Creating Sustainable Organisations CIC is a Community Interest Company set up in July 2012 to help other socially minded organisations become more financially and organisationally sustainable. We do this by working alongside other organisations to deliver community activity, and in the process support them to overcome the challenges that are threatening their long term sustainability.
The issues we faced
Very early on, a CVS infrastructure organisation based in Greater Manchester asked us what we did that was different to them. They suggested we were simply duplicating what they did. We knew we were different because our vision was to be hands-on, getting out into the community and working alongside organisations, building capacity over time. We knew this, but that particular day we didn’t have a clear answer to the question and this continued to bother us.
Also very early on, we stumbled into providing frontline support to people who were unemployed. We just happened to be volunteering in a centre when people needed help and in that minute, our flagship 4 Steps Skills Programme was born. This was exciting, but we were now working at two levels, organisational and individual, and we struggled to reconcile the two.
We also faced an identity crisis. We were called Creating Sustainable Organisations CIC, a long name that was inevitably shortened to CSO. This didn’t mean anything to anybody, not even us. To make things more complicated, we called our new skills programme 4 Steps which fit with the approach we were taking. Now we had two names and 4 Steps was gaining more popularity than CSO. It was clear that we could have done better in terms of naming and branding our organisation.
In our third year we realised that our practical organisational support model was gaining momentum and our 4 Steps Skills Programme was turning into a successful model for helping people to build on their strengths and gain confidence to try new things. People and organisations who worked with us flourished, but we seemed bogged down because we still couldn’t reconcile our two identities or explain ourselves with ease.
The actions we took
We applied to BIG Assist to help us with strategy, planning, leading and managing change, marketing, building strategic relationships and communications.
We chose two providers, Dennis Langley from Social Enterprise Solutions UK to help us identify new opportunities, get ready to bid for larger contracts and plan for scaling up and growing our organisation without compromising the quality or consistency of our services. We chose Melanie Bryan from WhyNotChange to help us improve our marketing and communications.
Both providers helped us look at what we do well and gave us tools to help us identify gaps that we could move into. They both provided sound advice and tools for growing in a controlled manner. Dennis introduced us to the Hoshin’s Kanri Planning tool which we have fully embraced. Melanie gave us a template for competitor analysis that will help us stay in touch with what our competitors are doing and quickly anticipate and identify gaps and opportunities.
Both providers helped us to assess how we scale up and they gave us some useful tools to support our future growth. This work has helped us bring our programmes together into a cohesive package which has clear progression pathways for the individuals and organisations we support.
As a result of working with Melanie Bryan we have appointed a Communications Director and have rebranded our trading name from CSO to 4 Steps. This gave us an opportunity to create branding that works across all our programmes.
Most importantly, now we can finally explain ourselves. Our elevator pitch is:
We help social organisations make a bigger difference by working with them to do things better and by bringing them into our community of organisations.
There was so much work to do on reviewing our organisation, securing tools and techniques to help us organise and coordinate our efforts for maximum effect and identifying our key messages, that we weren’t able to do as much work on getting ready to bid for larger contracts.
As a result of the work we have done with BIG Assist providers we have developed a Community of Organisations which will bring small and medium sized organisations together to develop and deliver joint projects. This was an idea we had been sitting on for quite a while and will help us bid for larger contracts in the future.
Maintaining the quality and consistency of services while we scale up is still a potential problem area. We are beginning to take on staff and work with more partners but we still face risks to service quality and consistency if someone is ill or on holiday. Our Directors still have to cover to ensure consistency and quality of delivery at times and this has an impact on our overall capacity and ability to develop the organisation.
Dennis challenged all our assumptions about ourselves and our organisation. He made us question everything and he gave us tools that are easy for everyone in our organisation to use and understand. We thought we were innovative, now we are.
We learnt to be honest with ourselves.
Melanie challenged us to be brave, to shout from the rooftops and to strive to be what we know we can be. She taught us to challenge other people’s assumptions and to dare to be different.
We learnt to view our competitors as indicators of what works and what doesn’t. We also learnt to take on the challenge of doing things better than our competitors do.
Most of all we gained two people who we know we will work with for a long time.