If there is one thing that 2020 and the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us, its that social impact organisations, just like any other business, have to be flexible enough to pivot their business models quickly, effectively and efficiently.
We can no longer rely on only looking backwards to estimate what the next 12 months are going to be like, or indeed, assuming that work will continue along an even-keel trajectory. Forecasting and looking forward to understand where you want to take your organisation and what it might need to get there is going to become even more important – central, in fact, to the ‘new normal’. This is where social impact organisations can have the edge over traditional businesses. Most of you have either a Theory of Change or a Strategic Framework that sets out your vision for the future and what you will focus on to realise that future. While not the traditional approach to forecasting, having a forward-looking vision already sets you aside from other businesses and organisations. It means that even though income or funding might not be secure, you can regularly review your operations to understand how to pivot your work to continue to pursue your vision, even in a changed funding or operational landscape. The organisations that have been most successful in 2020 have been those that haven’t lost sight of the essence of why they exist, and have instead changed what they do and how they do it.
This also means you have to be comfortable with innovating and capturing your learning so that it can be a base for future development. Pivoting the operation is all about innovating: introducing new ways of working, new services, new client groups to support alongside existing client groups. You might think that this is a higher risk approach, but in reality not innovating is going to cost more and increase your risks over time to the point where your organisation is no longer viable.
For all the horror that Covid-19 has visited upon us, it is an opportunity to adapt and grow. You have to seize this opportunity to refocus your social impact organisation and make it fit for the future. This means a lot more ‘creative destruction’ within social impact and civil society over the next few years as organisations, sectors and issues rise and fall and disappear, to be replaced with something else. If you’re focused on the future, keeping an eye on operations and the horizon to see what’s coming, it won’t be such a bumpy ride.
So, how sustainable is your organisational model – now?