When opportunity knocks, make sure you are ready

Organisations often fail to take advantage of the possibilities available to them, says Helen Simmons of the Diocese of London

Helen Simmons
Helen Simmons

The rioters who took to the streets in cities across England last month have demonstrated - in the worst way - how to be ruthlessly opportunistic in life.

Perhaps these people were driven by life experiences that have lacked the opportunity that many of us take for granted - to experience a happy family life with both parents around, to be properly clothed, fed, loved and supported through childhood and in their education, and to be taught right from wrong by someone they respect rather than by a stranger who purports to be a surrogate 'family' for them on the streets.

The flipside to this is that those who are given opportunities every day in life are often at risk of becoming blase. In our own organisations, how often do we let opportunities pass us by, perhaps failing even to spot them in the first place?

Ten years ago, organisational SWOT analysis - strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats - was a standard part of the planning process. It seems to have slipped out of fashion these days - but sometimes the simplest tools are the most effective.

It reminds me of the time I was messing around for hours doing the bathroom grouting, using a vast array of strangely shaped tools, before I discovered that my thumb was the most effective tool of all. Sometimes, when we know we have a good tool, and we know there is a job that needs doing, we still manage to get distracted by the day-to-day, the 'urgent unimportant' and the reactive.

With turbulence in the markets, on the streets and in the charity funding world, shouldn't we all pause to reassess the elements in our own SWOT analysis?

Here at the Diocese of London, we have tried to do just that and are taking the opportunity to recruit a head of fundraising for the first time. We want to boost our ability to respond strategically to opportunities to fund mission work, particularly with children and particularly in deprived areas across London. At a time when many organisations are having to cut back, we want to expand the capacity of our parishes by topping back up the depleted Bishop of London's Mission Fund.

This fund has given grants to the most innovative community projects in our London parishes for years, and the needs have never been greater than now. There are no guarantees that it will work, but we've done our analysis, we've done our homework and, having calculated the risks, we believe there is an opportunity to be taken.

For your organisation, the opportunity might be to merge, to rent out space, to step into a new area of activity or even to withdraw in order to encourage the self-sustainability of someone you fund.

The important question to ask is where you will be when opportunity knocks. Will you find yourself down the bottom of the garden weeding? Lolling in the bath, navel-gazing? Spinning plates in the kitchen? Or ready and waiting at the door?

Helen Simmons, is finance director at the Diocese of London

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