – ‘Why is there a sense of apology for being in the same role for over 10 years?’ – is more specific to long-term leadership.

 

For long-term leaders, it’s important to ‘continue to think expansively and innovatively about your organisation and your role’. The trouble is, the opportunity to do this – in a safe space, without undue pressure on the answer (i.e. the binary choice of staying or going) – is limited. Moreover, it may not be as simple as deciding whether to ‘stay or go’ – there could be a middle path that feels right to you.

 

So, with 12 long-term leaders coming together for the first time, it’s no surprise that this was the question on their minds. In exploring possible answers, we drew out some features of long-term leadership that may help with working out what’s right for your situation. They are both reasons for staying (assets which bring value to the organisation) and reasons for going (habits and dynamics that can hold others back).

 

Some features of long-term leadership

 

  1. Institutional memory: ‘Knowing the intimate nuts and bolts of the machine helps you as a leader and as a decision maker’. However, this can hamper the ability of newer team members to be ambitious in their roles: it seems important to step back and allow people to find their own voice and perspective.

 

  1. Risk-taking: Does a long-standing leader’s deep knowledge of the organisation enable or inhibit its ability and drive to take greater risks: ‘I don’t want it to go bust on my watch’. The dangers of using ‘risk-taking’ as a ‘strategy to keep you motivated’ were also discussed: ‘A strategy that’s driven more by your own needs rather than the organisation’s needs’.

 

  1. Sustained relationships: ‘Building stronger, deeper, more authentic relationships over the long-term’, both internally and externally. Trusting relationships are often strengthened over time and ‘come into their own in challenging times of crisis … I can pick up the phone’. However, there are conflicting ‘push and pull factors’ and possible disadvantages in relying on length of service within an organisation, such as being overly dependent on one channel of relationships: ‘How can benefit from this longevity but without the organisation being overly reliant on one individual?’.

 

What might help?

 

What might help to mitigate the negative potential of these features, and enhance their benefits?

 

An exercise that has helped some leaders to stay motivated and conscious of an exit plan is to ‘spend time identifying your own drivers and long-term career aspirations and then, from this, relate it to your current organisation. This helps to create an exit strategy … framed by what does success look like to me in this role and when will it then be time to move on?’. Another approach is to be open to both the risks and virtues of being a long-term leader and engage openly and regularly with the staff and board about this: ‘whatever your plan ends up being, this thing needs naming and bringing out of the shadows’.

 

Are you leading in uncertainty?















Join us for some time to pause, reflect and share, connecting with other charity leaders who are adapting to and coping with prolonged uncertainty. 

We provide  free and facilitated peer support sessions for voluntary and community sector leaders to share what’s front of mind in the current context of sustained uncertainty. During these online sessions, we are listening – so we can learn about and make sense of the live challenges leaders are facing, and help funders to understand how they can best respond. 

Find out more

Planning in uncertainty

We’ve spent over a year reporting on leadership during the uncertainty of the pandemic, capturing the experiences of voluntary and community leaders to inform and encourage flexible responses from their funders. As we transition to a ‘new normal’, we wonder – more than ever – how can organisations be agile in the face of an unpredictable future, and could their funders better support them on this journey?

 


In June and July, we facilitated three online peer support sessions for 23 voluntary and community leaders. They were from organisations funded by the Children, Young People and Families Early Intervention Fund and Adult Learning and Empowering Communities Fund (CYPFEIF & ALEC Fund), administered and coordinated by the Corra Foundation – one of our flexible funders committed to demonstrating more open and trusting practices.

 


We recently published a briefing to share leaders’ experiences and our recommendations for planning in uncertainty and this quick-read summarises our outputs. Our hope is that these can be used to support organisations, and their funders, take small steps forward in thinking about and being agile.

 


Leaders’ experiences

 


Understandably, people emphasised their exhaustion from navigating the fall-out of the pandemic. They are not alone in their weariness, as over a thousand voluntary and community leaders have shared similar sentiments with us over the last year.

 


This period has been a relentless slog: a physical, mental and financial drain on organisations.

 


Despite their fatigue, leaders are proud of their achievements and efforts. The sector has demonstrated its unique value by meeting high demand and complex needs with unwavering commitment.

 


Many have used this opportunity to be more creative, agile and emergent in their work: ‘We are living more comfortably with risk, not allowing it to stop us doing something, just doing it differently’. 

 




The lifting of restrictions has helped us move toward ‘something resembling normal’ but voluntary sector leaders are under no illusion it is back to business as usual, with difficult choices to be made on everything from blended working, delivery methods to funding.

 


During the sessions we listened and learnt from leaders’ experiences and what they felt was needed in order to plan effectively during uncertainty.

 


In their own words, two sector leaders – whose thoughts resonated with the group – summarise the importance and value of the contributions made by the third sector during the pandemic, and what it will take for them to keep delivering that value.

 


Click on their pictures to read more.


quote

We must rethink this hand-to-mouth approach to funding which can feel disrespectful, debilitating, and demeaning for voluntary organisations.

Marguerite Hunter Blair, Chief Executive of Play Scotland

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This is the moment for leaders across the third sector to be big, bold and brave – it’s time to put the #ThirdSectorFirst.”

Eddie McConnell, Chief Executive of Down's Syndrome Scotland

Recommendations

 

It is clear that leaders, and their organisations, will need to continue to tap into their creativity as we move forward, as will their funders. We’ve highlighted starting points for voluntary sector leaders and their funders.

Voluntary sector leaders













1. Know your value: 

Exercise agency over current circumstances by knowing your unique value: who you are, why you are here, and what your contribution could be. 

2. Plan flexibly
Uncertainty is here to stay. This transition will require organisations to move from detailed project plans and outcomes to being responsive and flexible in how charitable objects are met. 

3. Focus on wellbeing
Voluntary organisations will need healthy and motivated workforces to move through uncertainty, so make a serious commitment to wellbeing. 

4. Connection 
A premium will need to be placed on open and generous communicaiton and behaviours. Both internally to ensure organsiationsl alignement and externally to benefit from peers and the sector. 

Leading in uncertainty

Are you a leader interested in peer support? We provide frequent, free and facilitated peer support sessions for voluntary and community sector leaders to share what’s front of mind and anonymised learning to the sector. 

Find out more

Funders

















1. Collaborate

Changes to funder practices will be needed to demonstrate more open and trusting behaviours which privilege collaboration over competition among voluntary organisations.

2. Plan flexibly
In order for voluntary organisations to continue to be imaginative and ingenious to meeting community needs and continue vital services, they will need funders to move away from hand-to-mouth approaches to grants and toward more flexible and sustained support. 

Open and trusting grant-making

Are you a funder committed to supporting the sector? Join a community of 80 #FlexibleFunders who are working toward, and demonstrating, eight commitments to being more open and trusting in their grant-making. 

Find out more

Briefing papers:

Planning in uncertainty


Download the briefing

Building forward differently

Eddie McConnell – Chief Executive of Down’s Syndrome Scotland –  on ‘building forward differently’ : a reflection from the Planning in uncertainty peer support sessions by Corra Foundation and IVAR. 

It’s 18 months since we ushered everyone home and locked the door of our office in Edinburgh. We haven’t been back since.

And yet, like so many in our sector, we haven’t been busier, and we haven’t drawn breath. While this villainous virus took hold and wreaked havoc in families and communities, charities — the length and breadth of the UK — stepped forward and stepped up. This is what we do.

Individually and at pace, we remodelled our service delivery in response to the unprecedented need for support. Collectively, we were a vital component of the national response to the emergency. By putting the needs others first, we saved lives and we protected the NHS.

As we re-open society with restriction lifts, we have a choice. Either we can return to how things were pre-COVID, or we can start anew.

We can leave behind, forever, the woeful world of competing interests: where power and control were vested in the hands of a few to the detriment of so many, and boundaries preserved hierarchies and extinguished innovation. We can recognise what can be achieved through deep collaboration, respect and trust in one another’s abilities and purpose.

Ultimately, what matters is what works, evidenced in the response of so many charities and charity workers throughout the pandemic.

I have no desire to ‘build back better’; I’m not even sure what that means. I am more motivated and inspired to ‘build forward differently’. This is the moment for leaders across the third sector to be big, bold and brave — it’s time to put third sector first: #ThirdSectorFirst.

Rethinking funding for the future

Marguerite Hunter Blair – Chief Executive of Play Scotland  –  on ‘rethinking funding for the future’ : a reflection from the Planning in uncertainty peer support sessions by Corra Foundation and IVAR. 

For many of us in the third sector, we don’t just care about the job, the organisation or how to access the latest funding stream — we care passionately about social justice issues. We are highly motivated and energised by our ability to make a positive difference on the ground, and in real-time, for people in our communities.

Working with memberships, partners and a wide range of stakeholders, we innovate, energise and build capacity to deliver amazing results in our sectors and for funders.

The wobbly bridge, which can quickly become a tight rope without a safety net, is an uncertain funding foundation.

This doesn’t just jeopardise posts, salaries, pensions, and staff development — it is a barrier to attracting and retaining talented people who seek career progression and financial security. It also fosters division over collaboration as organisations seek to sustain their footprint and future.

Evidence shows that five-year core funding is essential to achieving outcomes; it is also a valuable lever in attracting additional funds and investment partners. ‘Building back better’ must include rethinking this hand-to-mouth approach to funding which can feel disrespectful, debilitating, and demeaning for voluntary organisations.

How peer support helped Selby District AVS leader during 2020

IVAR introduction 

Leaders of smaller voluntary organisations experienced a prolonged period of uncertainty during 2020/21 in the height of Covid-19. Wanting to support the sector in a useful way, we offered sector leaders online peer support sessions called Emergency response support: ‘a space for solidarity and solace’.  From these sessions we built a picture of the challenges they faced and what they needed from funders in response: turning these into regular briefings. 

Following a positive reaction to the series of peer support sessions, our learning, and a clear need for continued support, we have re-launched peer support sessions with a focus on Leading in uncertainty. We asked emergency response session attendees to share their experiences of leading during the uncertainty of 2020 and how peer support sessions helped. Here, Chris Hailey-Norris of Selby District AVS shares: 


1.   What was leadership like during COVID-19 (2020)?

Leadership was a mix of emotions — and a roller coaster of decision-making, risk-taking and strategic redevelopment. In order to survive, we had to swiftly adapt and respond to the needs of the community and the organisations we support.

We had to rapidly adjust as traditional sources of income ceased and new opportunities emerged. We embraced new ways of communicating, increased flexibility in service delivery, and continuing to be a solutions-based service. This massive change meant that staff, volunteers and trustees needed increased communication, reassurance and emotional support from the senior leadership team on a professional and personal level.

On a personal level, at times, it could be isolating, frustrating, exhausting but also incredibly, humbling, emotional, and always worthwhile.

2.   Why is connecting with peers important for leaders?

It is important to connect with peers, as it is a refreshing opportunity to share thoughts and feelings, explore options, unburden yourself, and to realise you are not the only one tackling multiple issues within a changing landscape.

It provides the safe space to hear other viewpoints, ideas and strategies for tackling similar issues.

3.   How did peer support session/s make you feel after talking on leadership and organisational challenges? 

 

Each session was reassuring, informative, good humoured and inspiring. Facilitation ensured that everyone was given a voice, was heard, and that we had the chance to reflect.

It recharged my batteries and enabled me to move forward with increased confidence.


Leading in uncertainty

We are running 90 minute drop-in peer support sessions for up to 10 charity leaders at a time, every week, from June 2021 – via Zoom.  Join us for some time to pause and reflect, and to hear other leaders’ experiences of adapting to and coping with leading in prolonged uncertainty. Find out more and book your slot at this page: http://www.ivar.org.uk/leading-in-uncertainty/ 


About Selby District AVS: 

Our aim is simple – to enable the voluntary and community sector to grow and flourish, whilst at the same time supporting an inclusive community for everyone living and working in Selby District.

How do we do this?

  • Partnerships and Collaborations – hosting and contributing to a range of networks and forums
    Support, information, and guidance for any community group / organisation.
  • Direct service provision – Community Transport Scheme, Social Prescribing Service, Career Development Coaching, Employability training schemes, holistic support for vulnerable people.
  • Opportunities – to share information, bring people together, address gaps in service provision, trial new initiatives, and research community needs.

Find out more about Selby District AVS at:  http://selbydistrictavs.org.uk/

Follow them on social media: https://www.facebook.com/CommunityHouseSelby/

How peer support helped Battle Scars leader during 2020

IVAR introduction 

Leaders of smaller voluntary organisations experienced a prolonged period of uncertainty during 2020/21 in the height of Covid-19. Wanting to support the sector in a useful way, we offered sector leaders online peer support sessions called Emergency response support: ‘a space for solidarity and solace’.  From these sessions we built a picture of the challenges they faced and what they needed from funders in response: turning these into regular briefings. 

Following a positive reaction to the series of peer support sessions, our learning, and a clear need for continued support, we have re-launched peer support sessions with a focus on Leading in uncertainty. We asked emergency response session attendees to share their experiences of leading during the uncertainty of 2020 and how peer support sessions helped. Here, Jenny Groves of Battle Scars shares: 


1.   What was leadership like during COVID-19 (2020)?

Leadership felt rather isolating at times and, quite often, very stressful. Too many constant changes, too much uncertainty and too much pressure.

2.   Why is connecting with peers important for leaders?

Connecting with peers was vital, to share the difficulties we were experiencing and to find solutions together. It definitely helped to not feel alone.

3.   How did peer support session/s make you feel after talking on leadership and organisational challenges? 

 

Peer support helped me feel more understood and supported. No matter how much support I am getting from the trustees, and even the staff and volunteers, none of them can understand what it’s like to be the CEO — to be constantly problem-solving and planning for the next day, month and year, all at once.

It was extremely helpful being with other leaders, seeing how common such issues are and finding solutions together.

 


Leading in uncertainty

We are running 90 minute drop-in peer support sessions for up to 10 charity leaders at a time, every week, from June 2021 – via Zoom.  Join us for some time to pause and reflect, and to hear other leaders’ experiences of adapting to and coping with leading in prolonged uncertainty. Find out more and book your slot at this page: http://www.ivar.org.uk/leading-in-uncertainty/ 


About Battle Scars: 

Battle Scars are a small Leeds-based, 100% survivor-led and run charity providing UK-wide, virtual and Leeds/Wakefield face-to-face services, as well as online resources to anybody affected by self-harm.

Find out more about Battle Scars at: https://www.battle-scars-self-harm.org.uk/
Follow them on social media: https://www.facebook.com/BattleScarsSelfHarm https://twitter.com/BattleScars_SH

How peer support helped Willen Hospice leader during 2020

IVAR introduction 

Leaders of smaller voluntary organisations experienced a prolonged period of uncertainty during 2020/21 in the height of Covid-19. Wanting to support the sector in a useful way, we offered sector leaders online peer support sessions called Emergency response support: ‘a space for solidarity and solace’.  From these sessions we built a picture of the challenges they faced and what they needed from funders in response: turning these into regular briefings. 

Following a positive reaction to the series of peer support sessions, our learning, and a clear need for continued support, we have re-launched peer support sessions with a focus on Leading in uncertainty. We asked emergency response session attendees to share their experiences of leading during the uncertainty of 2020 and how peer support sessions helped. Here, Peta Wilkinson of Willen Hospice shares: 


1.   What was leadership like during COVID-19 (2020)?

 

Characterised by ambiguity, uncertainty, fear and uncertainty, it required great resilience, self-awareness and compassion. I think this has amplified the challenges associated with collaboration, decision making and prioritisation. Emotion has been a key feature of people’s response. People have felt vulnerable, which has impacted upon trust ­­– the cornerstone of effective management and leadership. 

Interestingly, as we emerged from lockdown and people saw light at the end of the tunnel, people’s exhaustion and introspection became more acute and it felt more difficult to focus on the broader organisational issues. This manifested itself in people feeling a lesser degree of trust, and to a certain extent, a level of paranoia.

I felt that my role in these difficult situations was to be adaptive and to remain connected to people. I felt that I took responsibility and was transparent but there was still a sense of a lack of clarity about decision making. I think the clinicians have felt that they dealt with the brunt of the situation and that people do not understand.

 

Constancy and resilience are a key feature of my response and a desire to protect people’s wellbeing and emotional stability. This has not always been easy as introspection needed to be managed so as not to cause a fracture between the clinical service provision and income generation elements of the charity.

 

Maintaining a focus on moving forward and being adaptive has had to be tempered with an attention to restoration and recovery which remains a challenge.

2.   Why is connecting with peers important for leaders?

 

It is important to connect with peers to be able to share experiences, reflect on how one might respond and also realise the personal impact it has on you as a person. I have found my connections both insightful and generative, and have valued opinions and support that have helped me to act more positively.

3.   How did peer support session/s make you feel after talking on leadership and organisational challenges? 

 

Better and more positive, even if it was sharing some of the grimness! I often felt somewhat de-humanised as the person responsible for everything. I felt more confident in engaging and making decisions, and in maintaining my presence, resilience and capability to act.


Leading in uncertainty

We are running 90 minute drop-in peer support sessions for up to 10 charity leaders at a time, every week, from June 2021 – via Zoom.  Join us for some time to pause and reflect, and to hear other leaders’ experiences of adapting to and coping with leading in prolonged uncertainty. Find out more and book your slot at this page: http://www.ivar.org.uk/leading-in-uncertainty/ 


About Willen Hospice: 

Willen is an adult Hospice providing specialist End of Life and Palliative care to people with a life limiting condition. We have an in-patient unit providing Holistic care focused on pain and symptom management and support in every area of a person’s life. We have a specialist Willen at Home team providing similar services in people’s own homes in the community. We have a specialist social work team providing support to adults and children, a pre and post bereavement service for adults and children, a specialist lymphedema service, psychological services, specialist therapy and complementary therapies. We also provide a Cancer Care in the Community Service for people on a palliative or curative pathway.  All these services and support work in an integrated way to provide bespoke services to each patient and their family and loved ones.

Find out more about Willen Hospice at: https://www.willen-hospice.org.uk/ 
Follow them on social media: https://twitter.com/willenhospice 

Communities need flexible funders to influence the public sector

Over the last three weeks, I’ve met 32 leaders of small and medium voluntary organisations at four online peer support sessions. I have been inspired by their dedication and creativity: by hook or by crook, they have made it possible for services to reach people in dire need. Used to a turbulent environment and light on bureaucracy, their organisations moved remarkably quickly in response to the immediate crisis of lockdown, and have proved remarkably adaptable and resilient throughout the twists and turns that followed. Children with learning disabilities; undocumented young migrants; families of prisoners; housebound older people – all, and many more, have been supported by local organisations.

But the duration of the crisis, and the extreme levels of uncertainty, have stretched many close to their limits. And now, as we emerge out of an extended period of restrictions into a period of unpredictability, leaders are faced with harsh realities. On the one hand, demand for services is growing, from people with increasingly complex needs; on the other, staff are exhausted and funding is precarious.  

Our recent conversations – like with charity CEOs we met through our Leading in Uncertainty peer support sessions   echo much of what we heard in our 2012 study of social welfare voluntary organisations and their experiences of navigating their way through the recession. Then, as now, we heard stories of resilience and determination, as well as anxiety and despair.

‘I found the lack of recognition of our sector during the pandemic difficult… it was often forgotten that charities were still open and providing essential services too.’

At the same time, through both the recession and the pandemic, we have been reminded of the disproportionately important role that trusts and foundations play in supporting these organisations. Since March 2020, their flexibility has offered a lifeline, ensuring the continuation of essential services and activities.

In particular, the emergency has shown us that lighter, more flexible, more trusting funding practices are possible.  And hopes are now high that trusts and foundations will ‘keep the faith’ through the period of prolonged upheaval and uncertainty that lies ahead. This is the driver behind the open and trusting grant-making campaign , with its commitment to sustain and build on progressive practices for the future.

In 2012, we heard a plea for trusts and foundations to step into an advocacy role, using their influence to stimulate and facilitate debate and action about the adverse effect of public sector funding cuts and the decimation of public services. The response was, largely, to remain silent. For some, taking on this role felt like a step too far away from independence and into ‘campaigning’. For others, there was a concern that sweeping statements would ignore the constraints faced by public agencies, and might ‘tar everyone with the same brush and ignore the pockets of flexible public sector practice’.

However, almost ten years later – faced with similar difficulties around government funding, and in ‘the foothills of the economic shock’, the need for someone to speak out remains urgent:

‘We have put in a massive shift. Often unheralded, or taken for granted. Our work is vital, but it can’t just happen on a wing and a prayer. And it’s not just about one tweak here, and one tweak there. We need the whole system to change.’

‘If reporting deadlines on one grant shift, or processes for another become easier, that’s great. But unless that becomes standard practice across the board, the stress and the burden are still there.’

‘Our vital contribution isn’t really understood by statutory authorities. But without the support of these bigger players, we will not be here to make the system work: reaching minoritised communities, interpreting the benefits system, plugging gaps and mopping up mess.’

Trusts and foundations – with their prize assets of independence and leverage – are perfectly placed to step up and argue for greater consistency and flexibility in how the work of voluntary organisations is funded, both within their own sector, as well across all levels of government. This is not the moment to be bashful. For, without vocal and concerted effort, there is a genuine risk that vital organisations providing essential services will buckle under the strain.