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Do you know which harbour you are heading for?

Do you know which harbour you are heading for?

As Seneca wrote, if you don’t know which harbour you are heading for, no wind is the right wind. He probably didn’t have fundraising in mind, but his quotation is strangely relevant to charity today.

I have just been advising a charity that has lost much of its statutory funding. We are looking at funding diversification of course, but a key question for the trustees is whether to reconfigure their services to be eligible for alternative state funding (which, like the wind, has changed direction and for this charity could be risky) or whether to stick resolutely to the course established by the charity’s founders, which could mean they slowly sink. The problem is, they don’t know.

This is an interesting challenge to any pilot trying to steer a ship through rough waters and into calmer seas. Not only where to head for, but how to decide, especially if the ship is also leaking.

In charity terms, changing direction might be seen as mission drift – being blown off course by the “wrong wind”. Or is this just a prudent helmsman, seeking the best wind to take the ship forwards? Should they just keep bailing and hope to be rescued?

Certainly, it is not tenable to do nothing, as the risks are too great. Allowing the ship to drift and eventually sink is definitely mission failure. On the other hand, it takes courage to seize the helm and chart a new course, especially if the waters are unknown and there may be rocks (as well as possibly sharks).

There are certainly no easy answers, but one thing is certain here – leadership is key. The trustees will be debating their options. Whichever way they decide to go, they will need to make a clear decision, then having chosen the harbour they are heading for, steer the charity resolutely on that course.

Does your charity know which harbour it is heading for and how it will get there?

Simon George is a Director of Wootton George Consulting and a Fellow of the Institute of Fundraising. He has worked in fundraising since 1987 and works with a wide range of charities with special interests in fundraising , trusts and legacies. Tel 01785 663600.

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Simon George, BSc (hons) FInstF (dip) is a Director of Wootton George Consulting and has been fundraising since 1987. He has special interests in fundraising strategy, legacies and charitable trusts. A longstanding member of the Institute of Fundraising, he founded its Trusts and Statutory Special Interest Group in 1999 and was also the first Chair of the IoF’s West Midlands region. He has written two e-books on legacies and grant fundraising, published by SPMFundessentials and has achieved the Diploma in Fundraising Management. In 2010 he was made a Fellow of the Institute of Fundraising. Today he manages a team of 20 fundraising consultants around the UK.

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