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Welcome To The Boiling Frog
Hello, I’m Jenny Hopkins and I’m the founder of The Boiling Frog blog. I wanted to use this first post to welcome you properly to this new community blog site.
The Boiling Frog is aimed at professionals working in, or in partnership with, the nonprofit and voluntary sector, of which charities make up a large part. Visit the site to read about issues that matter to our industry; look out, as well, for how-to articles where I will share as much knowledge and experience as I can. If you are a senior manager in a small or medium-sized charity, The Boiling Frog will prove particularly useful.
I’m so glad to have you as part of the The Boiling Frog reader community and I hope you’re going to find this blog site interesting and insightful.
First things first, though, I feel it’s only right for me to introduce myself and share some of my values.
Why I write for and about the nonprofit and voluntary sector
Today I am a director at Penleaf, working as an adviser to senior managers and Board members in the nonprofit and voluntary sector, and also a trustee/director of two charities.
Before that, from 2008-2018, I was CEO of a charity in Gloucestershire, England. The ten years I spent there were some of the toughest and rewarding of my career. No question, it was a rollercoaster ride in the effort to achieve financial sustainability, but thankfully by the time I left I could feel confident it was in the best shape of its 100-year-history.
The experience I had at that charity left me with a burning desire to share what I had learned. Also, to reflect on the occasional difficult times which, from conversations with professional colleagues, were by no means specific to my organisation.
When the time came to move on, I decided that instead of taking the obvious next step of leading another charity, I would turn to consultancy and writing full time. My purpose now is to share knowledge and at the same time lead a debate for change to help other charities, some of which are seriously struggling. So, that’s really the incentive behind this community blog. I hope it will engage those of you working in or alongside the nonprofit and voluntary sector, and that between us we’ll create powerful discussions on some of the most important issues affecting our organisations today.
How we came up with the name ‘The Boiling Frog’
Every blog should have a memorable title, but it also has to be relevant. For me, the parable of the boiling frog captures perfectly the image I have of where the voluntary and community sector stands today.
The story goes that if you put a frog into boiling water, it will immediately try to climb out; however, if you place it gently into room temperature water and slowly turn the heat up, it fails to recognise the danger and eventually boils to death.
I believe that over the past ten years or more, the expectations put upon the nonprofit and voluntary sector by government, local authorities and health organisations, and indeed the public, has changed slowly but significantly. The result has been a rising temperature of the sector ‘saucepan’. We have already seen the demise of very many smaller charities; my concern is that even the best small- and medium-sized charity ‘frogs’ are now under threat, and they may not even realise it.
Why we should all care about the temperature of the sector ‘saucepan’
When charities fail, people who know little or nothing about the sector will sometimes say, ‘Well, that’s the way it goes. It’s about survival of the fittest’. Such a matter-of-fact response is understandable. Except voluntary and community organisations are not private businesses, and an over simplification of the consequences when charities and other nonprofits fail pays no respect to the uniqueness of the sector.
The survival of nonprofits and voluntary organisations matters to us all. Very many are charities carrying out vital frontline work to support disabled, sick, vulnerable or disadvantaged people in our society. If you are lucky enough that you and your family have not needed the help of a charity or voluntary organisation so far, the chances are that one day you will.
We can each of us play a part in helping organisations within this important sector to become more resilient. We can do this by speaking up for them; and we can do it by being honest enough to share where lasting improvements need to come from within.
Values in action – what nonprofits and voluntary organisations do best
Am I wearing rose-tinted spectacles when I speak about charities? I trust not. After all, I didn’t start my career in the nonprofit and voluntary sector. In fact, I worked for a number of years in publishing and advertising. I was an in-house and then freelance editor and copywriter, and later set up my own magazine publishing business.
However, life took an unexpected turn when a hearing impairment I have had since childhood slowly started to become more of an issue. I reached a point eventually when I was losing the confidence to carry on, I saw a recruitment advertisement for the senior manager post of a local deaf charity, applied and was successful.
To this day, I am grateful for the foresightedness of the interview panel which took a gamble on this outsider. I had no previous experience of working for a charity other than occasional volunteering. Yet the organisation’s trustees decided to put their faith in my business and professional writing skills.
To my astonishment at the time, they even responded positively when I mentioned that I would need some adjustments in the office and at meetings for my hearing problem. In fact, you’d think I had just shared knowledge of a double first at Oxbridge. This was my initiation into the diversity and inclusiveness which I soon learned is one of the great strengths of the charity sector.
Creating a strategy for financial sustainability
Coming into the sector as an outsider in 2008 had its advantages. After all, this was the year of the global financial crisis and the start of austerity. Unlike other charity senior managers I met, I had no point of comparison when they talked of the savage drop in funding opportunities.
If you were already working in a charity at the time, you will remember how tough it was. My strategy was to approach the issue of insufficient funds by treating my new charity like a start-up. From day one, I set about learning as much as I could, researched as much as possible on what was working and not working for charities supporting the same cause up and down the country. I put to use my writing skills and fortunately had some early successes with grant applications. Within six months I presented a business plan to the Board which would stand us in good stead for the first three years. The central theme was how to create a way forward so the organisation could more easily withstand the perils of increasing demand on our services alongside a reliance on short-term funding.
The fear of failure and rewards of success
Let’s be clear. The price of failure in the nonprofit and voluntary sector is more than organisation insolvency, it risks leaving vulnerable service users and beneficiaries adrift, without specialist support that perhaps only your organisation can provide. When times are hard, that can keep you awake at night.
Thankfully, we bucked the trend of many similar-sized charities supporting the same cause in other parts of the country. Our charity didn’t struggle and decline, it succeeded, grew and is today a more resilient organisation. In fact, I would go so far as to say it’s now a powerhouse of outstanding service delivery and creativity. It remains true to its mission and at the same time has developed into a partner of choice for public sector commissioners and collaborative working.
The pride you feel in managing turnaround for a charitable organisation is special. Today, if my eyes are open and my understanding better of what it means to live with disability, then I am also far more aware of the thousands of registered charities and voluntary organisations which exist solely to support people who, in one way or another, are disadvantaged and their suffering overlooked.
In turn, society needs to support them.
Become a subscriber and part of The Boiling Frog community
So, introduction out of the way, let me as a final point give you two steps to enhance your experience of subscribing to The Boiling Frog blog and joining our community.
STEP 1: Ensure our emails arrive in your Inbox
It would be a shame for you to miss out on blog notifications because your email account filter pushes them into the wrong folder.
The only way to guarantee this doesn’t happen is to ‘whitelist’ our email address, which is email@example.com This should be straightforward, using one of the tools in your email header.
STEP 2: Let’s Get Connected
You and me. This is a two-way street. Whilst The Boiling Frog blog site currently doesn’t allow for reader comments, I would be delighted to get your feedback and views using the Contact page. In addition, we will also at times feature guest blogs, so if it would interest you to write for The Boiling Frog, then please do get in touch. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s get connected.
Publishing this first blog feels like a big moment. Come on this journey with me and together I think we can make it a force for good.
Share this story
I have been lucky enough to work with – and on – some good boards in the charity sector. That may surprise you, given that trustees generally come in for a lot of flak – not least from their own CEOs and senior managers. The thing is, good boards don’t happen overnight. You achieve them with patience, care and forethought.
Charities are no different to any other sector in that they are being challenged by the rise of digital. But their slowness to adapt means they face being left behind.
It once seemed that charities could do no wrong, but in recent years the misdemeanours of a high-profile few has put the whole sector on the back foot with the public.