Voluntary Sector: Response and Recovery

A Guest Blog Post from Cranfield Trust CEO, Amanda Tincknell, CBE

Two quotes from well-known Americans came to mind recently. Donald Rumsfeld, American Defence Secretary in the Ford and Bush presidencies, said “… as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.”

Daryl Conner, who writes about and teaches change management, said in a recent Cranfield Trust webinar: "External complexity can't be controlled but internal uncertainty can be managed.”

It’s a time of many known unknowns; a highly complex environment for the voluntary sector. As leaders and managers, we need to do our best in working through it: holding fast to our purpose in supporting our communities.

Since lockdown, back in March, the whole sector has had to take a crash course in managing change. We have faced fears and met challenges in providing support to the people who depend on us, we have embraced technology to help us maintain our services and organisations, and we have stood up for our sector with government.

Finding some positives: it’s been a time of collaboration, communication and learning, as communities of all types have worked together – whether providing food for neighbours or campaigning for the sector under the #NeverMoreNeeded banner.

But so far, we’ve been changing in response to events, and with no sign of a ‘new normal’ on the horizon, we need to think about the longer term. At Cranfield Trust, we work with over 500 frontline charities a year on pro bono management consultancy and mentoring assignments. We’re seeing organisations across the country working to make difficult decisions, to support their staff and volunteers through change, and to cope with being overstretched, over a long period. We’re working with them to prepare for and to keep coping over the next twelve months.

To be ready for change, organisations need structure. As Daryl Conner said, we can manage internal uncertainty. We need to be planning ahead, exploring possible scenarios, to be ready to adapt as things change again over the next few months. We need robust and reliable information – cashflow forecasts, costs, contract terms – so that we know the boundaries of our control and can make decisions confidently.

Alongside this, we have to recognise that ‘building back better’ isn’t going to mean rebuilding the same structures and organisations. We need to be thinking about system change. We’ve collaborated in response to the pandemic, we now need to collaborate in thinking about the world ahead. We need to look at things differently; to focus on the problems, not previous solutions, to form new bonds and working patterns, and to stay ambitious in the face of harsh resource constraints.

So much has been achieved in the last few months, in the face of adversity. While the adversity won’t diminish, I’m confident that, as a sector, we have the tools, the imagination, the networks and the knowledge to get through it, one decision at a time.

Amanda Tincknell, Cranfield Trust CEO

Amanda was chair of our Voluntary Sector Response and Recovery Conference 2020.