In this time of unprecedented pressure with the pandemic of the covid-19 illness devastating the world, it’s worth taking stock on the challenges so far in the voluntary and community sector, and frankly speaking, who are failing to meet them. This is important, I suggest, because after these awful times have passed we will long remember who performed well and who fell short.
Let’s start with the commissioners. No names, but we see commissioners issue deadlines for applications and having many NGOs staff putting in extra hours at this time – the most difficult of times possible – only to be told with just hours before the deadline, sorry but we’ve cancelled the call and sorry for any inconvenience caused. “Inconvenience,” FFS?! Either cancel it in good time or let the process run to completion and at least get some money out to NGOs at the time when many are struggling to make the next payroll. But getting NGOs to do almost all the bidding work at a time of maximum stress for absolutely zero benefit anywhere – shows remarkably both a callous cruelty and a low level of institutional intelligence.
When this is all over, it will be useful to discuss the questions around the new commissioning culture and competence.
Remote working, multiple channels and micro-management
Speaking today to staff in NGOs in Bristol and Manchester, there seems to be a new theme in WFH (working for home) and potential communications and work overload. With the legitimate concern about some staff feeling isolated and alone, we might have forgotten that over-communication is also possible and dangerous too. Colleagues have described how they are receiving messages down multiple channels – here are eight common ones: emails, phone calls, WhatsApp messages, Zoom conferences, texts, Facebook feeds, Slack channels, Twitter storms and the like.
NGO managers have a key role here, not least to remember that every two-minute email by them may make two-hours of work for the person at the other end. Working in the same office, the manager might see the expressions and even sense some push-back by their staff: remotely they just keep pumping it out. These is CCTV film from the NASA control room during the Apollo 13 “we have a problem Houston” crisis where the mission controller just says to everyone there, “can we have less chatter in the room please?” Indeed.
Some good funders
And in other news, word has reached me of a funder who has said they might consider approaches outside the usual cycle of applications for worthwhile projects struggling to meet deadlines with all the chaos and stresses at the moment. I suggest they will be remembered with a high regard when some of the other players have lost whatever good name they once had.