Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Calling 2009

New Years Eve 2008. Like everyone else I am taking stock. The year ahead feels `safe' - in the sense that I can, to a reasonable extent, forsee what may and may not happen in my own organisation. In fact, it could even be `good', if we get certain decisions right. And, unlike a lot of people I know, I am pretty sure I will be working this time next year, if not New Years Eve 2010!

So how do I see the risks? One is that my organisation, like all of them, was built on a booming economy and an expanding public sector. Being successful in such conditions is not an act of genius.

Keeping it up in a major recession will show how many of us have been swimming naked. My hunch is that the downturn will provide the jolt to our sector it has need for a very long time. Performance will matter more, both individually and organisationally. My fear is that a lot of our organisations do not have a way of working in the Robert Peston era.

For Speaking Up, a lot depends on how fast we can do the things all organisations need to do. Understand that we could, with the wrong decisions, go into rapid decline in the 2010s. Realise that value will shape all contracting and grants and reshape accordingly. Deal with problems more rapidly than ever before. Forget old rivalries and collaborate with people who share our mission. Understand what is special about us an power-inject this into our weaker areas of delivery. Rapidly turn nice new ideas that have been hanging around for a while into touchable products and services people will PAY FOR today.

So what of the wider sector? Here's my own predictions for 2009.

1. The End for a significant number of charity brands. Probably not the top ten but a lot in the next hundred. What the public don't really get to know is that our sector contains its own version of Woolies, MFI and all the other crap businesses that were found wanting once the boom ended. The lucky ones will find refuge in mergers that, frankly, should have happened years ago. Others will just spiral and die.

2. Loads of CEOs leaving or being fired. Most third sector CEOs have never led in this situation. Many will not be able to move fast enough or radically enough to sort our their organisation. The job will prove too much for a great many.

3. The end of the sector's easy-going relationship with Government. The lines are already opening up as the sector competes with just about every other for the Government's attention. The truth is that we are quite important to the Government, but not that important in a year like the one we're about to have.

4. The beginning of the end of the civil wars within the sector. The spats of the past (NCVO/ACEVO/DSC/NAVCA etc) were just about affordable pre-downturn. Now we need to work as one as never before. Watch out for emerging discussion this year about common platform, infrastructure and even leadership across the main sector bodies.

5. Winners as well as losers. Not all third sector organisations will have a bad recession. Some will grow, improve and use the `blazing platform' presented by the downturn to engineer some long-needed improvements in their offer. Change is the child of crisis. Expect to see some organisations pulling their finger out in the next couple of years.

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