OPINION: Study the past to make a plan for the future

Many voluntary organisations have a problem with the past. Most were started as the result of the beliefs, passion and drive of one or a few individuals. Their clarity of vision and purpose is usually what drew people together in the first place and helped shape the organisation into what it is today.

However, times change and successful organisations need to change. As the organisation grows in size and success, so does the need for managerial skills, professionalism, operational standards and procedures.

But how do you achieve that without ditching its soul? How do you continue to encapsulate the essence, the pulse, the heart and the drive of the organisation? How do you stop the past from coming back to haunt you?

Here are a few tips. Listen to the leading lights of the charity, delve into its archives, read old newsletters and talk to supporters. Take part in the rituals that reflect the core of the organisation. Learn the language, discover the folklore, breathe and immerse yourself in its heritage. Imagine it to be a magic cloak that you wrap around yourself. When donning this, it enables you to interpret and value the important, but at times illogical, aspects of your organisation.

I know a story about one of today's large charities, which was started by six parents who met in one of their living rooms and decided to do something to better the lives of children with disabilities. As the charity gained in reputation and standing, at least 50 people claimed to have been part of the original six. Did it matter? Not one jot. By recognising the achievements of all involved since the start of the charity, they were able to carry forward the original drive and enthusiasm, keep the folklore intact and move on.

Our history can only bog us down if we let it. Voluntary organisations need to recognise the value of their histories, celebrate the triumphs, exorcise the ghosts and use this to add continuity to strategic planning.

Approached with respect and intelligence, it can be woven into the fabric of our future. It can strengthen our resolve, inform our decisions and inspire new directions. You could call it the "back to the future

approach.

Geraldine Peacock is chief executive of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association

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