Things to work on during a recession

Paul Breckell of the RNID says charity professionals should take some advice from JFK

We are in the midst of a recession, and if predictions about its length and depth turn out to be right it will be more significant than any for a generation. In such challenging times, what should a charity financial professional be doing? I'd like to offer some thoughts, illustrated by four quotes by the 35th US president, John F Kennedy.

"The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining." It is essential for charity finance professionals to understand the financial model of their organisations, and they should have put some thought into this during better times.

However, to extend JFK's metaphor, it's not merely raining today - it's pouring. If leaks are appearing in the roof, you have no choice but to get up there with a hammer and nails. Are there areas of activity that are no longer sustainable or that need to change radically?

"There are risks and costs to a programme of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction." Business analysis and strategic planning become more important than ever in a recession. The charity finance professional needs to make sure that management information is being produced in a timely and accessible manner, and that it is being noticed in all of the places where decision-making is taking place.

"When we got into office, the thing that surprised me the most was that things were as bad as we'd been saying they were." In difficult times, staff members will be much more receptive to urgent action and will see the need for it when it comes to an economy drive.

Encourage your staff to look for economy and efficiency opportunities wherever they can, and don't forget that your suppliers are no doubt feeling the pinch too. In a recession there are always opportunities to do a deal, renegotiate an agreement early or secure a discount, so don't be afraid to ask.

"The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word 'crisis'. One brush stroke stands for danger, the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger, but recognise the opportunity." There are opportunities as well as threats when any situation changes. A new economic reality might make internal and external stakeholders more receptive to changes in strategy, focus or the nature of service delivery. There might also be opportunities for partnership working, shared services or mergers. It is important not to simply batten down the hatches and wait for the recession to end.

- Paul Breckell is executive director of finance and corporate resources at the RNID

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