Know your Alamo

What is your fallback position if you lose all of your major funding? What is the minimum you are able to, willing to deliver, and what resources will you need for that? Perhaps it’s time to make a plan.


One of my favourite films is Saving Private Ryan – for ‘Lest we forget’ reasons more than gung-ho action reasons. The grand finale sees the American troops defending a key bridge against a Nazi attack. In planning their strategy they agree that the bridge itself will be their ‘Alamo’ – if all else is lost they should muster at the bridge, and if necessary destroy it to stop it falling into enemy hands.


Desperate plans for desperate times.


Without wishing to draw comparisons between the horrors of war and the current state of the voluntary sector in the UK, there are echoes. For some, perhaps many, these are desperate times. And I would argue that they call for clear plans, however desperate they may at first appear.


Here’s my question: does your charity/project/group/organisation know its Alamo? What is your fall-back position if that key grant application fails, if your contract winds up, if you lose that major donor? What is the minimum that you can deliver, if you really have to? What resources do you need to deliver it? What will it cost?


Several of my current clients are considering such issues at this very moment. Many charities only ask these questions when they have to, and that’s a bad time to make such decisions.


They are decisions that need to be considered and weighed carefully by Trustees, first and foremost. Trustees are unencumbered by the conflict of being paid to do their work, although they also, often, cannot know the impact of such decisions at the ‘coal face’. That’s why the most senior employee needs her or his input.


As ever, it’s about knowing why your organisation/group exists. The answer is not to keep your employees in work. If your funding is cut to a minimal, some of them may need to go along with services. Desperate measures for desperate times. Never an easy conversation to have. But if it allows you to regroup and, in time, rebuild, then perhaps it is worth it. And in the discussion, perhaps other solutions will present themselves – can staff be seconded to another organisation for a time? Less common than in the private sector, and not without its own risks. Can a project be taken on by a partner? Perhaps a merger is possible.


Of course, these are plans that you hope you will never need. So why spend time on them when that time can be put to pursuing the next grant or securing the next major donor? Two reasons. Firstly, potential funders will have more confidence if they can see that you have a well-thought-through  ‘worst case scenario’. You know that question: “what will you do if you don’t get the funding”? And the common answer: “we will not be able to deliver our project/employ to this post/build the facility”. Imagine being able to give an answer about what you will do if you don’t get the funding, and how you can achieve so much more if you do get the funding.


Secondly, it avoids the situation whereby you start to consider such important decisions when the funding has ended.


In the film the (flying) cavalry arrive in the nick of time to secure the bridge, and Private Ryan is ‘saved’ in the process, albeit at an ultimate personal cost to many of his comrades. Hopefully the cavalry is on its way to save your project or initiative. And hopefully that worst case scenario that you planned won’t be needed. But don’t let that hope stop you from at least discussing it and making a plan.

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