For the past seven or so years, I’ve laid on occasional free seminars for the non-profit leaders in my network. At first, I did one or two a year, but they slowly grew in frequency to the point where I was doing something most months.
But in March, as the pandemic took over and lockdown came in, it was obvious that leaders needed far more time with me and their peers than ever before: to share challenges, garner ideas, and to gain some degree of perspective on everything that was happening.
So, I started putting on weekly seminars. Since then, more than 200 different executives from across the sector have joined me for at least one session, and they’ve become more popular and productive than I could possibly have imagined.
For example, a year ago I’m not sure I would have had the hubris to try calling together the chief executives of some of the UK’s biggest volunteering organisations – including RVS, Scouts, Girlguiding, St John Ambulance, NSPCC, British Red Cross and Oxfam – to talk together about the future of volunteering in a post-Covid age, but in December that’s exactly what I did; and before the session had finished, they were already asking for another.
In this year of years, we’ve all discovered we can achieve a great deal more than perhaps we thought.
In one of those first “Covid Calls” back in April, chief executives were already talking about having seen their IT teams deliver rollouts that would previously have taken 18 months, in just 18 days.
In innumerable conversations since then, people have shared with me how their charities have risen to the challenge; how their people have stepped up way beyond expectations in response to the needs of the moment.
Across the sector, we’ve witnessed a new level of agility and responsiveness; a step change in decisive confidence; an increasingly pervasive “can-do” mentality; and a huge acceleration in the pace of change, systems rollouts, collaboration and problem-solving, at just about every level.
The worst thing any of us can do right now is put those huge advances down to “crisis response”.
The crisis was the catalyst, not the source, of this phenomenon. The source was the vast untapped potential within each of us that simply never had the opportunity to show itself before.
There is a lot to be said for Marianne Williamson’s most famous (and most often misattributed) quote: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
In the next couple of months there is, for all of us, the greatest window of opportunity for positive change that we may ever see.
It is the opportunity to bring our people together to look back at what they’ve achieved and to use that as the starting point, to redefine our culture and expectations, to build on what we’ve seen and done, to become the best that we’ve shown we can be, and more.
The question for all third sector leaders right now is not: “Can we keep this up once the crisis ends?”
The question is: “If we can achieve all that in the teeth of an unprecedented headwind, what can we achieve with a calm sea, the wind at our backs, and full mast of sail?”
Martyn Drake is founder of the management consultancy firm Binley Drake Consulting