Organisational Resilience: Building a more resilient sector

During Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, we look back at what we have learnt so far during our Organisational Resilience programme and ways of working with funders and commissioners to build a more resilient sector.

Last year, we developed an Organisational Resilience programme to enable small charities to adapt to sudden changes which impact their organisations. Against the backdrop of the pandemic, Victoria Burrows, CEO of Improving Lives Notts – currently on secondment at the Foundation - looks back at the project so far, what we have learnt, and ways of working with funders and commissioners to build a more resilient sector.

During my secondment, alongside work in our six communities, I have been working on our Organisational Resilience programme. We use the Cranfield School of Management definition of Organisation resilience "the ability of an organization to anticipate, prepare for, respond and adapt to incremental change and sudden disruptions in order to survive and prosper". Our aim is to create a programme that can help charities take control of their future and move forward with purpose.

As Tom Watson, one of the consultants who has been working with us on developing this programme,  wrote in his blog the term resilience is sometimes taken to mean the ability to endure – a feeling I think we can all relate to during the pandemic. I’m writing this in the lead up to mental health awareness week and at a time when our personal resilience has been tested to the maximum, it seems right to think about our Organisational Resilience programme and how it is evolving.


The story so far

From January to April, we ran the programme in two of our communities, Merthyr Tydfil and Telford and Wrekin.


Using a facilitated approach, we brought together leaders and staff from charities and community organisations to think about what, how and why they operate under the pillars of Money, Purpose and People. These pillars could be said to form the basis of resilient organisations, they have been developed with charities, funders and commissioners. The pillars have sets of principles within them that are set out as questions.


We don’t have the answers and the programme doesn’t aim to provide them but working through the questions together, participants found support from their peers.


Less formal sessions were also offered alongside the weekly or fortnightly facilitated ones as a way to offer more targeted support. Participants were able to identify things they were doing well and areas they wanted to work on, it was a place for learning about each other and exploring ways to work together. The shared understanding of the place and community they were working in provided a springboard for potential partnerships and helped build a sense of ‘we’re in this together’. We will share the evaluation findings of these pilot sessions in June.


How the programme works

The framework we use for building resilience is the Organisational Resilience Guide The idea is that people use these peer-facilitated sessions during the Organisational Resilience programme to think about the questions that resonate with them and what they need to work on within their organisation. By doing so, organisations can identify their strengths to build on and weaknesses that may need addressing.


For example, under the Purpose pillar, one of the questions is “do your staff and board all understand the purpose and value of your organisation?”


One of the organisations taking part in the programme immediately sent a survey to members of her board and external stakeholders asking them. By asking this question, the organisation was able to find out if people involved understand what the organisation does and be able to advocate for it better.


The guide can be used on a self-directed basis, in a peer session – as we did or to build resilience in the place by looking at the ecosystem charities operate in. After the facilitated sessions are completed charities are encouraged to take the guide and work with their organisations – our role during the sessions is to just help them think differently and give them prompts. They choose the areas they feel they need to strengthen. We remind them that we are not the experts on their organisation or context, they are.

Resilience: working together, in action

Merthyr Tydfil is one of the UK’s worst affected areas by COVID. The community has shown amazing resilience and the ability to adapt their services quickly and with very limited resources.

It was humbling knowing how great the loss was in their communities and how they had united to offer support to those who needed it the most.


The engagement of funders and commissioners, Councillors and Voluntary Action Merthyr Tydfil in this programme led to conversations about how to support each other and work together better. Resilience is high on their strategic agenda due partly to the voluntary and community sector response to COVID-19 and partly as it is part of Welsh policy thanks to the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act where one of the goals is to build a more resilient Wales.


As a facilitator, I heard about the ongoing challenges facing charities - the increase in demand for services and the complexity of needs, the lack of money and the need to keep innovating to keep up with demand.


None of these challenges are new – but they are now more urgent than ever, with less funding in the public purse and less funding from foundations and grantmakers.


Charities, like people, find it hard to be resilient on their own. Working together in a place or community and not in sectors might help to both support resilience and means that services are there for those that need them the most.


If people can work and think together differently, can we make services more sustainable? To do this, we all need to be more resilient, and the organisational resilience programme can support that.

Learn about Organisational Resilience

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