Almost every cause-based organisation is established with a noble intent. At the outset they have highly motivated volunteers and employees who believe in the cause and give it their all. From this exuberant birthing stage interesting things seem to happen. Some continue to thrive and their level of social impact grows exponentially. Many others struggle and quickly fall into a survival mode. Their impact is stunted and eventually they merge with other organisations or fold and disappear altogether.
It is this difference between surviving and thriving that has caught our attention. We have called upon our collective experiences in the sector, consulted with Leaders in the field and researched extensively and have come to the conclusion that there are key differentiators, characteristics or Touchstones, as we call them, that set the “thrivers” apart from the “survivors”.
And these are they……….
Cause-Cause-Cause. The Cause is all important. It has to be needed by society. The organisation must be totally focused on this Cause. And it needs to be unambiguous and clearly articulated so it motivates, can be embraced and is supportable.
Bold Leadership. Here we are talking about Boards and the Senior Executive. The organisation’s Board must have a group of committed people who embrace and pursue the organisation’s cause relentlessly. They need to be connected with community, understand their governance responsibilities, stick to policy and know when to ditch a good idea. The Senior Executive continually challenge the status quo and are exceptionally adaptive. They can respond to changing circumstances with one innovation after another. Sure they make mistakes but have also mastered the ability to listen, learn, and change their approach so any failure is a mere speed bump.
Capability. Thriving organisations have staff who aren’t only advocates but are evangelists for the cause. To grow to this place they need to be well recruited, sensitively inducted, constantly trained, well managed, motivated and engaged.
Road Map. Call it a Strategic Plan, call it what you want, but a vision for the future is essential as too is the plan to do it. Without their map “survivors” are wondering in circles in the Simpson Desert hoping to be rescued.
Marketing to the Max. The “thrivers” understand that everything they do is marketing, and see every act, from service provision to how the phone is answered, as a marketing opportunity to pursue their cause.
Technology. Effective organisations embrace technology as an enabler. They understand the fact, whether they like it or not, that technology touches all aspects of our lives every hour of every day, and it has permanently changed the ways they offer and buy services, recruit, manage, communicate, raise funds, and share and acquire knowledge.
Program Excellence & Advocacy. A truly effective organisation doesn’t only deliver great programs as these on their own will not affect large-scale social change. So they add policy advocacy to gain community support, have Governments to take notice and, if necessary, eventually change legislation.
Revenue Diversity. Quite simply, organisations that have diversified sources of income also have the ability to deliver on their cause without waiting for a white knight. “Pigs might fly” we hear you say. OK, have a look at some highly impactful and growing organisations and you will find that they gave up waiting for their white knight and took action to make it happen.
A Tight Ship. Basic yet comprehensive and technology enabled HR, finance, OH&S, risk management, program, quality, media policies and procedures are essential. When these areas run like clockwork is it far easier to concentrate on the cause.
Effect. Here we are talking about social or community impact. Effective organisations do far more than record the number of clients visited or how much was spent on a program – these indicators tell you nothing. Rather they continually assess changes in behaviour and personal circumstance – Is a person now literate? Has the homeless family moved from their car to permanent, secure and affordable housing etc.?
It is our contention that the more an organisation visits these Touchstones the greater the chances are that they will emerge from the “survivor” zone and move into, and stay, in the “thriver” zone.
But here is the thing, visiting these Touchstones is not a project, it is an ongoing process!