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NCVO: organisational strategy

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NCVO's Head of Digital and Communications, Megan Griffith Gray shares with us the experience of putting together an organisational strategy.


In the early summer of 2013 NCVO started to develop a new strategy, which we finally published in March 2014. It’s been a massive project and now that we’ve launched our new five-year strategy, it feels like a good time to think about what I’ve learned.

Issue(s) we faced

One key issue we faced was bridging the gap between the vision of the trustees and the views of staff.

Our process began with our trustees in a strategy development session. Six months after the merger of NCVO and Volunteering England it was clear that the trustees were invigorated by the challenges and opportunities facing the new organisation. There was lively debate about how NCVO could support less formal forms of social action and connect with groups at the point at which people began to organise.

When the strategy process shifted back to the office it became clear to me that the trustees’ vision had not been heard by staff and did not yet resonate with them. We got there in the end, but it struck me that we need to work hard if the intent of a board is to be realised through a strategy largely developed by staff.

What we did

Our strategy process took the following form:

  • Board strategy development session 
  • Month long engagement with our members and other external stakeholders (‘#steer ncvo’)
  • Staff engagement and first iteration of the strategy
  • Refinement and detail
  • Communication

What went well

Engagement with our staff went particularly well. Important strategic decisions are often made in the context of a merger or a restructure (or both). These can make it hard for staff to engage in a meaningful way. So, it was a relief to be able to involve everyone in developing our new strategy together. Fitting the work in around everyone’s very busy workloads wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.

Some of the best parts of the strategy came out of sessions that each of our directors led around the five aims.

We are also proud of how we communicated the strategy. After all, all that work is for nothing if people don’t want to read it! I have amazing colleagues who did fantastic work helping us to explain our strategy in simple and engaging ways. We debated for hours about our vision and mission statement, wanting to write something that conveyed our passion for what we do without using terrible jargon. We worked with an illustrator to explain the strategy in pictures.

A strategy is not communicated in a day – we know that we need to keep our focus on explaining what we’re doing and why.

What didn't go well

A particular challenge we faced was in asking the right questions early on when consulting. After the board meeting, we spent a month on what we called #steerncvo. We asked our members and other stakeholders about their concerns, wishes and priorities. Working out which questions to ask was quite a challenge!

We knew it was best practice to ask open questions, but we shied away from this approach. This was partly because we have asked these questions many times, for different purposes, and we knew we had all of the rich responses that we needed. We didn’t want to waste people’s time asking the same questions again. We also wanted to get to the heart of some of the dilemmas we faced in setting the right strategy and to ask the really important questions.

We asked a mixture of standard open questions and some specific questions. If we were doing this again we might use different questions, and I definitely think we’d explain some of them differently. That said, trying to ask the right questions in the right way is always worth doing.

Continued staff involvement was also something that could have gone better. As mentioned above, we were proud of how we engagement staff in developing the strategy. But after that phase was over we didn’t focus enough on keeping staff in touch with how the strategy continued to evolve. I regret this – I hope that our work running up to the launch managed to enthuse my colleagues again.

Key lessons learnt

It is too early to measure the impact of our new strategy on the changes we want to see for the voluntary sector and volunteering movement, but we can see some positive outcomes internally.

Developing strategies can be an invigorating process, full of debate and hope. The conversations that we had were invaluable in clarifying what we’re here to do (for example, one fantastic session about what it means to be a ‘champion’). We now have a very clear and, I believe, motivating strategy to drive forward our work and focus our priorities.

Page last edited Mar 15, 2016

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Caroline Copeman