So Where Are We?
The financial meltdown of September 2008 seems like a lifetime ago, but the media have managed to maintain a healthy focus on how dire the world situation continues to be, constantly bombarding us with stories and insights of gloom. Of course much of this is real, but three years of these stories has definitely cemented caution, concern and pessimism in the minds of much of the UK population.
Despite the fact that we are officially not in recession (I never did understand the mind and methodologies of the economists) I believe that most people now view the situation as pretty permanent for the foreseeable future; Seth Godin summed it up well in a recent post when he declared that we are now in the ‘forever recession’, which he breaks down into two recessions the cyclical one that started this time around in 2008 and the permanent one driven by loss of jobs that will never be reinstated, the change in spending habits that may never revert to where they were and the death of the industrial age simply changing the way we do things for ever. Strangely, the digital era seems to have come of age on the peak of the recession, showing the power of digital and its true ability to change every aspect of peoples lives at every level, Seth went as far as saying ‘laptops are the new factories’, massive food for thought in my book.
I have no intention of falling into line with the doom and gloom of the ‘forever recession’, but I do believe that we have to accept its real and here to stay so we now have no choice but to continue to change the way we think, act and plan. Too many people seem to be waiting for ‘things to get better’; they may, but no one in our sector can afford to sit around and wait. At the start of the current cyclical recession, all sorts of predictions were made on the delayed effect of the different economic collapses.
We looked at the effect on disposable income, loyal donors, corporate partners, grant funders and service contracts from government; while many of our predictions were right we didn’t foresee how long the ‘waves’ of cuts and adjustments would continue to hit. If we’re honest, to date, things haven’t been as bad as we thought they might be and people have shown their commitment to charities, but against this, the waves that are only just really flowing in now are the larger ones in terms of statutory funding, which will ripple through to every other form of fundraising.
I know how hard most of the people in our sector work, but I have to challenge this further and ask if we have raised the bar high enough and can we truly say that we are doing enough? When I say ‘enough’ I mean both internally fighting our corner and externally in managing risk faster in real time as we seek new ways to secure funding, loyalty and recognition for our causes. At the start of the cyclical recession boards listened more to their financial teams and sought to introduce caps, cuts and caution, but this seems to be changing with more interest in the fundraising team and what they can do to protect a charity’s income and provide new support to maintain and grow programmes.
A couple of years ago I was asked to contribute to a visioning day for the team behind Children in Need at the BBC. They brought together a range of thinkers from different walks of life to challenge their in-house team and, while I can hear the groans as I write this, we have to celebrate what that team has consistently gone on to do: increase income, reinvent itself, stay relevant, take new risks and always believe in itself and what it can achieve to transform the lives of children.
This year they increased income by 45% on the broadcast night, simply unbelievable, but instead of thinking ‘its easy when you have the BBC’ we should be thinking how inspirational this is in challenging us to raise our games and to take just a little bit of their thinking to change something today and tomorrow. We will never have bottomless budgets or sensible timeframes to achieve things, but I do believe we have exceptional brainpower and creativity if we fight to use it and push it just a little bit harder.