Many of us in the VCS are concerned about the future; where will we get our funding from, will we be able to continue delivering services to our clients, will we survive? When the future seems bleak, it can help to re-envision the future; to me this is really about adapting to changing circumstances, seeing things differently and then having the opportunity to behave differently.


Whilst there are no easy answers to the sort of questions highlighted above, there are some tools to help us. This article talks briefly about 5 of them.

#1. PEST Analysis

Political factors focus on how and to what degree a government intervenes in the economy. This may include:

  • Central Government agendas such as austerity measures, Big Society
  • Local Government reactions such as contracting to voluntary sector, spending cuts, demands for collaborative solutions, evidence of quality
  • Effectiveness and level of engagement of loca government, which varies from region to region

Economic factors focus on the overall state of the economy and economic policies. This may include:

  • Unemployment rates in particular locations
  • General economic state of the locality
  • New investment or other economic initiatives

Social factors focus on cultural aspects and expectations in a local community. This may include:

  • Attitudes to volunteering
  • Specific local needs (such as areas of deprevation etc)
  • Growth of small community groups
  • Availability of older workforce

Technological factors focus on how changes in techology affect our area of work. This may include:

  • Impact of social media
  • Use of internet in delivering services

Whilst it is convenient to consider this in 4 separate quadrants, the reality is there is a high degree of overlap between all four. But the big benefit of using all four quadrants is that some of the less obvious factors can be taken into account instead of focussing on, for example, the reduced income available to a charity.

#2. SWOT Analysis

Strengths focus on internal aspects but should not exclude external ones. This may include:

  • What advantages does your organization have?
  • What do you do better than anyone else?
  • What do people in your market see as your strengths?

Weaknesses also focus on internal matters but should not exclude external ones. This may include:

  • What could you improve?
  • Are you too dependant on one source of income?
  • What are people in your market likely to see as weaknesses?
  • Do other people seem to perceive weaknesses that you don’t see?

Opportunities focus on external factors (which is why a SWOT analysis should generally follow a PEST analysis)

  • What interesting trends are you aware of?
  • Can you take advantage of changes on government policy, technology, local events?
  • Could any of your strengths lead to opportunities?
  • Could elimination of a weakness provide an opportunity?

Threats also focus on external factors (which, again demonstrates the value of a PEST analysis). This may include:

  • What obstacles do you face?
  • Are your competitors doing things better?
  • Could any of your weaknesses seriously threaten your business?

As I have talked about in many other articles, a PQASSO self assessment is a very useful tool to help identify strengths and weaknesses.

#3. Core values

Core values are those things (beliefs, principles etc) that guides an organisations internal conduct and its relationship to the external world. Core values support the vision and shape the culture of the organisation.For most charities the core values will be

Whatever the environment, and whatever and strengths etc, we should be driven by our core values, which I would expect to be a reflection of an organisation’s Memorandum of Association.

With all of that insight we can begin to look forwards and the next tool is a very useful one.

#4. Future mapping

Future mapping is a different way of strategic planning. Rather than starting with the present (or indeed the past) and extrapolating forwards, it asks organisations to envision a small number of possible end states and work backwards identifying the key steps or milestones that need to be achieved if you are going to reach the desired end state or avoid the unwanted end state.

The great strength of future mapping is that it frees us from old paradigms and enables more creative solutions.

Finally, what are we going to do. Set priorities.

#5. Priorities

To say that setting priorities is the obvious last step would not be quite accurate. The last step, of course, is to start taking action. Start doing things to bring about the change you are trying to achieve in order to cope with the uncertain future that we all face. And then monitor progress and make further changes as appropriate.