Chris Fyfe: Innovate or try

03 Oct 2023 Voices

In a blog to mark Charity Finance Week, Stroke Association’s executive director of finance argues that despite the tough economic conditions, now is the time to innovate...

No one ever writes a blog or an article saying this is not the time to innovate. And we all know this is true. The challenge is not whether to innovate, but to know when and how to innovate and when to pull the plug.

We had enough challenges on our plates before Covid. How many charities had just written their “2020 Vision” when Covid came bursting on our scene in the last months of 2019? Those peaceful days and glossy strategies seem idyllic now, but we know they weren’t. The challenges we face in each of our charities were real and stressful then and they haven’t gone away since. And now we have an interstate war in mainland Europe for the first time in over half a century. And inflation is back.

Many of us used Covid to reset our operations. At the Stroke Association we moved quickly to provide a peer-to-peer support service for stroke survivors, which is flourishing to this day. We reduced our premises costs by £2m a year through accelerating our office closure programme, reducing from 80 premises to three with 99% of our staff contracted home workers.

Despite fears and plans that showed that income would drop, we have managed to grow income and re-position ourselves. That is not without risks and challenges: we are more dependent on a few key products. We also know that we do not reach as many people who have had a stroke as we would like.

Three priorities

With stroke the fourth biggest killer in the UK and the leading cause of adult disability we must innovate to deliver our three priorities. We need to find ways to support everyone who has had a stroke and their carers, we need to educate the public on stroke – and the politicians – and keep pressure on the NHS, and of course we need to compete with all you other charities on how we get more supporters. If we don’t innovate, someone else will.

Since Covid we have managed to rebuild our reserves. We pared the organization down to a leaner structure in the expectation of a severe fall in income. We really did not know what to expect, but we planned and restructured on the basis of the worst case. Not only did we save £2m on buildings, but we saved £2m on staff costs. This has given us a strong base to innovate from and we have designated the savings we have made to move forward on our three priorities.

Will we succeed? I hope so, and we will all be working together to deliver on it. Our trustees are supportive but rightly putting ourselves under scrutiny. We need to change what we do and how we do it: this means that we have to innovate what we do, but also innovate how we do it. This is a lot harder and won’t be achieved by throwing cash at it.

Chris Fyfe is executive director, finance at the Stroke Association

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